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Sharing shaped notes in Sherman

Learning shaped notes is the quickest way to teach a novice how to sight read music.  When people understand the significance of the shape and the intervals, the notes on the page quickly come alive.  Last night in Sherman, we shared handouts of the “moveable DO” in a chart that demystifies the concept, especially for non-musicians who would like to know more.

As much as I love shaped notes, it seems that all forms of music literacy has been underemphasized in recent decades.  How great it would be to see a renewal of teaching music to the average church member, rather than exclusively to those with special music giftedness.  It has happened before and it can happen again.

Is reading shaped notes a foreign concept to you?


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21 Comments for “Sharing shaped notes in Sherman”

  1. I learned to read shape notes in Jr High choir (COfC choir director), and you’re right, it does help when learning to sight-read regular notes. I had a huge leg up in high school sight reading…mostly because I practiced the shapes every Sunday during worship :)

    One time in high school, while preparing for the choral sight-reading UIL competition, our director pulled out a sheet of music that had shape notes. No one else was the wiser, but I had no trouble reading the music. Afterwards I had to confess that I could read shapes, and that was the end of shape note sight reading practice 😉

    • I learned shaped notes early in my life as well. I agree that the regular (every Sunday) review made a great difference in the repetition (which is the key to learning, correct?)

  2. I’ve never learned shaped notes. Because of my knowledge and music talent, I’ve picked them up myself and use them to read across clefs (like trying to see when the tenor and soprano sing the same note without thinking letter names). I’m a music major and haven’t heard much talk about it. I feel it’s more of a old school tradition. I read a comment on your status on facebook talking about it taking the focus even more away from the words and heart of the matter even more than music focus in general. I don’t feel it’s that “easy” to learn, but maybe that’s because I’ve learned so many different other ways for so long!
    I personally like them most for reading cross-cleffs but don’t see the big advantage people sometimes talk about with sight-reading, but that’s me.

    • You are correct that it’s an old school tradition. I teach shaped notes because I believe it’s the easiest way for beginners to grasp sight reading. Thank you for commenting Rachel!

  3. Keith
    As part of the Western Hts. congregation, I really enjoyed the singing last night and this morning. I have allergies and my throat was a little sore.

    That reminded me of when I was about 12, sitting in church, unable to sing because my throat hurt. I remember thinking how great it will be to sing in heaven … no pain in my throat!

    I love to sing and I love to learn new songs. Thank you for helping our congregation improve our singing, using our voices to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

    • Our experience at Western Hts was a very positive one. It seemed that everyone was singing and the energy was evident. Glad to hear how it brought back good memories, and reminds you of the singing in heaven to come!

  4. Your workshop at Western Heights church this past weekend was glorious! My wife & I traveled from Greenville, TX to attend. You’re a fountain of energy & inspiration to those of us who lead our congregations in praise to our Father. One comment on shape notes…while living in VA in the 80s, I came across a bluegrass tape (sorry it’s since been misplaced) & one gospel song was sung entirely with shape notes…DO, DO, RE, RE, FA, etc. I’ll always remember my delight in hearing it for the first time. God bless your ministry.

  5. I really enjoyed the workshop at Western Heights. I’m a little musically challenged and was very encouraged that this was a workshop for everyone. I’m glad to finally know why the notes are different shapes. Something I always wondered about but was afraid to ask! Keep up the great work.

    • So glad you enjoyed the workshop, Pam! The fact is, my target audience is the majority of folks who don’t know how to read music. It’s not as complicated as some might suggest, and I’m trying to provide tools to simplify the learning process. Use the training disk and learn how to sing an individual part – and keep learning. Thanks for your message.

  6. Keith,

    I learned shaped notes growing up in the churches of Christ. Specifically, I learned how to sing by tuning-up with other parts. If the bass had a square and I had a diamond thing, I knew what that should sounded like, or if I had an oval, and the bass had an equilateral triangle, I knew what that should sound like. I learned how to relate relative pitches in a chord, rather than read the actual notes on the page.

    It did really help me to learn how to sight-read. However, when I got to music that didn’t have the shapes, I had to teach myself to translate those relative pitches without the shapes. Things like, bass has a D, tenor has an A in the key of F, that would sound like this. I would still consider myself an above-average sight-reader, both with shaped notes and without, but I will still learn quicker with shaped notes. I still think of singing in terms of 1-8 pitches, and the shaped note system is an easy way for me to process that.

  7. My wife & I drove roundtrip from TX to PA this past week…almost wore out your “Glorious God” CD. We found at various times during the day having a song come into our minds, praising God. We pondered how it must be inside the mind of a songwriter…all the lyrics/notes/scriptures floating aroung in there looking to make their way into a completed song of praise. Thanks again for your ministry…will try to travel up to Muskogee, OK for your workshop there.

  8. Although I can read music, I never learned shape notes. Over the years I have come to see this as a disadvantage for sight reading. Sorry I missed the Sherman workshop. Would love to attend one.

  9. Keith,

    I can read both shaped and non-shaped notes. However, I much prefer shaped. In fact, I can only sight-read shaped notes. And, I don’t think of them as a, b, c or do, re, mi. I see the relative differences and also use them to “find” my note if I am having trouble. For example: If the bass shape is the same as the alto shape, then I know to sing the same note they are in my octave and can get back on track.

    I told the Elders if they ever get new hymnals and get them without shaped notes, that I would have to retire from leading.

  10. It seems to me that if the Christian walk is a discipline, and part of that walk is singing, then we should treat singing to the Lord and to each other as a discipline.

  11. I love and teach shaped note, convention style music. I even have my daughter try to hear the relative pitches and sing sylables (shapes) when she’s singing along with Hannah Montana and Taylor Swift in the car. Besides practicing sight-reading, I have trained my own ear by hearing pitches and translating them in my mind to shapes. At any rate, I’m glad to know there are still folks interested in learning this wonderful method of learning sacred music!

  12. I am from a church in Singapore. Can I ask how I can get shaped notations for contemporary worship songs? I young people loved contemporary praises but since we do not have shaped musical notations, some of our older folks do not know how to sing in parts.


    • Edwin, We are making powerpoint slides and song books available for the contemporary worship songs that we release. We plan on having a Praise & Harmony workshop in Singapore in the first quarter of 2011. Hope to see you there.

      • Yes I am aware you are coming next year. So when will the song books be available? Eager to get it so that we can begin learning before you come.


        • Hi Keith,
          i manage to find the resources I needed from your website – Glorious God, Awesome God and Only God. Excited about these resources. I am the preacher at the Moulmein Rd Church of Christ.

          Sze Hern & Poh Dee (Singaporeans now in Australia) spoke highly of your praise and harmony workshop


  13. I learned to read shaped notes when I was 8 years old in a singing class that was held at our Church right before Sunday evening worship. In our Church, we had Mr. Romans that believed the young men were the future praise leaders of the Church and he wanted to teach us. So, he taught whoever wanted to come and learn. Some of us boys bought our own pitch pipe. Most of the Church came to learn. We drilled repeatedly and eventually did our own version of Sacred Harp on simple songs we knew the parts by heart to lock in the lessons. I think that really helped. I labored over learning the round music notes in piano lessons, but learning the shaped notes made sense to me and seemed a lot easier.

    Any competent technician or practicioner needs to know their craft to perform well. It is no different when it comes to being a praise leader. It is not necessary that everyone in the Church learn the use of shaped notes, but if you are going to be a praise leader it just makes your job much easier to get the song right and to make on the fly adjustments to pitch. Why would you not equip yourself with the tools you need to make your job easier.

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