Solfege 101: Tips, Tools and Tricks

Helping to solidify a student’s grasp of music theory and notation is no easy task. The specific rules and boundaries used to govern music that typically feel like second nature to educators often feel alien and intimidating to a classroom of students. A powerful tool in every music educator’s teaching arsenal is solfege. If you’ve been curious about bringing solfege to your class or are simply looking for ways to help your theory and notation lessons stick, this article is for you. Today, we’re exploring solfege and discussing what this wonderful teaching tool has to offer.

What is solfege?

Solfege is a broad term to describe syllable-based sight singing. In this system, individual syllables are assigned to the notes found in modes. Students begin by learning how to vocalize notes from simple major and minor scales before moving on to covering more challenging material. When students have enough experience with solfege, they engage in sight-singing exercises, which entails singing a passage of notes in rhythm shortly after seeing it for the very first time. The syllable “do” is moveable, which means that solfege can be practiced on any note and in every mode in music.

The roots of this exercise date all the way back to 11th-century Italy where syllables were attached to notes to help worshipers learn Latin hymns. The system slowly grew and evolved to become one of the most important teaching tools in music. Today, solfege is taught in music classrooms the world over.

Solfege brings massive benefits to musicians in training

Solfege is bound to help develop your students’ musical understanding in a big way no matter what subject matter they’re learning. Though solfege happens through singing, it’s not just for singers. Musicians of every background and experience level can develop a stronger relationship with music through solfege. One of solfege’s biggest advantages is that it’s able to teach students about the relationships between pitches like nothing else can. Understanding and memorizing specific note-to-note relationships found in music can be tricky for any student, but solfege makes it much easier to learn through clear, repetitive exercises. Those who regularly practice solfege see improved sight reading skills, develop a better understanding of note patterns and chord progressions, and enjoy improved transposition skills.

Some educators may ask why solfege is useful if they’re teaching a pitched instrument like the clarinet or violin. Solfege should still be taught in instrument-specific classes because it’s an opportunity to focus purely on music reading. It’s crucial for beginner students to step away from the technical demands of their instruments to learn about music theory and notation in different ways. Solfege leverages the most natural instrument a person has: their voice. Rather than worrying about embouchure or correct fingering, this exercise allows students to hone in their reading and music comprehension skills easily and without conditions.

Tips and tools to help you teach solfege

Practice solfege regularly

Most educators should consider making solfege exercises a regular part of their weekly routines. Even something as simple as singing through a couple of basic major and minor scale vocal exercises can deliver benefits to your class.

Start simple and build from there

Introducing your class to solfege through simple exercises ensures your students won’t get overwhelmed and check out. Major and minor scales and interval exercises are a good place to start.

Choose a good book to work out of

Consider purchasing solfege books, CDs, and other resources for you and your class to work out of. For example, working out of a book of exercises that gradually increase in difficulty is a good way to lead your classroom.

Split your time between exercises and sight reading

To get the most benefit from learning solfege, your students will have to engage in a healthy mix of routine exercises and sight reading. Basic exercises in solfege to prepare students to sing material they’ve never seen before.

Solfege is an incredible musical benefit for the students in your classroom. If it’s been a while since you’ve explored solfege, don’t be afraid to do some brushing up at home with some basic exercises and sight reading.

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