Amazing Grace written using shape notes, in the traditional congregational hymnal format
I've been following up on a suggestion I received in this Hacker News thread. It's by a very nice person with the handle zeta0134:
Ooh, here's a fun idea: see if you can track down a hymnal that uses shape notes, like those described here:
The basic idea is to make it much easier to sight-read songs in different keys. With shape notes, the "Do" in solfege is always the same symbol, regardless of the key signature. So it'd be a "C" in C Major, but the same shape appears for an "F" in F Major. Once you can recognize the 7 shapes, you can suddenly do two things very easily:
- Find "Do" and feel your way around the song using it as an anchor, without any risk of losing it
- Re-pitch the song so that the melody is in a more comfortable range
The first point helps out a lot with interval training, as it short-cuts the key signature translation steps. You no longer have to remember that a C -> an E (or was it an Eb in this key?) is a major third, you just look at the "Do" shape and the "Mi" shape following it, and hear what you should do.
The second point was especially useful as a song leader in my youth. Some of the composers had an optimistic idea of how high our tenors could comfortably sing, so over time I learned to nudge the key up or down a few steps to keep the voices comfortable. (This was a congregation of worshipers, not a trained choir.) Shape notes made that easy to do, since everybody in the audience could still follow the music and often without realizing that I'd changed the reference key on the fly.
First, I had no idea shape notes was even a thing, but there are shape note hymnals?! And using shape notes has been described as a short cut to learning how to sight sing. I love short cuts!
I ordered a popular shape note hymnal called Heavenly Highways Hymns and will give this a try.