Introduction to Solfege
Solfege is a technique of naming the notes in a way that describes their function.
In movable ‘do’ solfege, whatever key we are in, that note is ‘do’. If you’re in the key of A, then A is ‘do’. If you’re in the key of C, then C is ‘do’. The reason that we use solfege and not just note names is because we want to describe how the notes function. Depending on what degree of the scale we’re on, that note has a function and a sound. By using solfege, as well as the Kodaly hand signs, we’re actually describing that function.
I‘m going to show you how you can create a little solfege routine just to get yourself used to singing it. It helps to have a keyboard instrument of some kind. We’re going to do what I call a ‘Do’ drone you’re going to play the Do over and over again. I’m going to put us in the key of A so I’m going to play an A Do drum and I’m going to sing up the scale in solfege.
Kodaly Hand Signs:
Zoltan Kodaly was a great master pedagogue from 100 years ago. Part of his work was trying to find a way of making musicianship accessible to young people. He came up with what’s widely known as the Kodaly hand signs. This information is really helpful for us because these hand signs go along with each degree of the major scale. It’s really terrific because the signs that he uses are actually very descriptive to how each of these notes function in the scale.
When we look at the ‘do’ you can see it’s this fist and it’s saying to us we’re home, solid, secure and indeed the tonic or the first note of the scale is home. It’s home we’re done we’re finished the song is over.
You can see the hand sign that Kodaly came up with was diagonal Re really wants to resolve down to Do – can you see that Re is unstable because it’s on a slant?
We’re using the same hand but it’s flat. You can see that this is saying that it’s a resting note or a resting space and indeed Me is the third note of the the middle note of the tonic triad. In the major triad, this is the middle note which means it’s a note that doesn’t need to resolve.
It’s very clear Fa either doesn’t like to move or it wants to resolve down to Me.
Again, you can see it straight across so it’s saying; this is a note that doesn’t need a lot of resolution.
La wants to resolve down to sol.
Ti is the finger pointing up, it’s the resolution resolving up to Do and that’s why they call it the leading tone and where is it leading you? it’s leading you up to Do again.
The hand signs aren’t something important for you to memorize, especially if you’re an adult musician doing this just sort of for your own information. It is something however for you to use a little bit so that you can really tune into the function of the notes. Once you can see the function of the notes, you’re training your ears to hear them. When you hear music, you are going to have an easier time being able to pick out what it is and be able to either play it on the piano or to understand how it’s functioning.
Our next step is going to be to outline the tonic triad. This is the home triad so if we’re in the key of A then the triad is A. I’m going to go back to my Do drone to help stay in the key.
Going up to the top and playing the second inversion, singing the second inversion of the triad so that you can hear the outline from the top helps establish the key center.
Anytime I want to get myself centered in the key area very quickly, I’ll give myself the tonic note in whatever key I’m in. Then I’ll go through that routine. This is the time if I’m ever away from a keyboard that I use my good old master key pitch pipe. I can blow any pitch on here I want so let me give myself an A. Now, I’m securely in the key center. This is a great way to practice & everyone should have one of these tucked in their back pocket. You could just use an app on your phone too
Now we’re going to go through and do the moving tones to the resting tones. Remember, in major, Re and Fa and La and Ti are all moving notes. A moment ago we went and sang through all of the resting notes; Do Me and Sol so now we’re going to sing the resolution from the moving notes to the resting notes.
In this short period of time you sang up and down the major scale in solfege and I showed you the hand sign so that you would get a feel for how each of these notes function.
We then went through the tonic triad which are all the resting or the home notes in the key. Finally we worked through getting comfortable with the idea of the moving notes resolving to the resting notes. A great way to work on this is to practice it in a whole bunch of different keys. All of the notes are going to function the same way. Me is always going to be a resting note, Ti is always going to be a moving note in major, etc. Feeling it in different parts of your voice is a really really great way to reinforce these concepts!
Check out these post to learn more:
Solfege is a powerful tool that helps to develop your musical ear. In this video, I show you how it works, what it’s for and how to practice it to grow your musicianship. Solfege is NOT just for classical musicians – it is incredibly useful for everyone!
Want to learn Solfege and build your ears and musicianship skills?
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