What actually is the importance of Solfège?
  • I just really don't understand the fuss over it. I was never taught it as a kid and I can never follow when my conductors tell me to solfa.
  • wingletwinglet
    Posts: 33
    A few of my fellow choristers find it helpful for sightreading a new piece, but like you I just can't do it. Ever tried it with numbers instead?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,676
    My students, who are learning as children, have a much easier time with solfege than I.

    One little girl started her own country, and named it solfudgey.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • [Deep breath, audibly, as unconvinced salesman tries to sell product]

    Solfege is supposed to be important in teaching first a scale, and then the intervallic relationship among notes, without using lots of technical language. If students get stuck on the syllables themselves, not the notes (absolute or relative) that they represent, nothing helpful is accomplished.

    When students first learn solfege, they learn none of the "accidentals", because these are deemed too technical or too boorish or something.

    I hope that helps.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,287
    When I learned it, numbers were taught instead of syllables. It was felt that numbers better convey the intervals. As a practical matter, it is something I never need or use. If a piece is unfamiliar, I play it. My choir seems to pick up from hearing better than from singing solfege. I suspect it was a method devised for singers who either couldn't or would never learn to read music. However, it is alive and well in our regional shape note singing. If you ever hear them learning new pieces of music, you will hear solfege.
  • rogue63
    Posts: 365
    Solfege is a means to an end---the end being the fluent and accurate sight singing of music. If you can look at a choral score and sing the parts without errors, then you're a fluent singer. If you must constantly refer to a keyboard for pitch, you cannot accurately read the music.

    Solfege works best in conjunction with a teaching method (Kodaly, Ward, Orff) which aims to produce general musical competency. In the Kodaly methodology, solfege is only introduced after students have a large repertoire of singing games, folk songs, dances, and other musical activities which provide a framework upon which to hang the cloth of solfege. The general aim is use the solfege syllables as neutral sounds to help the memory in ear training for intervals and tuning, and then to expand that practice into reading music and associating the solfege with written notation.

    When you admit that you have difficulty reading scores, it proves that you need more work in developing your aural skills. Solfege is one possibility--a good one--for improving your own ability to see what you hear, and hear what you see. Definitely worth your time to attend a training course in your area, from any of the methods mentioned above.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 781
    Solfege is primarily a tool for facilitating accurate sight singing. I knew only a bit of it when I got to college, but (ahem!) years later, I can sight sing just about anything, provided I use solfege; I'm much more accurate that way.
  • rogue63 said it well--it's a means to an end. It takes a bit of effort to gain proficiency, but worth it.

    This summer, one chant schola I work with took the summer off from singing, but we used the rehearsal time to drill solfege. Starting this fall, I'm now finding that using solfege we learn new pieces much quicker than before. This gives us more rehearsal time to work on things like vocal production, phrasing, and musicality, and less time on just drilling notes. And I think we're more confident generally about our singing.

    Time well spent, if you ask me.
    Thanked by 1Claire H
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 493
    I use solfege to sightread. While I'm already good at just plain sight-singing/reading, in general, I'm extremely accurate when I use solfege. And you can hum aloud while using solfege in your head!
    It means that you don't have to have a keyboard, because you understand relationships between the written notes.

    I don't see any reason why having perfect pitch should be a problem for transposed music, if you're basing your singing on solfege, rather than on A, B, C#, D... It's one reason why chant is so universal, and also why I think that people should make more use of reading scores in the alto and tenor clefs, and perhaps even the higher (that sits lower) bass clef.

    My experience was like that of irishtenor. As music majors (though I was an instrumental major, and already sight-read well), we had a sight-singing class. It focused on syllables (in general), kodaly hand-signs, group & choral sight-singing, and then individual sight-singing examinations (each week or 2). We, of course, learned our "accidental" syllables, as well.

    I love solfege. I think it's an excellent tool, and one in which all should strive to be "fluent."
    Thanked by 1Claire H
  • What a curse, eh. Perfect pitch. Sometimes I wish I never had it.

    So then, seeing as Solfège has helped many of you and would seem to help when required to transpose (when one has perfect pitch), how would one who is already very musically developed with excellent sight-reading skills, develop the Solfège? As mentioned, I didn't have the foundation of Solfège, just reading notes. I actually don't have too great of interval recognition either, I can't just look at an interval and immediately tell you what it was. It might take me a bit of time to identify it.
  • Solfege has the glory and academic legitimacy of having a very historical pedigree. It is useful for all the reasons given above. It should be taught children very early in their musical educations. Some may use numbers, others, letters, but nothing has the academic authenticity of the solfege system.

    That said, I learned it as an adult and it took me years to be able to use it fluently when reading chant. Being an excellent sight reader, I didn't really need an aid of any description to read intervals or learn a melody. I have never encountered a score that I couldn't hear in my head and sight read perfectly (an exception might be is Messiaen!). Still, after many years I can say that solfege has, at last, sunk in and become a feather in my cap.

