Solfège, my old friend and enemy. What is it? You can find more details here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solfège Basically it is sight singing. “The study of solfège enables the musician to audiate, or mentally hear, the pitches of a piece of music which he or she is seeing for the first time and then to sing them aloud” You get a song, the sheet music and just like an instrumentalist would play it, you sing it. Solfège in it’s simplest has two things, intervals and rhythm. You might add chord center or tonal center. Yes, it’s this:
It’s the least favourite thing in singing for me. Why? Cause I am terrible at it. I’m used to learning things by listening to them. Yes, I can read sheet music and I can play it. But I can’t sing it. Or well, depends on the music. I might be okay with a simple tune that is in a major key, like Old McDonald had a farm. The notation is here:
To my knowledge Hungary has a long tradition of teaching solfège to everybody in school, it’s part of the Kodály method. That doesn’t mean that everybody learns. Last time I studied solfège a few years ago in a singing school in Budapest, my friend was wondering how can I sing that, a simple fraze that was in major key with not many interval jumps, when he can’t although he has been in a solfège class for 8 years. I guess I did pick up a few things over the years and it does help that I remember the melody if it’s not too complicated if I hear it once, but it’s not solfège. For the record I still sucked. But I wanted to suck less, so I started to do something about that.
Have to say that just like my friend I’ve attended probably about 5 years of solfège lessons. And no, I didn’t learn much. I was probably a poor student and my patience was just not long enough to get it. Plus I never got to start from the beginning. I mean it was already an advanced class where the others would know the basics and I hoped that I’d just pick it up in time. Surprise, that didn’t happen. I was okay with the rhythm, but I had no idea about the pitches.
And just like with math I started to hate solfage, because I didn’t get it just like that, yet I wasn’t willing to put any effort into it. What a silly thing to do, I know. Anyhow, back to doing something about it.
I sat down every day at 3 pm and did the exercises for an hour. All of them are in major keys. With this book, it sure helps if you can read music, but I bet you can learn that fairly easy if you want to.
The other book I bought was called 333 Olvasógyakorlat by Kodály, that means 333 reading exercises, an intruduction to Hungarian folk music. If you are in Budapest, go to the Rózsavölgy könyvesbolt, that’s a book shop/cafe/music store close to Váci utca, the shopping street in downtown. It will cost you 2 euros and 30 cents. You might be able to buy it online here:
It has really simple melodies where you can work with only two notes at a time, like do and re.
But what is do re anyway. It’s a different system of naming the notes. In solfège, well you use do re mi fa sol la ti do. In the Kodály method and what Berklee( the prestigious music school in Boston) teaches is the movable do. “There are two methods of applying solfege: 1) fixed do, where the syllables are always tied to specific pitches (e.g. “Do” is always the pitch “C”) and 2) movable do, where the syllables are assigned to different pitches based on musical context.” as Wikipedia explains it. The movable do makes a lot more sense to me.
But what does this have to do with singing? I could just play the melody, right? Well, as in Schachnik’s book title, it’s ear training at the same time. It will help you with your general hearing and you’ll get better hitting the correct notes. And just in general, if you consider the career of a background singer, you can’t do it without the skill of sight singing. It’s just a basic tool in your musicianship. Trust me, in time it will get easier.
What I do with it now is not much, I should get back to the daily practice. Call me silly, but I find it cool that I can solfège the announcement tune on the ski lift, it is pretty simple, I admit it, do mi sol do sol mi do. Or the subway alert tune, or how you want to call it.
I’d encourage you to try it. First it will feel like hitting your head deliberately to the wall, repeatedly, but in time it will be easier. Oh another thing, it will help your life if you want to be the queen or king of riffs. What are those? Check this out, especially at 2:00 the ruling queen of riffing, plenty of riffs and runs here:
I find that Christina is over doing the riffing for my liking, but that’s matter of taste in the end. As in the Sound of Music: “When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything” 😉