SmartMusic Spotlight: S-Cubed Sight Singing Program’s Dale Duncan


Renowned voice instructor Dale Duncan has been teaching middle-school students for 29 years, guiding thousands of young people to master sight singing along the way. His acclaimed S-Cubed curriculum solves the “how” of teaching sight singing to the true beginner and is now available in the SmartMusic library, allowing students to practice each exercises alongside SmartMusic’s full suite of practice and assessment tools

In this SmartMusic Spotlight, we spoke with Dale Duncan to learn more about his background as an educator, the inspiration behind S-Cubed, and how teachers can utilize SmartMusic’s practice tools to enhance the curriculum.

What is your background in voice and education?  

I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance and Music Education. I sang on cruise ships for a while, and then I started my teaching career in Greensboro, NC at Allen Middle School where I student-taught. Those students taught me more than I taught them. I was terrible at classroom management, and they worked me over! I wasn’t sure I’d make it as a teacher. I almost quit several times. Something clicked in year 4, and I decided I either had to figure it out or get out, and I chose the latter. 

I took sick days to go watch top teachers, and I began to improve. I taught for six years in New Jersey, and then came to GA where I’ve taught since at Henderson Middle School. I love teaching musical theater to my students in addition to choral music.

What made you decide to create the S-Cubed Sight Singing curriculum?

One day, after I asked the students to pull out their sight singing books, I heard a child moan with dread. I knew I wasn’t making this fun. They didn’t feel successful. They would get halfway through an example and fall apart. Everyone would stop singing. So, I made a pact with myself that I would figure it out, and I began working towards it. I tried almost every sight singing method on the market, but they all started with the keys of C, G and F, and my kids didn’t want to sing the keys of G and F. They were too embarrassed. It was too high. I teach total beginners. I’ve never had a Mozart…not yet! …In 29 years! Still waiting…. So, I knew I had to do something completely different. I wanted to use movable “do,” but I created a variation on that theme called “varied but movable ‘do.’”   

I wanted the learning not to feel like learning. I needed it to be fun for ME too! So, I added elements of competition between me and them and between them and the other classes. I wanted something that was part method and part philosophy. I wanted something that didn’t move too fast. For most of us who are musicians and music teachers, the language of music feels so simple. But, for the true beginner, looking at all of those dots and curves and symbols is scary. It would be like reading Arabic for most Americans.

So, I proceeded to create something that was carefully methodical and fun at the same time. I am a former gymnast, so for me it was important that I gave the students and the teachers who teach S-Cubed the tools they need to succeed one step at a time. We don’t move to the next step until we have mastered the previous step, and with the way I’ve built it, mastery is easy for most who follow what I’ve put into the program. I tried to share every secret I have learned about how to teach this subject to the true beginner.

How did you develop the full curriculum, keeping in mind students with different learning styles and ability levels?

I made sure to use every modality-kinesthetic (hand signs), aural (ear-training, for example), visual (taking the time to carefully teach them to see things they might otherwise miss). I wanted to reach every single singer regardless of their learning modalities and learning challenges because I teach every type of student in my own classroom. I don’t audition my singers. This program is not for the teacher who auditions and screens their students and whose students take lessons from private teachers. This program is for the teacher who has little-to-no say which students come into their classrooms. It’s intended to engage even the most challenging learner. The teacher has to be willing to use their personality! The students will love it when you let go and have some fun. I have included links in my program of me actually teaching the program to my students so that teachers can see how I deliver it. You don’t have to copy me—you should find your way that fits your personality. The students love it when we are ourselves. It endears them to us and creates a bond that inspires them to want to do their best for us and for themselves. 

What problem does the program solve for teachers (for both in-person and remote settings), and how does it set students up for success?

Basically, S-Cubed solves the “how” of teaching sight singing to the true beginner. I’ve built a scaffolding for you…In fact, I’ve built the whole building, but you can modify as you like and tear out what doesn’t work for you. If you just go in with an open mind and follow the program the way it is laid out, you are going to get results. 5-10 minutes per day 3-5 times per week will make the biggest difference for you. You have to be consistent whether you follow S-Cubed or some other sight singing program. 

This program is like no other because not only does it provide the curriculum and lessons, but I’ve included video teaching tips for every single lesson for the teacher, and I’ve included links to me teaching the program to the students myself. This is the modern day way to deliver curriculum to teachers.

The Distance Version is a modification of S-Cubed that we created this summer in response to the COVID pandemic. Mario Contreras, a longtime S-Cubed user who knows the program inside and out, is your teacher guide. It is awesome for use in asynchronous learning. You can easily load the lessons into Google Classroom or make EdPuzzles with the material using Screencastify or similar programs. 

How can teachers utilize the practice tools within SmartMusic to enhance the S-Cubed Sight Singing curriculum? 

I created one-to-one practice examples so that if a teacher wanted to do so, they could sight sing Lesson 4 on Day 1 in class as a group and then send the students home that night to do the correlating example on SmartMusic for a grade/feedback. Every sight singing example in Level One of S-Cubed has a correlating sight singing example in SmartMusic. With the current distance learning situation so many of us face, these practice/assessment examples will be more valuable than ever for teachers who use S-Cubed. I am relying on my practice/assessment examples more than I ever have done so since I created these additional exercises to supplement the program 7 years ago. 

Can you share some teacher and student success stories?

Since 2013, I’ve tried to be diligent in posting success stories of teachers going to their adjudications and getting straight Superior’s in sight singing after getting very low scores in previous years. I love hearing from experienced teachers who tell me how S-Cubed has transformed their teaching and from band teachers who were thrown into the choral music classroom. Ironically, that seemed to happen a LOT in the first few years I made the program available. I hope more band teachers who end up in the chorus program find it! I love hearing from first year teachers who are so grateful I’ve written 10-15 minutes of their lesson plans each day for a couple of years. I created the program for middle school teachers, but I’ve gotten emails and messages from high school teachers who teach beginners and upper elementary teachers who are preparing their students for middle school. It’s really been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life that this program has helped so many teachers. I swore to myself back in the first year of teaching that if I ever figured this out (how to teach middle school), I was going to help other teachers, and this has been a part of how I am doing that. I still think there is way more in me than just this…we will see!

Here is the link to the section of my blog with all of the specific reviews and success stories since I began offering the program.

Also, my program has been reviewed by over 600 teachers from all over the world on TeachersPayTeachers

Dale Duncan

Dale Duncan is the creator of the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners and has taught public school middle school chorus and musical theater for 29 years. His teaching philosophy is "3/4 Cup of Learning + 1/4 Cup of Fun = Results", and that is the basis upon which he built his music literacy program.

He has conducted workshops about classroom management, sight singing, building your program, and choreography at educator conferences and has conducted state and district honors choruses throughout his career. His curriculum, the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners, is available on Teachers Pay Teachers at Music in the Middle With Mr. D and at JW Pepper.

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