Do You Hear What I Hear?

Hear what you NEED to hear…and filter out the rest!

If this sounds like bad advice for how to conduct a conversation, never fear — we’re talking about selective hearing in choral ensembles, and about students achieving musical independence.

Even with simple music, it can be hard for a singer in a choral group to focus solely on his or her part. With more complex music, the possibility of being distracted by others’ singing and making a mistake is even greater.

Aural independence is a key skill for choir singers at every level. How can a student develop this skill? Here are some ideas (listed by expertise/age level) that can assist singers in developing this important ability, courtesy of Steve Meredith of Snow College.

Young singers (elementary level)

Singing rounds. Using a fun and repetitive musical style, this one of the most effective ways to teach young ears how to “hold” their part.

Numeration (singing on numbers) or solfeggio (do, re, mi, etc.). This is an excellent skill for developing interval accuracy, which is the key to musical independence for singers.

Teen singers (middle school/high school/college)

Increasing complexity of numeration or solfeggio to include chromaticism. Singing chromatically altered intervals is the key to being able to sing more challenging literature, particularly atonal or pandiatonic music. This activity can be done in unison, or in quartets, with each individual member singing his/her numbers or syllables.

Software programs can also be a great help to developing independence. Practica Musica, MacGamut and Aurelia, among others, offer graded activities that can be completed outside of class time.

Ear training Web sites similarly offer these types of activities for students to do at home. Some good sites include and

Thanks to Steve Meredith, director of choral activities, Snow College, Ephraim, Utah.
–Sue Rarus, June 2, 2009, © National Association for Music Education