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Solfege singing in an instrumental music teaching context

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

At the outset I want to be clear that this is not a scholarly article about solfege and Kodaly teaching practices. However, I would like to share how I use solfege singing as one component of a whole music lesson, and share some ideas about how to develop aural skills in young children, in the context of instrumental music teaching.

Other musicians and music teachers will have their own approaches which may be similar, or very different, and I would be interested to hear about these!

I've included links to other sites and articles if you are interested in learning more about solfege and the Kodaly approach to music education.

What is solfege?

Does this seem familiar?

Doh, a deer, a female deer,

Re, a drop of golden sun,

Mi, a name I call myself,

Fah, a long long way to run,

Soh, a needle pulling thread,

Lah a note to follow soh,

Ti, a drink with jam and bread,

That will bring us back to doh!

The song Do-Re-Mi, from the Sound of Music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, introduces solfege note names.

Solfege singing, that is singing songs using solfege note names, comes from the Kodaly method of music education. Solfege is used to teach pitch and sight singing in western music. A solfege syllable is given to each note of the musical scale: doh - re - mi - fah - soh - lah - ti - doh.

Solfege syllables are great for singing - much better than A B C D E F G, in my opinion. I mean, think about singing 'eff' for four beats: "Eeeeeffffffffffff"?! You would have to remember to sing the 'e' sound for four beats and just put a little 'ff' sound right on the end. The 'ff' sound is just air passing through your teeth and lips, there isn't even a vocalised sound! And what about 'A' and 'E' (and our old friend 'F') - they are all produced by closing off the back of the throat, which is not ideal for singing. Lastly, five out of the seven letter names all end with an 'ee' sound: B, C, D, E, G, making most of your vocalisations sound extremely similar... All things considered, solfege syllables lend themselves much more readily to singing, and there is certainly no harm in learning two methods of naming pitches.

Solfege singing is an important component in all Best Start Music Lessons, and is a skill that is easily learned by young children.

I created the following three short videos to demonstrate how a teacher without any formal Kodaly teacher training may approach the solfege component in the Best Start Music Lessons books and incorporate solfege singing into their own lessons.

What is the Kodaly method? Zoltan Kodaly was a Hungarian composer and music educator who developed his approach to music education in the mid-twentieth century. The Kodaly approach is based on singing and the idea that everyone can access music and develop a love and understanding of music by using their voice, and without needing to learn the technical demands of an instrument.

The Kodaly approach develops aural training through the use of folk songs, singing games, and folk dances. It uses solfege syllables and the movable doh system to teach students about pitch, intervals, harmony, and enable them to analyse music. Basically there are two ways to teach solfege:

  1. Fixed doh - doh is always the note C, re is always D, and so on. This teaches absolute pitch.

  2. Movable doh - doh is always the tonic of the song. For example, in the key of G major G would be doh, and in C Major C would be doh. This teaches about the relationships between pitches.

You can read more about movable doh versus fixed doh here:

Best Start Music Lessons Book 1 uses fixed doh, and Book 2 uses both fixed and movable doh. Starting with fixed doh allows children to become accustomed to the solfege syllables and the routine of singing them in lessons, before moving on to using movable doh.

There is some criticism that the Kodaly approach is too prescriptive in terms of the folk songs it uses and the order that the songs must be learned in, and also that the traditional Kodaly folk songs and are no longer relevant in todays society. You can read more in these articles:

Hand gestures

The Kodaly method uses specific hand signals for each note name. A hand signal is performed for each note as you sing. You can find the Kodaly hand signals here:

I suggest that for the purpose of instrumental music lessons it is just as useful to use any hand gestures that show the movement of pitch going up and down. As well as using the ears to hear pitch, hand gestures use the body to "feel" the music, and the eyes to "see" the pitch going up and down. It is particularly useful for students who:

  • find singing in tune difficult,

  • find aural work challenging,

  • have not yet learned to read music,

  • have difficulty concentrating.

How to include solfege singing in an instrumental music lesson.

You don't have to be trained as a Kodaly teacher to use solfege singing.

Using a piano is helpful when teaching solfege singing, but is not absolutely necessary. The following three videos demonstrate three ways to incorporate solfege singing into a music lesson.

  1. The first example uses chords in the piano part, and may be ideal for teachers who are confident piano players and who have access to a piano in lessons.

  2. The second uses the piano to play the melody line only, and is suitable for teachers who are less confident piano players.

  3. The third does not use piano at all.

Solfege singing is a useful tool for any student learning a musical instrument. It can increase pitch awareness and an understanding of tonality. It also gives students the ability to sight read music. These skills all help students learn new music - if they can sing it, they can learn to play it, and they are more likely to be able to self correct if they make a mistake.

I encountered this method of solfege singing using fixed doh at the Australian Music Schools classes, where solfege is taught in conjunction with learning to play the piano.


A word about the videos...

These videos are as real as it gets - no rehearsing, no script, no editing, no fancy scenery, lighting or audio! The student is 4 year old (almost 5) Anise. The videos were recorded quickly in between school drops offs, cleaning up after breakfast, and running errands! While they may not be the fanciest videos the internet has ever seen, the quality of the material still good, and I hope you find them useful :)


In the first example I am playing chords on the piano to accompany the solfege. In this example students are exposed to melody, rhythm, and harmony.

In the second video I am playing the solfege "melody" on the piano, no chords, and doing basic hand gestures that portray the movement of the pitches up and down.

In the last video, we are not using the piano at all.

I hope you enjoy these videos and find them useful. Please get in touch with any comments or questions!


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