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Introduction to Solfege

You’ve probably all heard about Solfege as a technique for ear training. In this first article I will introduce you to the basics combined with some first excercises. I am really interested in your thoughts about this topic and how you are doing with it. Any thoughts and suggestions are welcome and can be posted in the Forums.

What is Solfege?

Solfege or Solfeggio, is a method of assigning a syllable to every pitch / degree of a scale. Instead of singing the actual names of the notes in the scale (eg. c d e f g a b) we use the syllables instead (Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti). There are a few different versions of Solfege in use but I will show you the one I got introduced to at Berklee College of Music.

Quick History (thanks to www.inchord.to)

Solfege was created in the 10th Century to help monks to easily learn the chants for the mass. Guido d' Arezzo was having a difficult time teaching his monks the Gregorian Chants for the weekly mass services. He devised a system of placing the notes of the scale on his hand. Each note had a symbol on a different part of his hand. In this manner, he could point to a symbol on his hand and the young monks would sing the corresponding note. An entire song could be sung just by pointing to the different parts of his hand. The
"Guidonian Hand" was widely used in Europe. In the 1600's the French standardized the use of solfege as we know it today.

Why Solfege?

Well, we are not about to learn some Gregorian Chants. Our intention is to look at the advantages of using such a system for developing our ear training skills.

Solfege is a great tool for developing Relative Pitch. Relative Pitch means that you are able to identify relationships between notes and chords in a theoretical and musical way, without actually identifying note names. If you think about harmony we are using a similar approach by giving arabic numbers to intervals and roman numerals to chords. Solfege is just an aural version of this system.

Another positive aspect of using Solfege is that it will help to improve your sight reading skills - not only in terms of singing but also on your instrument. In this article I will mostly talk about using Solfege in a melodic setting but it can also be applied to rhythm.

Moveable DO System

We will use the 'movable Do system'. This means that the root of any given scale becomes 'Do', eg in C major the note c is Do, in F major f is Do, etc. The advantage of applying movable Do is that we auraly learn musical relationships independent of the key we are in, ie Do - Mi will always be a major third, Do - Sol always a perfect fifth.

Before we start ...

Before we start performing some exercise and getting used to Solfege let me point out a few important things:

  • Take it seriously: It will take some time to get used to this system but once you get over the first hurdles you will see some major improvements quickly.
  • Get into a practicing mindset: Add Solfege to your daily practicing routine and develop your own exercises.
  • Don't be afraid of singing and use your voice as best as you can.
  • Record and double check everything you sing.

Let's sing >>