At workshops, teachers often ask me, “Can your students really read that solfége?” Or sometimes it isn’t an outright question, but it’s a statement such as, “I don’t like teaching solfége because it’s hard.”
Although I understand where you’re coming from, just because something is hard doesn’t mean it should be left out of the lesson. Instead, try incorporating a few of these tips and suggestions.
1. First, add pitches the students already know to the tone ladder.
2. Sing a few patterns with hand signs and solfége and ask students to echo you. Then try singing a couple on a neutral syllable, like “loo,” and ask students to identify and sing them right back to you. If they don’t get them right, remain calm. If they tried to identify the pattern, but were wrong, simply sing back their answer. Tell them which pitches they got right, if any, and let them try again.
3. If your students aren’t strong readers, don’t try to read a whole song. Start small with four to five pitches on the staff, or one phrase of a known song. After they read it, change one pitch at a time until it becomes a different song or game.
4. Wait! Back up! They couldn’t even read one phrase? Okay. There’s no need for tears. Try this. Identify the first note, last note, highest note, and lowest note. Sing each one as it is identified. Are there any easy patterns like so la so mi or mi re do in the pattern? Point them out and ask students to sing just that much. See the example below.
In the song Come Thru Now Hurry (Alabama Gal), phrase 4 is a great phrase for practicing solfége. I highly recommend using the do clef in your reading examples to help students find do. Then ask someone to point on mi re do, and be sure you sing it as you ask them the question. One child points it out and the whole class sings and uses hand signs.
Then pick out another two pitches such as the so mi. Try covering up the other pitches, or just cupping your hands around the so mi. After students identify and sing so mi, ask them to put together so mi re do. Then they can quickly identify the first mi in the phrase. To assist students in singing the mi so interval correctly, you might sing:
Overall, if there’s a tricky spot, be sure to point it out, sing it with the students, and prepare them for the full range of pitches they’ll encounter. Then you can give them their starting pitch, point to the beat, and allow them to sight-read with solfége and hand signs. I hope these tips will help you and your students with solfége!