Thursday, November 14, 2013

Solfege: Part 2 : 7 Reasons We Love It!

We recently posted Part 1 of our Solfege series: all about the history of solfeg and its usefulness in ear training.  Today I'll share 7 more reasons Let's Play Music teachers use solfege and LOVE IT!

1. There's a Word for That
Can you imagine teaching your child to identify colors without having any color words?  Not easy!  Similarly, as students learn to discern pitches and intervals between pitches, using a system  for putting a name to the pitches (solmization) facilitates the process immensely.  China, Japan, Korea, India, and Indonesia all have solmization schemes for associating pitch to a name.  When talking about fixed pitches, we use the alphabet (C is always C) and when talking about scales and relationships between notes in a scale, we use solfeg!

2. Whole-Body Involvement
Each of our young students (and even many of our toddler Sound Beginnings students) master the  hand signs and use them to experience singing, ear-training, and note-reading with their whole body.  As they hear the pitches moving up and down, their hands move up and down through space accordingly.  As they recognize intervals and relationships between the notes, they can feel the distance of jumps between pitches and grasp them with their hands.

Adding this kinesthetic mode of learning to an auditory and visual skill heightens a child's absorption of the information, accommodates various learning styles, and facilitates integration and long-term learning.  Solfeg is a popular tool for University students majoring in music fields;  it should be shared with young children, too, who adore and quickly internalize having a physical movement to put with their singing.  You already knew wiggly, active children enjoy having actions to accompany their favorite nursery songs, right?  If there's a way to make teaching more physical AND more fun for them, let's do it!

 3. Understanding Scales and Key Signatures
Would you love to be able to quickly and easily sing every major scale?  You can do it today! You don't have to memorize the notes of every single scale, just memorize the 7 solfeg syllables and start singing on whichever pitch you wish to be DO.  That's part of the power of the moveable DO  (read more here): the relationships within each scale will remain the same.

'Do' corresponds with the tonic of whatever key a particular composition or melody is placed. Thus in the Key of C major, C is Do, and in the Key of F major, F is Do.  You can see those two scales already engraved on your Let's Play Music tone bells!  Truly, any bell or piano key could be Do.  Of course you'd have to add some black keys to your scale to get it to sound like a major scale, but now after a few months of Let's Play Music training, your child could pick out (by ear) which black keys were needed.

Do is the note that the music rotates around and pivots back to. Whatever key we sing in, Do really is home!  Most songs end by bringing the melody back to Do.

4. Intervals
We recently posted about the powerful ways that mastering intervals will help you improve musicianship in your reading, singing, and composing music.

Solfeg is a handy tool for students wishing to master interval training.  The goal is to instantaneously recognize the precise intervals when heard, and having solfeg words to identify them is very helpful in this process.  "The notes I just heard sounded like...Do-Fa! It's a 4th!"

Here are just a few relationships I am confident my Let's Play Music students can hear and identify:
Do - Re : major 2nd 
Do - Mi : major 3rd 
Do - Fa: perfect 4th
Do - Sol: perfect 5th
Mi - Sol: minor 3rd  
In class we sing this as Sol-Mi more often than as Mi-Sol, but they are the same interval, of course.

5. Sight Reading Music
Choir class is a very common place to find solfeg at work; students are taught to rely on solfege for sight-singing melodies.  Singers can quickly read and sing the written melody if they interpret it in terms of solfege because they have learned the relationships between each solfege note and don't need to be retaught those relationships for whatever key the music is written in.

Here are some videos of choir students performing 4-part vocal music they have never rehearsed, using solfeg syllables and hand signs. In the 3rd year of Let's Play Music, your teacher will use her hands to show signs for the students to 'sight sing'.

At the piano, sight-reading music in the same way and hearing it with our inner voice helps us to self-correct as we play.  Solfege allows us to be able to play a tune in another key (transpose) by choosing a new DO and playing the same solfeg pattern (see an example here.)  We will practice singing and transposing this way in Purple and Orange semesters!

6. Sharps, Flats and Minor Keys
Now that we know having a way to sing the steps of a scale makes it easier to learn music, some folks have wondered why we don't prefer to sing numbered steps (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) instead of the solfeg syllables.  The word 'seven' is already less-than-popular because it is not a monosyllable, but all of the numbers become problematic if we ever want to introduce sharps or flats.  'Raised-seven' is definitely not an easy-to-sing monosyllable!

With solfeg, for a note that is lowered a half-step, we sing it with an A sound (like in the word "nay") but spell it with an e. Thus mi becomes me (may), la becomes le (lay), ti becomes te (tay), etc. This works for all scale steps except re which is already an e sound, so re lowered a half-step become ra (rah!).

For a note that is raised a half-step, we sing it with an ee sound, but spell it with an i. Thus, fa becomes fi. This works for all steps except mi and ti, but they are almost never raised anyway. 

Here are the syllables for the chromatic scales (play every single key on your piano, both black and white, as you sing):
ascending: do di re ri mi fa fi sol si la li ti do
descending: do ti te la le sol se fa mi me re ra do

In Let's Play Music class, we won't spend much time teaching all of the raised and lowered syllables, but it is a beautiful and simple system to grow into as your child takes interest in further musical skills.  Each year I have one or two Orange students wanting to compose in minor keys, and I do help them master me, le, and te so they can be sure to write an appropriately minor melody.

7. Solfeg Works
The final, and perhaps best, reason I want to share about why Let's Play Music teachers love solfege is simply that it works.  Students wanting to become better musicians (and get passing-grades in their college-level music classes) find that having the right tools will get the job done.  There's no need to wait until college; solfege can help your very young child improve musicianship right now.  Understanding, internalizing, and using solfege will lead you and your child to be bilingual: you speak the language of music!

Be sure to read SOLFEGE: PART 1: When You Know the Notes To Sing...
and SOLFEGE PART 3: Learn the Hand Signs

- Gina Weibel, MS
Let's Play Music Teacher


  1. cjwoodruff39@gmail.comFebruary 18, 2014 at 11:19 PM

    You are awesome! I love reading your blogs!
    CJ Woodruff

  2. Yes yes yes!!! Thanks for writing this! I believe it...but haven't done as well as you have explaining it to others:)