About this blogger:
Dr. Lucas Tappan is a conductor and organist whose specialty is working with children. He lives in Kansas with his wife and two sons.
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“Oh, the happy choir director who is hired to start work on a brand new choir, or who walks into his first rehearsal a total stranger to the existing group—what a fortunate man he is! The new choir director who is a former member of the choir, or a member of the congregation, or the nephew of the alto soloist, or a former altar boy, or otherwise well acquainted with the choir, is in for a few headaches.”
— Paul Hume (1956)

published 29 September 2015 by Lucas Tappan

LMT Solfege Hand Signs THE FIRST MONTH of probationer rehearsals I set 3 goals, one of which is for them to become fluent in the use of diatonic solfege. Some children (although not nearly as many as one might presume) are familiar with the song “Do, Re, Mi” from The Sound of Music, which is a useful little ditty for introducing solfege syllables to children. I have the boys and girls sing this song during our first practice before we work more in depth on the first five syllables: do, re, mi, fah and sol. After we sing up and down those five notes a few times, we play any number of little games to help make them second nature. One of the probationers’ favorite games is to play “Around the World with Solfege.” Hopefully you are familiar with the game “Around the World.” Basically, children compete against each other one-on-one until one child goes “around the world” and beats all his classmates. In my version, I give the name of a solfege syllable to the two students competing and they have to name the syllable higher or lower (depending on what we have established beforehand) in order to beat one another. This gets them thinking on their toes.

The second week I review sol, la ti and high do, and go through the process again. This time I draw middle C on the board and have them sing the note as Do, after which I add another note and another note until we sing up the major scale. I use these and various other games over the next two weeks to help the children reach fluency, both forward and back. For those who have tried solfege and didn’t seem to get anywhere, remember that this is only the first step. The ultimate goal is not to have children be able to parrot back nonsense syllables, but rather for each child to understand and hear how every note functions within the scale. The probationers will be working on this in the coming months.

This ultimate goal is why I use solfege. Simply put, I feel that solfege is the fastest and most secure route to establishing the scale (whether major, minor, or the variations of the minor scale) and the way its notes function within that scale in the minds of singers. If a student learns what the home note (do) of a scale sounds like, he will be able to hit that note every time it comes along in his music. Likewise, a singer who struggles with distinguishing between descending fifths and fourths within the context of a given work no longer struggles if he understands how those notes function within the scale.