Why Many Professional Musicians Discount Solfege

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“All those weird words just get in the way, just look at the notes and sing them!”

It is very common in discussions of ear training and music teaching to find professional musicians who feel that all forms of sight singing training relying a syllables (solfege, numbers, letter names, etc.) is a waste of time or even detrimental.

There is a reason for this.

When you have spent your whole life speaking only one language, say English, and then try to learn another language, say French, you go through three steps for each new word or phrase:

1) Hear/See the French word

2) Translate it to the English word

3) Discern the meaning

For example:

You see the word “chat”

You translate that (in your head) to “cat”

You see the image of a cat in your head

Mastery of language doesn’t come until you can see/hear “chat” and immediately see the image of a feline in your head WITHOUT the intermediary step of thinking the English word “cat”

There are many philosophies of language education, and of music education as well.  Many language teachers agree that it is helpful for some students to learn how to translate the foreign language into their native tongue.

This is where solfege (or any sight reading method) comes in:

You see the note

You translate it to a syllable (do, re, mi; 1, 2, 3; A, B, C)

You hear the pitch in your head


You hear the pitch

You translate it to a syllable (do, re, mi; 1, 2, 3; A, B, C)

You see the notation in your head

The problem is that many professional musicians learned music without an intermediary step (Like learning French without knowing English) so the process of translating makes no sense to them, and seems like an unnecessary extra step.

If you can see a pitch and immediately hear it in your head, or hear a pitch and immediately know what the notation is, then these systems weren’t created for you.

They are for those of us who grew up without the language of music, and could use some assistance translating it.
Want a free lesson in solfege and music reading?  If you live in the Boston area you can come to my studio, and if you don’t, I do online lessons around the world via Skype, the first lesson is always free!  Let me know in the comments, or check out http://www.ChristopherGKeene.com

~ by Christopher G Keene on October 7, 2012.

One Response to “Why Many Professional Musicians Discount Solfege”

  1. […] laid, musicians need a systematic way to approach deciphering the language of music.  I’ve written on this before, and will again in the future, for now you must know that the scientific literature […]

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