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Solfege methods...

Dear All:
I have a private student (plays Euphonium beautifully) who will be entering college in the fall. He wants to spend the summer working on sightsinging skills, which he knows he will need in music school, and which he knows he is in need of serious help.
I want to get him a book to study from, but realized that it's been many years since I looked at what was available for students in that age group and ability level... (I remember something called "Solfeggio" that was published by G.Schirmer, but I don't want to date myself.) 
Any suggestions?
Ron Isaacson
Germantown, MD
Replies (12): Threaded | Chronological
on April 16, 2009 5:45am
 Before buying a text, make sure he knows what method he is going to use - fixed do - movable do - la minor or do minor - numbers, modified fixed do, etc. Then, google sight reading and you'll find many books available - some even on line.
John Drotleff
Lakewood, OH
on April 16, 2009 5:51am
Berkowitz! Any sight reading material is appropriate. He should focus on the METHOD he uses. Some work, others don't. Instrumentalists tend to prefer Fixed Do, but I recommend Movable Do for singing, because it allows the singer to reference the scale, and hear the pitches in relation to one another. I also have had great success incorporating the Kodaly Hand signals. I had to re-take sight singing in college 4 times, that's how bad at it I was. I heard this guy who used the hand signals, and once I started, BOOM, I'm now a master.
on April 16, 2009 5:49pm
I would question this approach.  Movable Do is fine for tonal music, but a student who learns this method is handicapped when dealing with non-tonal music, since the normal references are absent.  (And therefore such a person becomes even less likely to willingly investigate works that are outside that narrow box.)  The most effective approaches teach reading and singing pure intervals without reference to a key, working with "movable" clefs.  The classic texts are the Danhauser/Lemoine series "Solfege des solfeges" and the Dandelot "Manuel pratique pour l'etude des cles" used for generations at the Paris Conservatory.  But these are most useful in the context of work with a teacher or study partner.  If the student is really ambitious he might investigate working with Marianne Ploger in Ann Arbor.
Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor
The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
on April 16, 2009 7:53pm
I don't know that it has to be one way or the other. I am quite a good sight singer, but I describe myself as a lazy one!  I have never used solfege, but for tonal music -- and I include here tonal music which is quite chromatic or with frequent tonal centre shifts  --  I always think in terms of the key, or at least the tonal centreI   I also can sing by intervals, if I have to, but perhaps not so quickly.  The group I sing in has a repertoire which ranges in time from the Renaissance to last year.  The method I use to sight sing new material depends on the character of the music.  
(BTW, I teach my instrumental and musicianship students that the primary purpose of sight-reading/sight-singing is to get a good idea of how the music goes, and therefore encourage singing by phrase by phrase or at least motif by motif rather than note by note, and, if something has to give, to choose rhythmic accuracy ahead of notes.  It seems to work very well...!  I am in the business of encouraging the development of "useful musicians" rather than stars.)
Helen Duggan
on April 17, 2009 5:53am
What are the odds that someone will be asked to sight read atonal music? 
Also, Wouldn't it be better to start with movable, then learn intervals? rather than the other way around?
Whenever I listen to a young student sight read who has learned fixed do, THEY are handicapped by trying to find the intervalic relationship, and can't find a tonal center.
To figure out a piece using fixed Do, you need to go through, like, seven different thought processes, including how to sing the interval. Movable do - once you find your tonal center, everything relates to the scale. Singing an F to a Bb sounds more like a Do-Fa to me than a Fa-Te, and what the (a)#$% is Fa-Te anyway?
on April 17, 2009 11:31pm
"Movable Do is fine for tonal music, but a student who learns this method is handicapped when dealing with non-tonal music, since the normal references are absent."
Really? I use movable do (I switched to movable do 23 years ago, having first learnt fixed do), and I read non-tonal music just fine, better than nearly everyone I know actually.
It is true that non-tonal music requires one to think more in terms of interval sequences, but how does one learn the intervals in the first place? I learnt intervals by learning solfa, and I've never encountered another method as effective.
Generally in non-tonal music one can isolate phrases and translate them into solfa - it just means you have to take the 'movable' part of movable do very seriously! Which one already has to do to sing modulations, or to sing in mixed modality, so it's nothing new to anyone who is skilled in the use of movable do.
