Part 5: Solfege Teaching Guide

Mozart Effect DIY Kit

Start a musical education before a child is born. A segue into our family history will both shed light and dispel myths.

We moved to Plainfield, NJ when I was two years old, and learned about The French School of Music when I was seven. Dad’s boss had two daughters who were taking piano lessons at French School.

Dad took seven years of piano lessons with a mediocre piano teacher and struggled to reach an intermediate level, and before we were born, sis and I listened to him practicing Beethoven sonatas. As a graduate student at Cornell who was strapped for cash, he taught himself to tune a piano. 

We have silent family video of my playing piano as a toddler, with a children’s songbook on the piano stand. Mom taught me what she could. From dad’s stories, she would try to teach me to read music, but I was too slow to respond so she would simply show me the notes. I must have learned to play by ear for five years.

When I started piano and solfege at French School, Mlle. Combe quickly determined I had perfect pitch. My three year old sister sat in back of the solfege class with mom.

One day during ear training, she asked mom: “why can’t he get those? Those are so easy!” One of the mothers sitting in front of her turned around and looked at her in complete shock. She told Mlle. Combe, who stopped the solfege class and asked my sister to come up.

Mlle. Combe started doing simple ear training with single notes, and my sister got them. Then she tried a few more things, and my sister got them. She kept trying more complicated things, and my sister kept getting them! Practically the next week, my sister started piano and solfege lessons. She gave her first French School recital at age 4 1/2.

This would seem to be a mystery. Our dad was a mediocre pianist who back then was uninformed about the French School method. Neither of my parents had absolute pitch, so it’s not like it was obvious there was some genetic component that we were “born” with. I am not a molecular geneticist and the field of epigenetics with respect to music is likely in its infancy, but the right environment and the French School solfege method taught at an early age could very well be strong epigenetic influences.

If dad had sat down and mangled a couple of Beethoven sonatas for Mlle. Combe, she would have said “oh, of course, this was inevitable.” But he never did so she never knew. Had she ever come to our house, she would have realized our piano was tuned, and that dad tuned the piano regularly.

Anyone who wants to give their child the greatest possible musical head start in life must do something similar. Today, electronic pianos don’t have to be tuned. If parents don’t play, they can listen to classical music by Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc. and attend concerts.

One last story: A woman living in our building has two sons. The older son went to Cornell, and the younger one gravitated toward music. She asked: why doesn’t my first son like music but my second son does?

In two minutes we determined her first son had no problems falling asleep at night. The younger son could never fall asleep so even though she’s not a musician she started singing to him so he would fall asleep.

What myths did this dispel?

“Geniuses” aren’t “born” - well, they kind of are, but not in the way many might think. The foundation building blocks are created when the child is immersed in the right conditions early. This doesn’t happen without intent, the “affinity” is really a skill that must be cultivated like any other skill.

The earlier you start, the better. If you want your children to have a chance of developing perfect pitch, set them up for success by exposing them to:

  • in tune music before they are born
  • only tuned instruments

Why are tuned instruments so important? Because if they are not tuned, even those with a predisposition towards developing perfect pitch will be the last to think they have perfect pitch. It would be like teaching them to add, subtract, multiply and divide in octal, then letting them loose in the real world. They will think they are math idiots.

The best way to develop perfect pitch is to focus first on one pitch. My Sonicare toothbrush hums at middle do. Start by listening intently to the pitch when using a toothbrush (or any other appliance that resonates at a tuned pitch). Then, try thinking of a middle do before turning on the toothbrush. Do this long enough and at some point you will tune in. By practicing the intervals, you can then tune into any other pitch. Graduate from there by regularly practicing both do and sol, without relying on intervals. Achieve perfect pitch with all of the notes in the do major scale first, then add the sharps and flats later.

Eileen Sauer2 Comments