Have you met musicians that can play songs in different keys? Does it make you wonder how they can transpose so effortlessly? Or are you impressed with how some people can pick up any music score and sight-sing?
One of the effective ways to do this is through solfege. Musicians employ this system that uses syllables to identify the pitches of a scale, correlating to the degrees of scale topic introduced in the ABRSM Grade 2 theory syllabus. This system was conceived by Italian music theorist, Guido of Arezzo, in the eleventh century. Guido named the six pitches of the hexachord after the first syllable of the Latin hymn, Ut queant laxis, the “Hymn of St. John the Baptist”, resulting in the pitches, ut, re, mi, fa, sol and la. Building on Guido’s work, later musicians added more syllables to the system as well as modified some of the names of the existing pitches.
What is solfege? Today, all of us would be familiar with the phrase ‘Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La Ti, Do’. This was also made famous by this song from The Sound Of Music.
This series of eight syllables correspond to the eight pitches found in the major scale. In music education, Kodály was one of the key proponents of this method. and uses a system of movable-do for sight-singing. Sight-singers would have to identify the corresponding solfege on the sheet music, find the “home” (tonic), and this helps develop the singer’s tonal function. He felt that movable-do solfege should be learnt without reference to the staff or clef, and also developed some hand motions to accompany them.
This framework provides an easy to understand, straightforward structure in tackling sight-singing at any level. There are numerous learning benefits associated with the solfege system. Here are a few of them.
Essential to play by ear.
If you want to learn how to play a song without available written scores, you may need to learn it by ear. In this case, the solfege system would come in handy as it can serve as the ‘lyrics’ to an instrumental song. We tend to remember pitches better that way. Remember how to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, you would. But, know how to play ‘Happy Birthday’ on an instrument? You might not. Solfege helps to bridge this gap in between the voice and the instrument.
Improves tonal memory of the major/minor scale.
We often hear students complaining about playing songs that involves a change of keys. This is because they find it difficult to recognise the new key as they play it. Students could also make use of the concept of the movable-do, where we shift the ‘do’ syllable as we change keys. The movable-do may help students who are having trouble recognising new tonal centres. By moving the ‘do’, we would effectively produce the same scale on a different starting note, making it easier for our ear to recognise new tonal centres.
Helps in sight-reading/singing.
Sight-singing is an integral part of the exam syllabi. Students are tasked with vocalising a melody from score, seen for the very first time. By using solfege, students can fix pitches onto the otherwise ‘silent’ music score. This way, the score would be interpreted as a series of audible pitches, enabling a student to be able to sing them out. This skill could also be extrapolated into sight-reading for an instrument. Through using solfege, we would have an idea of how a passage sounds like before we actually attempt to play in on our instruments.
D-Flat Studios employs the solfege in our classes, across all instruments. If you are interested in learning more about it, give us a call and ask for a free trial lesson. Our team of dedicated teachers will be happy to show you how the solfege system can open up learning possibilities.
Play on and Tinkle Away!