Simon Loveless
Melbourne Vic Australia
on October 25, 2011 7:10am
I sort of disagree here.  I was raised on moveable do, quite literally - I think I learned and solidified my understanding of major scale solfege by the time I was around 10 years old (almost 22 now).  As a composer and in college ear training classes in general, I do plenty of atonal/heavily chromatic music, and I still feel moveable do solfege is useful.  For me, it's all about understanding the intervals, but also being able to contextualize them, even if it means changing keys in your head every three notes.  Sometimes, a perfect fourth seems like it should be do-fa, but others, it seems like sol-do, and still others seem like ti-mi.  If you are strong with moveable do, any of those will do you right in the moment.  And ultimately, moveable do doesn't mean you can never do it in C like fixed do would be... there are times for that, too.  Of course, it does depend on the person, and perhaps for me, the fact that I started learning and sightsinging on solfege relatively early (at least by American standards) probably affects my opinion.
on October 26, 2011 7:48pm
Erin et al.:  Every system--movable do, fixed do, numbers, whatever--has its advantages and its disadvantages, and those who are trained in one system know its advantages and feel that it's best, of course.
Kodály carefully consided all the available systems, understood them, and made an educated decision to use movable do solfege FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES.  I'm not surprised, because Guido d'Arezzo developed the very first system in the early 11th century FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES and it was a movable do system, based on hexachords.  And Guido's system was still in common use EIGHT CENTURIES LATER, and is the basis for both of the current systems plus tonic sol-fa.  And his solmization is invaluable for melodic anaysis of medieval and renaissance music.  In fact it is absolutely necessary for determining the use of musica ficta.
The trick for a teacher is to be able to translate from one system to another for students who have only learned one of them.  My late wife was Kodály trained, but was able to communicate with fixed-do people.
All the best,
on April 16, 2009 12:32pm
Hi, Ron.  Please tell your student how much I respect his realization that he needs to improve this skill!  And the key word is sight-SINGING.
First, regarding the various methods in use:  When Guido d'Arezzo invented staff notation in the early 11th century, his system for teaching his choirboys was a moveablel-Do (actually movable-Ut!) system, and his method was so effective that it was still in active use over 500 years later (in Thomas Morley's "Plaine and Easy Introduction to Practicall Musick") and became the basis of ALL modern solfege systems.  And when Kodály was samplling all the teaching methods in use in the early 20th century he decided on the movable-Do system (with La minor) for the same exact reason that Guido did:  it is ideal for teaching purposes.  Therefore I strongly recommend it (although I've never studied it myself; my late wife was the Kodály expert in the family).
Second, the Koály materials are explicitly designed to teach sightsinging and have the huge advantage of being based on real musical examples, and not "exercises" made up by theory teachers.
But third, my own advice would be this, if there is not Kodály-certified teacher available to work with him:  borrow or buy a hymnbook.  Take 5 hymns EVERY DAY and sightsing each of the four parts (in his own octave, obviously).  Sing them AT SIGHT without first playing them.  THEN check on a keyboard to make sure that his singing was accurate.  It really doesn't matter whether he uses one of the solfege or number systems or not, sings note names, or sings the 1st verse lyrics.  The whole point is to go through a LOT of music that is not terribly difficult, and to do so on a regular basis EVERY DAY.  If he's willing to apply himself, he will be able to enter college in the fall with at least as much sightsinging skill as the average 6th grader in Hungary, which is miles above the ability of the average college Freshman!  (And I may be a bit prejudiced, but I've never known ANY college sightsinging course actually to teach anyone to sightsing.  Skill in solfege WILL.)
And finally, I would not worry about which system is in use at his particular college.  It's quite possible to learn more than one thing and to use them both skillfully!  (Like being able to read both treble and bass clef if you happen to be a euphonium player!!)  PLEASE don't approach this as preparation for his Freshman year in college, but as preparation for his life as a musician.
All the best to you and your student.
on April 16, 2009 6:51pm
I used the Oxford Sight Singing Series (it's graded - many different small books) in college, and have used it often in private teaching.  It uses movable Do, which I swear by for singers.  MELODIA is another useful one, but is more pedantic.  The Oxford series uses mostly excerpts from folk songs around the world.
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