Have you ever felt a melody go in one ear and out the other? Like there was nothing concrete to grasp to help you remember? You create a great melody in your head or while humming along to a chord progression, but within a moment it’s gone. Solfege (a.k.a. Solfa) provides a framework for melodies by establishing recognizable relationships between pitches, and training your ear to hear patterns.
We all know the famous song from The Sound of Music:
But what do those nonsense words really mean?
Solfege Is For Grown-ups
Solfa isn’t just for kids. It’s an aural, musical language that will help translate what you are hearing into something you can write down. Solfege is a method used in music education (most notably the Hungarian Kodály Method) to teach pitch and sight singing. Many people associate “do re mi” with its role in children’s music classes, but the reality is that it is an empowering system of pitch recognition for musicians of all ages.
When drilling solfege, you are training your ear to recognize some of the most common patterns in music. Suddenly, you will hear a melody and be able to recognize intervals and chords by instinctively hearing the solfege syllables. It seems almost like magic, but is actually a real skill that just requires some work to acquire.
By illustrating key relationships between pitches, solfege breaks melodies down into smaller pieces and provides a frame of reference when learning or transcribing new music.
Solfege Conveys Important Information
For example, supposing you hear two notes and can recognize them as “So-Do“. This immediately tells you several important things:
- The pitch movement is from scale degree 5 to 1 (dominant to tonic)
- This implies harmonic (chord) motion of V-I
- The interval is a Perfect Fourth
How can you know all that from two notes?
Movable-Do solfege assigns do to the tonic of the key of the melody. That means that if the song you are listening to is in F Major, do is F. Then, the rest of the syllables follow in sequential order:
So if I am hearing so-do and already know the song is in F Major, I know I have heard C-F!
But What If I Don’t Know What Key I’m In?
The advantage of movable-do solfege is that you don’t need to know what key you’re hearing in order to write it down accurately. Solfege is universal across all keys. If you hear a tune that goes “do re do re do re mi“, you can immediately put it in any key you want, because the solfege outlines the relationships between the notes.
It’s great to know a tune by letter names in a certain key, but what if the band gets a new singer who wants the tune higher? It then takes time and effort to sit down and write it all out in the new key, and can be a real brain scramble.
But if you learn solfege, you don’t have to struggle with transposing the tune from F Major to A♭ Major:
You can easily put any melody in solfege syllables if you have spent time on ear training, and you can then translate a tune to any key you want. Magical!
Take a listen to this tune:
Can you write it down and play it in any key? Wouldn’t it be easier if you knew the system described above?
By following this series of articles and practicing the skills outlined within, you will be able to transcribe that melody using solfege syllables. We will use the movable-do solfege method. If you Google “solfege” you’ll see there are other methods, but we will stick to talking about the Kodály/movable-do system. This system will train your ear to hear melodies and recognize the interval relationships between pitches, and be able to write them down quickly and easily. We will utilize tools found elsewhere on EasyEarTraining.com to supplement your training. As well as reading the tutorials, it will be vital that you spend a bit of time actually practicing the skills explained in this series.
Ear training is best learned by doing, rather than reading… So let’s get started!