This 3-part post was drawn from my presentation for the Michigan Kodaly Educators in September of 2019.
Read Part 1 if you missed it.
Solfege is one of the giant’s in the music word having been around since Guido of Arezzo invented in the 11th century, but is it still relevant and useful today?
In this part 2, we’ll cover:
- Solfege terms to use with your kids
- Things I wish people had told me
- Prepare, Present, Practice for solfege concepts
Read on for the deets!
Kid-Friendly Solfege Terms
The terms in solfege can be tricky! Between the Latin rooted syllables and music theory terms like major second, it’s no wonder kids can be intimidated and confused by everything.
Which is why I think it’s important to have kid-friendly solfege terms and definitions that are applicable to them.
Step – When we move from one pitch to the one right next door. Example: sol-la
Skip – When we skip over one pitch to the one right on the other side. When you skip to the pitch 2 steps away. Example: sol-mi
Keys – How we tell where DO will be. Teachers: I recommend sticking to keys C, F, and G for the lack of flats and sharps.
Do Clef – A clef or symbol that tells us what the key is/where DO will be. “Wherever you see the key, that is where DO shall be.”
Things I Wish People Had Told Me
Teaching solfege right out the gate from my undergrad was scary. I thought I had the right idea, but there were two main things I wish someone had told me to do before I started.
You don’t need to prepare/practice all mutations of getting to a new note.
Every time you add a new pitch, you’re not just adding one pitch. You’re also adding all the intervals between the new note and all previous notes.
For example, your students learn two intervals with sol-mi:
- Sol to mi
- Mi to sol
But when you add la, now you have 4 new intervals:
- Sol to la
- La to sol
- Mi to la
- La to mi
If you then add DO, now you have 6 new intervals:
- Sol to do
- Do to sol
- Mi to do
- Do to mi
- La to do
- Do to La
It can get overwhelming quickly! That’s why I believe you don’t need to practice every single one of the mutations, especially the more uncommon ones (la-do for example).
You do not need to prep/practice M-L in the beginning – they will experience with more and more practice the further you get.
Starting solfege in either first or second grade is a big step. This sets the foundation for all pitch learning later on.
Sol-mi usually goes do well, and the kids gain confidence quickly. But when we add la it gets trickier.
I used to overwhelm my kids by jumping right to all 4 of the new intervals to practice. But I learned that mi-la will come with time.
Throwing them all in there is confusing, but mi-la is in so many songs, the kids will pick it up naturally the more your practice.
Prepare, Present, Practice For Solfege
In Kodaly land, we walk through the Prepare-Present-Practice steps for teaching our concepts in order to develop the conceptual knowledge as best as we can.
In this section, I’ll talk about the ideas behind each step and how it relates to solfege. For a (huge) list of practice activities, read Part 3.
The prepare stage focuses on guiding students in experiencing and understanding a new concept with songs that use them, aural prep, movement, and visuals before showing them the correct notation.
This is a HUGE part of the work, but the prep time gets smaller as students get older. We will spend the bulk of our time talking about Practicing concepts, but many of the activities can be modified to help with the Preparation phase.
The first step is simply to experience the concept. Not even in isolation, but in singing games, dances, songs, etc. You can include new concepts in songs you are practicing for the previous concept if that previous concept can be isolated, or all in songs that are chosen for rhythm elements.
Then you move on to isolation, identifying where it is in relation to other elements, the contour, where it falls in a song and calling attention to it without naming it.
You can do a lot of things here that look like early practice but without taking the next steps that come with identifying the note.
- Aural Prep
- Inner hearing
- Identifying where new note occurs
- Identifying in relation to other notes
- Step or skip?
- Show contour with hands (no hand signs)
- Show contour with hand signs (shrug for new pitch)
- Body signs – movements to show pitch level
- Visual Prep
- Circle the high and low sounding words
- Icons matching pitch level
Tips for Prepare Stage
- Show visuals (icons) later in the stage.
- Sing the rules of the staff (“If sol in on the line, mi is on the line below.”)
- Use the same song for the last prepare and to present.
- Hum for the new note. Don’t use the solfege syllable.
- Don’t let the kids just sit if someone is the scribe. Have them use hand signs/body signs/hand staff or even a paper staff that they can point to.
- If kids identify a note incorrectly, sing the notes they say with the interval they chose and correct by singing the correct interval again.
- Icons should be size appropriate.
The purpose of the presentation stage is to connect the prepared concept with its correct notation and syllable.
In the prepare stage, use the same song you ended with in the prepare stage. I like to use the following steps to connect the knowledge to the new information:
- I’ll sing (text that is on known solfege), you sing (text that is on unknown solfege).
- Sing again using body signs and inner hearing.
- “I’m interested in the part that goes…”
- Figure out solfa – Teacher sings, Ss listen, using body signs
- Sing known solfa, hmm on a new note.
- Review staff rules for surrounding notes.
- Identify what word it occurs on
- “Is it higher or lower than…?”
- “Is it a skip or a step away?”
- Introduce the name, hand sign and put it on the staff.
- Sing the staff rules (EX: If Sol is on a space, Mi is on the space below Sol).
- Add Mt. Solfege story if you wish
- Don’t show on the staff in more than one position.
- Next time you show it on the staff – review rules then change the key AND the position on the staff. (Make sure you sing the staff rules in the new pitches.)
This process may seem complicated. Broken down all you need to do is review what they know, introduce the new concept with notation and syllables, and then move on to use it right away.
For detailed examples on practice activities, see Part 3.
In the practice stage, you continue to cycle through activities that develop the skills in using the solfege. Practice activities can be narrowed down into some of these categories.
Reading – Practice reading and singing with solfege actual notation.
Writing – Students practice writing down the notation correctly.
Partwork – Students sing with multiple parts to develop independent musicianship.
Memory – Students develop the ability to memorize and inner visualize longer and longer passages.
Listening/Inner Hearing – Students practice their inner hearing skills. This helps big time with sight singing and sight reading.
Create – Students compose their own patterns and songs using the new pitch.
Improvise – Students create, on the spot, patterns that fit into a set of rules using the new pitch.
Tips On Practice
- Read the card – keep it if you are right (Extra cool tip: Put on playing cards – harder patterns on higher cards) Or put 2 patterns on a card using colors to differentiate. (Lucky Solfege game)
- Move to the note
- For the lowest note, sit. Use hand signs/solfege, solfege only, loo, words of song, hand signs, rhythm only (extension – high note jump!)
- What to do with Pattern Cards
- T sings solfege, Ss sing solfege
- T sings lu, Ss sing solfege
- Arrange 4 cards & sing
- Ss turn cards over T claps rhythm rearrange cards
- Add one note to a new pattern at a time
- Transition to new song by changing rhythm or changing words EX: Bow wow wow becomes Hot cross buns
- Reading on different lines
- One line – High/Low or Sol/Mi
- Three lines – La, Do, Re if necessary
- Five lines – anything past Re
- Can use Icon and Notation on all three
- Use note heads only if you want to clean up some of the visuals for kids, or if you are transferring from icons
I hope you found these solfege ideas helpful. These tips changed my teaching instantly, and then student understanding jumped way up!
In the final part, we’ll look at:
- Getting the most out of one song
- Solfege practice activities (30+ examples)
- Music manipulatives
What are some things you wish people had told you about solfege? Please comment below!