Part 2: Solfege Teaching Guide

Structure of Classes

General structure of classes:

  • Solfege class is once a week. Some of the luckier students may be able to schedule a piano lesson around solfege time so they only have to come to the school once a week. When I was a child, our solfege class was on Saturday morning. A more advanced class was on Tuesday evening. We currently run our solfege class on Friday evening at 6:30pm for the younger students, 7:15pm for the adult class.
  • Assuming a normal 4 solfege classes in a month, there are three solfege classes where students sing their solfege number for the week, sing the next number that they will sing the next week, and then we finish with ear training. The last solfege class is a music dictation class at the end of each month, where students retrieve their dictation book, and a board to place on their lap so they can write.
  • 45 minutes to 1 hour long depending on number of students. While we started with 10 in 2016, we ended up with 5 diehard solfege students and a few adult students. In 2017 a new batch started and we’re back up to 9.

It’s best to have at least two instructors, one to accompany and teach, and the other on the floor and on the stage to help students conduct time, keep track of where they are in the solfege book, and sing on pitch. During the ear training portion, the second instructor is helpful in guiding students. When I was a student, all French School students were both piano and solfege students. Today, we have students who play different instruments other than piano, and some who are taking solfege only who haven’t yet decided on an instrument. For those unfamiliar with a piano keyboard, a second instructor is helpful in terms of orienting them on middle C or do.

Second instructors are also invaluable for helping to orient new students privately while the class continues, since we get new solfege students year round. I remember when I started, there was no ceremony. Just whoop! In you go, immersed in this environment from day one, and you simply learn to create music. Eventually you catch on. Update at the start of fall 2017: we were able to do exactly this with a new batch of students, and from the second week they were already singing their assignment solo, because this is just how the class is run. Having a group of established students helps acclimate the newer ones quickly, and we are back to running an efficient solfege factory similar to how Mlle. Combe ran classes when I was a student.

Further details:

  • If things are going well, open classes to guests attending 1 to see how it works.
  • Unlike French School when I was a child, we restarted solfege classes from scratch, so our first class had to get a general orientation (introductory notes in Chapter 4 on Launching a New Class).
  • Other newcomers: 15 minute orientation just before their first solfege class (train student assistants).
  • If possible, aggregate new students in groups of around 5 (so they're not singing alone).
  • If someone misses a week, makeup both songs next week
  • For more significant absences, catch the group below. Students often have other interests - soccer, band, school concerts - and they sometimes rotate in and out. While Friday evening solfege means we don’t infringe on weekends, it can be a challenge giving up Friday evenings for the entire school year.
  • Disperse new students among more advanced students and have advanced students watch/correct new ones, e.g. beating time.
  • 2+ times a year give a solfege concert somewhere (at a school, community center, church, senior center, etc. We do French School fundraisers for scholarships).

Specific structure of solfege classes

  • Consider 30 minutes for beginner classes if you have students as young as 5 (or younger!), 45 minutes to an hour for advanced and adult classes. The number of students may be a consideration, 5 - 10 students seems ideal, with 2 instructors.
  • Have each student solo the current assignment (marked at the end of the music with a diagonal, see image below on the left). Once completed, cross through diagonal and mark next assignment (image below on the right). Award points based on how well they did.
  • Discuss any new concepts in next number (e.g. Introducing whole note/rest, half note/rest, dotted notes), then have the class sing the next number.
  • If there is time, review the growing number of concepts, learn something new. This is hard when you have 10 students. My first year, I went through a lot with the new students because we had a smaller class.
  • Ear training at end.
  • Any questions, feel free to bring in music.
13 complete.png

Specific structure of dictation classes

  • Students have own dictation books.
  • Teacher plays a melody.
  • Students figure out: what is the time signature? (How many beats per measure? Teacher should firmly accent the first beat and make sure if students try to conduct time that the first beat is always the down beat). More advanced: does the music start on first beat? If not, on what beat does it start?
  • Try to figure out what key it’s in
  • Is this major or minor?
  • How many sharps or flats?
  • Once the class has established the basics, start dictation on a new blank staff. Put the correct clef, time signature, key signature and then they’re ready to continue. The teacher plays 1 - 2 bar snippets while students figure out the notes and timings. The most efficient system is to first write down the note heads (pencil is helpful so you can erase and correct later on). Then add the bar line and fill in the rest.
  • Once students have completed their work, the teacher reviews (or have advanced students compare their work in pairs and address discrepancies)
  • Order: Treble clef, key signature (optional), time signature, notes / measures.
  • Treble clef every line, key signature every line, time signature at the beginning (and if changed later).

Student Growth (long term)

  1. Learn the basics, learn to sing, beat time, sight read. 
  2. Learn dictation, ear training.
  3. Learn to sing without accompaniment (teacher keeps track of beginner/advanced students).
  4. Sing ad-hoc compositions teacher composes.
  5. Read bass clef.
  6. If piano student, try to read treble and bass clef cold.
  7. Student leads discussion for the next assignment: how many beats per measure? major, minor? key signature?
  8. Learn the basics of how to begin to compose, and how to use solfege training to learn to compose.
  9. Accompany solfege class
  10. Advanced students go through this teaching guide, teach solfege classes, mentor the next generation of teachers, and add to this guide.

Teacher Growth (long term)

  1. Starting out: quick meeting end of each class to assess / refine
  2. If things go well, have a meeting once a month to assess / refine
  3. If things go well, have a meeting once a quarter to assess / refine
  4. Start with initial teachers, include advanced students-in-training later
  5. Report on new findings (technologies, apps, music-as-a-business, social media, strategic partnerships with other art related organizations and the community, advocates, conservatories - e.g. Juilliard)
  6. Apps to manage administration of classes / students, teaching guides (I’m using Scrivener for this guide)
  7. Websites with artifacts (ad-hoc solfege compositions from teachers and students)
  8. Discussions on preservation of culture, archiving

Learn to sightread, learn to accompany and sing at the same time, or accompany and talk

Learn to arrange on the fly if the accompaniments are too complicated to both play and watch students at the same time

When we first started, I (Eileen) accompanied and taught, while Yves Suhku and Judy Waters went around to help students. Afterwards, since it was difficult for me to both teach and pay attention to what was going on, Yves would write a summary noting students’ strengths and areas for improvement.

Solfege Process Growth

  • Teach solfege, learn from it
  • “Meta” level: Teach others to teach solfege, create “master classes” for teaching, refining process, and new advancements (judiciously chosen)
Eileen SauerComment