    I think that some are now bypassing solfege and using numbers or letters. I have noticed that even Fr Columba and some other chant scholars use the letter names of pitches rather that their solfege ones. This is fine for those who just don't readily assimilate the solfege system. It is, though, a little sad that in using other methods we are losing a system that has had universal currency in the music world for over a thousand years. This is enough to make one wish to share in such a tradition. It's really not all that hard!

    (Plus, if you go to France or other countries and encounter a symphony in 'la mineur' you won't be able to know that that's A-minor.)
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,279
    It's very Catholic.
    It's a technology for drilling scale degrees. Any technology can be superceded by a better technology. Solfege has not been superceded by anything yet.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,270
    Highly skilled professional musicians who grew up playing piano or organ, such as many of the people, misunderstand the point of solfege and its benefits. Where it really helps is to bring a high level of sight-reading fluency to large groups of otherwise average people. And it only works that way if they are taught as children. You can't pick up solfege as an adult and expect to get very much out of it -- especially if you can already sightread with no problem.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,198
    @Casavant: You sound like my kids. They laugh at me when I sing a passage in Solfege in order to learn the part well. They have perfect pitch, are excellent sight readers in chant and regular notation and don't need it. But it is very useful to me and I use it, even if I am the object of ridicule.

    Thanked by 1Claire H
  • stulte
    Posts: 125
    Where it really helps is to bring a high level of sight-reading fluency to large groups of otherwise average people.


    Adam, you nailed it. I've been teaching my sons solfege using the 4-syllable FaSoLa system and have been very happy with the results so far. I'd also add that it's helpful for someone like me who's not a great pedagogue to have a simple-to-teach system.
    Thanked by 1Claire H
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 470
    Where it really helps is to bring a high level of sight-reading fluency to large groups of otherwise average people.
    Yes, I took a one week course in sight reading (class of 20 or so) with a Hungarian who had invented his own note naming system to get around the fixed/moveable doh problem. (The only musical training I have ever had). It certainly beats picking out the notes slowly on a keyboard. So I say, give us PIPs something to at least reach "the cat sat on the mat" stage of reading, and we can take it from there (if we put in the effort). (PIP in choirless church)
  • Claire H
    Posts: 301
    Solfege (with moveable Do/La-based minor) has transformed the way I approach sight-singing, both for myself and for all those I teach. For adult singers who already know how to read the treble/bass clefs but are unfamiliar with solfege, it can initially feel like "another thing to think about". However, with time and patience, it not only becomes easier, but a highly useful and systematic tool to learn a new piece of music, even if you have never heard it before.

    Children -- and also adults who have never learned how to read music -- can make quick use of this tool, and they become increasingly more independent. I try to incorporate solfege warm-ups and exercises into all my choir rehearsals (I work with 8 choirs ranging from K-1 through semi-professionals). I'm trained in Music Mind Games and teach the "Daily Do" solfege exercise.

    From https://www.musicmindgames.com/game/dictation-sight-singing/%E2%80%9Cdaily-do%E2%80%9D-major-section:

    "Daily Do" is an original 67-note song using solfege and Curwen hand signs to sing intervals, major and minor triads and scales. It forms the basis for learning the staff, steady tempo, and scales.

    Demo video of this exercise: https://vimeo.com/166148072"

    When we have cantor coaching sessions, we are in a conference room without a piano/keyboard/organ. The group of singers (including some who tell me they have only ever "learned by hearing it first") learns Adam Barlett's Lumen Christ Psalm settings without ever hearing them played, by marking the solfege and then sight-singing them together.

    Example here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/om2f8b5n9ed15rr/Solfege%20Psalm%2C%20Lent%203.JPG?dl=0

    [wish I knew how to embed the image...sorry]

    (Occasionally when I am making copies of something and know our rehearsal time will be limited, I mark them up like this before running the copies so that the singers can still use the solfege to learn the piece. It's highly beneficial for them to go through the process of figuring it out on their own, though, and then picking out the notes.)

    The increased understanding and musical literacy it fosters are well worth the time invested. Spoonfeeding a melody might seem quicker in a single instance, but over time using solfege to form more capable singers is way more efficient!
  • JesJes
    Posts: 382
    It's a method widely used and known.
    Not knowing it is a real downfall and that is where it is important.
    I don't use solfege or really believe it is the most effective way but when something is widely used it is important to acknowledge it and try to learn it which can be done.
    It's good for relative pitch development but for me, pitch memory/absolute pitch/perfect pitch I don't tend to use it unless I use a different tuning system and then I find it useful but I believe strongly in singing pitches between the pitches for good intonation anyway.
    So do I think it's the best thing ever - no but I think there is yet to be a system that surpasses it in doing more. My education was based around many systems and I believe that mixing the systems is really great so learn lots.
  • Like many I learned solfeggio in college, so I know the fuss is real. It is a good schema for thinking about intervals, chords, and other sonorities theoretically. In practice it was tremendous for sight singing skills, singing with interference, and of course playing along with music of other cultures who use the solfa scale!