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Solfege Isn't Just For Singing


Solfege, huh? What’s that?

The only exposure I ever had to solfege was “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music. Little did I know what brilliant concepts that song was teaching!

Solfege simply gives us a name for each step of the scale.

7 = ti

6 = la

5 = sol

4 = fa

3 = mi

2 = re

1 = do

(We use a movable ‘do’ system, where ‘do’ is the first note of whatever scale you are in.)

Why does this matter? Because every song is just a scale mixed up and repeated in fun ways. If you know what scale or key you are playing in, all you have to do is think of the solfege and playing 7 sharps becomes as easy as playing none. Those black keys lose all their intimidation and you gain massive confidence. And if you know that, transposing to other keys is a piece of cake!

The REALLY cool thing is that your ear turns on. As you gain the ability to identify each note of a song by its solfege name you start to recognize that every step of the scale has a personality all its own - and the solfege syllables take on tons of meaning! For example, ‘ti’ is going to go crazy if it doesn’t resolve to ‘do’! Really, everything is just about how it relates to ‘do’, the home key.

Some people ask, “Why not just use the numbers?”

Well, you can do that just fine, but numbers do not carry the magical ability of the syllables to lock sounds into your head. And because there are already so many numbers in music it gets confusing… chord numbers, finger numbers, figured bass numbers, counting, rehearsal numbers, measure numbers…

Solfege is amazing. If you don’t believe me, then ask why top improvising schools and jazz schools use it. Simply put, it works - and it works like crazy!

Start with solfege simply as an intellectual tool. Not everyone likes to sing, and that’s not all it’s used for anyway! (Everyone seems to think that. . .) It gives the musician the ability to see, identify, and comprehend the steps of a melody in a full musical context and in a way that you hear (and almost FEEL) the way a melody moves - enhancing musical instincts and skills every single time you use it.

Here are a few great practice tips:

  • New to solfege - just say the syllables forward and backward a bunch of times (only sing at first if you are comfortable with it) Example: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do - do, ti, la, sol, fa, mi, re, do… repeat!

  • Start mixing up the syllables. Randomly sing up and down and all over and begin including jumps as soon as you are comfortable.  Example: do, mi, re, fa, mi, re, do.. etc.

  • Sing the syllables of the numbers on car license plates when you are driving around. Example: 615 would be sung as la do sol.

  • Identify the solfege of the melodies by looking at the sheet music of your favorite songs and then play the melody in several different keys. This is ear training on steroids!

  • Try to identify the first note of your favorite songs as a solfege syllable by ear. Hint: It’s almost always do, mi, or sol.

  • Try to identify every note of your favorite songs as a solfege syllable entirely by ear. (Then play it in several keys to get really good at it)

  • Try to identify the bass line of your favorite songs as a solfege syllable by ear. (Now you are moving into the world of hearing chords by ear and when you can do chords and the melody, you are officially an ear-playing ninja.)

Here’s something so incredibly cool about those practice tips. It may sound like a lot to someone who’s never tried this before, but playing the melody in lots of different keys is a shockingly easy, and quick thing to do after you have identified every note as a step of the scale with the solfege syllable (whether you are on the step of finding the solfege from sheet music or doing it by ear). And every time you play a song based only on solfege your ear is tuning in  to the relationships of the notes to each other, making the next song you pick out by ear easier and easier and easier. . .

Last bit of awesomeness

If you are playing melodies by transposing into multiple keys, what does that say about your ability to simply play in a key, whether sight reading or by ear? One thing’s for sure. You won’t be one of the countless students who have to circle every note that is sharp because the signature says so - perfectly demonstrating a frightful lack of musical prowess! It means you are stinkin’ AWESOME!! Any key is a comfortable home for you because you think like a pro, not a black dot reader.

Many people think practicing scales is just for technique - so tragically narrow-minded. Practicing scales only for technique without ever seeing/creating/hearing melodies with them (using solfege with all its magical powers to do so) is a mind-numbing, fruitless process. So, if you still only want to practice scales for your technique, have fun. I’ll be off making music in whatever key I want and getting real-world crazy techniques every time I touch the piano!!

Here’s to you becoming a musical genius!!!

Click the PDF below to access the FREE Solfege songs.

Solfege Freebie
Download PDF • 170KB

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