BY JIM D’VILLE | FROM THE WINTER 2018 ISSUE OF UKULELE
The technique of solfège involves assigning the notes of a scale a particular syllable, and then practicing by singing different note sequences using these syllables. Italian music scholar Guido of Arezzo created the system in the 11th century. No doubt, the most famous application of the solfège (pronounced sol-fej) is Julie Andrews singing “Do-Re-Mi” in the musical motion picture The Sound of Music. One of the most important aspects in learning to play any musical instrument is ear training and becoming familiar with the intervals (distance between two tones) of the major and chromatic scales. Learning solfège will improve your listening skills if you incorporate its use into your daily practice.
Major Scale Solfège
The first step is to play and sing the notes of the C major scale using the solfège syllables. Go slowly, playing and singing each note.
C–do, D–re, E–mi, F–fa, G–sol, A–la, B–ti, C–DO (pronounced doe–ray–me–fah–sol–la–tea–DOE)
C–DO, B–ti, A–la, G–sol, F–fa, E–mi, D–re, C–do (pronounced DOE–tea–la–sol–fah–me–ray–doe)
The first solfege exercise is for daily practice and will have you playing and singing the ascending and descending intervals of the major scale (Example 1).
The Movable Do
This system is known as The Movable Do, which means that to play in any of the other eleven musical keys “do” is the note you start on that names the key. You then simply follow the major-scale pattern of:
To play the E major scale, for example, play the 2nd string open and then follow the whole-step/half-step pattern up the 2nd string. (Example 2)
The twelve notes available in any given key are called a chromatic scale. To play a chromatic scale, start on any note and go up the fingerboard one half-step at a time until you reach the starting note, one octave higher. The sharp/flat notes (non-major scale notes) in the chromatic scale also have solfège syllables associated with them. The accidentals have an “e” sound when ascending and an “a” sound when descending. [Chromatic scale pronunciation ascending: doe, dee, ray, ree, me, fah, fee, sol, see, la, lee, tea, DOE; Chromatic scale pronunciation descending: DOE, tea, tay, la, lay, sol, say, fa, me, may, ray, rah, doe.]
Note that when you descend the chromatic scale, as you do in bars 3 and 4 of Example 3, the notes change from sharp to flat to reflect the flatted nature of the non-major scale notes. If you played the C chromatic scale on a piano, the sharp/flat notes would be played on the black keys.
Third Interval Exercise
One of the most beautiful sounding intervals found in the major scale is the third interval, for example do–mi. Practice playing and singing the following exercises highlighting major and minor third intervals. Example 4a shows the C major scale, ascending and descending in thirds, with corresponding solfège syllables. Example 4b again ascends and descends the C major scale, this time using the pattern of going up-a-3rd/down-a-3rd. You might notice that the up-a-3rd/down-a-3rd exercise is the basis for The Sound of Music’s “Do-Re-Mi.”
The Solfège & Melody
Once you can comfortably play and sing the major and chromatic scales you can start using the syllables to sing melodies. Begin with simple major-scale melodies like those from nursery rhymes.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
do, do, do re–mi
mi re–mi fa–sol
Mary Had A Little Lamb
mi–re–do–re mi mi mi
mi–re–do–re mi mi mi
do re–re mi–re–do
Scales & Arpeggios
The solfège syllables are also great for practicing scales and arpeggios in different keys. Notice that in the minor scales and blues scale, we use the flatted solfège syllables, also known as blue notes.
Major scale arpeggio do mi sol DO
Pentatonic scale do re mi sol la (DO)
Minor pentatonic scale do may fa sol tay (DO)
Blues scale do may fa say sol tay (DO)
Natural minor scale do re may fa sol lay tay (DO)
Harmonic minor scale do re may fa sol lay ti (DO)
Melodic minor scale do re may fa sol la ti (DO)
Whole tone scale do re mi fi si li (DO)
Diminished scale do re may fa say lay la ti (DO)
To get the most from your solfège practice, be sure to sing the notes as you play them. Before you know it, these helpful syllables will be fully assimilated into your musical ear and you’ll be hearing and learning music in a new way.
Music educator and facilitator Jim D’Ville is on a mission to get ukulele players off the paper and into playing music by ear. Over the last six years he has taught his “Play Ukulele By Ear” workshops in the United States, Australia, and Canada. Jim is the author of the Play Ukulele By Ear DVD series and hosts the popular Play Ukulele By Ear website www.PlayUkuleleByEar.com.