Solfege… Or: “But I can’t sing!”

Solfege is the practice of singing music using syllables for each note of the scale. If you’ve ever listened to The Sound of Music, you’ve heard Julie Andrews and the children singing Solfege.

This is a form of “moveable do” solfege, in that the do is assigned to the base note of the scale, in this case a B flat.

In beginning violin practice, we perform a different type of solfege called “fixed do”, where do is always assigned to the note C.  This exercise is used both to teach music reading skills and also develop the ear, which is vitally important in violin.

Why does a violinist need to develop their ear? Well, a violin isn’t like a piano or even a guitar. On the piano, the individual keys are the notes, and if the piano is correctly tuned, you will always play in tune. Whether you play the correct notes is another matter of course! On the guitar, each semi-tone is marked by a fret. If your fingers are placed correctly, you will play the note correctly.

Violins, on the other hand, have no such aids. While beginner students will often have fingering tapes placed on the fingerboard to help them learn finger placement, eventually you need to be able to “hear” whether or not you are playing in tune.

If you are lucky, you may be one of the 1 in 10 000 who has perfect pitch and be able to hear tonal variations naturally. Otherwise, you will have to develop your ear, and solfege is one way to do that. So keep singing!

Before I leave you, here is another example of solfege, for all you trekkies out there, from the DS9 episode “Chrysalis”

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