How to Study-Practice Scales: Solfege Ear Training

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Reading and singing the Solfege syllables out loud is a very effective way to internalize the unique sound-feeling of each note in a musical scale. Here are are some suggested patterns for doing so, using the Bb Major Scale as an example…

Sing the scale as Solfege syllables LINEARLY, ascending…

piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-linearly-ascending

and descending…
piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-linearly-descending

Tip: It is absolutely essential that you sing out loud.


Sing the scale as Solfege syllables in a Do-X-Do pattern, ascending…

piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-do-x-do-ascending

and descending…

piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-do-x-do-descending

Tip: At first, it’s okay to play the notes on the piano as you sing, but the ultimate goal is to be able to hear-feel each note in your mind’s ear without help from your instrument.


Sing the scale as Solfege syllables in BROKEN THIRDS, ascending…

piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-broken-thirds-ascending

and descending…

piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-broken-thirds-descending

Tip: It is critically important that you play and sing these studies slowly enough to allow the sound-feelings to make an impression on your mind’s ear.


Sing the scale as Solfege syllables in TRIPLETS, ascending…

piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-triplets-ascending

and descending…

piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-triplets-descending

Tip: Do not try to hear the interval between successive notes. It’s okay if you do, but be receptive to the unique sound-feeling of each note with respect to the key center Do.


Sing the scale as Solfege syllables in DIATONIC TRIADS, ascending…

piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-triads-ascending

and descending…

piano-ology-scales-how-to-study-practice-solfege-ear-training-b-flat-major-triads-descending

Tip: Other patterns are possible as well.  At that point your time is better spent going right to the kinds of music that you want to play for your study-practice material.

LEARN MORE… How to Study-Practice Scales: Performance

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14 comments

  1. Hi all,

    the huge amount of awesome quality education this site has is unbelievable!

    Having this out of the way, here would be my question. 🙂

    The solfege practice mp3s (in the study aids section) establish a major tonality via a V-I cadence.

    Could I use the same mp3s for practicing to recognize the tonal functionalities of a minor key, or would this not be sensible?

    I thought of starting with a single octave, and mix and match the files like
    this: Do Re Me Fa So Le Te Do (ie. starting at middle C).

    Would I actually practize hearing the degrees of a minor key with the above
    (despite the majorness of the established key center)?

    Thanks a lot!

    Holger

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Holger, for the words of appreciation. It gives me the greatest satisfaction when artists like you discover my work and resonate with the message I am trying to socialize. Now to your most excellent question, which gets to the heart of Solfege and how music really works. The short answer is this: In order to cultivate the most flexible hearing, we should practice hearing the solfege syllables “in context”, that is, in the tonality that we would like to hear them… for the simple reason that we are not merely listening for intervals, but we are listening for FUNCTIONAL relationships. That said, it is appropriate to play a tonal MINOR cadence if you want to learn to learn the Solfege syllables by sound in a tonal minor context. A good point of reference is to realize, for example, that Mi in a tonal major key serves the same function as Me in a minor key… and they will sound/feel functionally different in each context. By extension, it is appropriate to establish the tonality, whether it be tonal major, tonal minor, dorian, mixolydian, blues, or whatever. I hope that makes sense. Please let me know how it goes and don’t hesitate to ask any more questions. All the best to you in music and life!

      Like

      1. Thanks a lot for your response!

        I’m still an absolute beginner when it comes to functional ear training, so part of your answer turns out tout to be slightly over my head. 🙂

        “A good point of reference is to realize, for example, that Mi in a tonal major key serves the same function as Me in a minor key… and they will sound/feel functionally different in each context.”:

        This I don’t fully get, I’m afraid.

        I know that Mi is the 3rd degree in a major scale, and Me is the 3rd degree in a minor scale.

        Is this 3rd degree the function you are referingto?

        I’m slightly confused, because I thought in the context of solfege, if two notes have the same function in the key, they would sound/feel the same, no?

        When I establish a minor tonality and then play the 3rd degree of the scale to hear/feel Me, it sounds/feels different than Mi (sharpened 3rd) with regard to the same key center, I believe.

        Here, I’d say, Me sounds realtively tensionless, while Mi, being not part of the minor scale, has a higher amount of tension.

        When I establish a major key center, the roles of Me and Mi are switched, and so Mi sounds realtively stable, while Me appears to have more tension.

        But I don’t really hear that Me in a minor key sounds/feels the same as Mi in a major key, I’m afraid.

        Since the 3rd degree of a scale introduces the major/minor-ness of a scale, they must sound different, no? You see, I’m confused. 🙂

        “By extension, it is appropriate to establish the tonality, whether it be tonal major, tonal minor, dorian, mixolydian, blues, or whatever.”:

        Hmm, here I’m lost completely. Could you go in to a bit more detail how you mean this is an extension of the above, please?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oops! I fear that I tried to answer a much broader question than you were asking, Holger. That said, you are absolutely correct in saying that Me and Mi will sound quite different no matter the context. All I was suggesting is that context also matters in that function, not just sound per se, is also important… and so my recommendation is to do ear training in the context that is of interest to you. To be more specific. If you want to hear-feel the solfege syllables in an F major blues context, a simple first step is to play a F7 chord in your left hand and single notes in your right in order to experience how they sound-feel in a blues context. Another example: If you want to hear-feel the solfege syllables in a G dorian context, a simple first step is to play a Gm7 chord in your left hand and single notes in your right in order to experience how they sound-feel in that dorian context. Make sense?

          Like

          1. Yes, makes perfect sense to me now. 🙂

            I experimented with your suggestions quite a lot, and I discovered an amazing detail.

            Practizing hearing the functionalities in one context (major / minor / blues, etc), appears to inform the hearing in the other contexts, too.

            For example, when listening to Me in a minor context for a while, and then switching to major (changing the key center also, just to make sure), helps to discern Me in the major context also.

            If this is true, it would imply that the mode actually wouldn’t matter for the functionality with regard to a key center. Am I on the right track here? Is This what you were trying to tell me above?

            I mean, there are other ways to establish a key center than playing a chord. for example, simply repeating the same note over and over.

            Let’s say, playing C a bunch of times. This way one would establish the key center to be C, but one wouldn’t know anything about the mode yet.

            But one wouldstill be able to hear-feel the tonal functionalities (Do Ra Re Me Mi …) of this key center C.

            I hope that’s not complete rubbish! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi all,

    doing lots of solfege ear training as suggested by Frank over and over on this website (and youtube channel), over the course of the last few months, is really starting to have an effect on my ears. 🙂

    The heureka moment of getting that Mi sounds like Mi across all octaves in a given key was amazing.

    Or better, they do sound different in big parts, simply because the very low and very high frequencies let the Mis clear at different speeds, but even though an E2 sounds and ffwfeels quite different from a E5, they still have so much in common that one can really hear and feel their common “root” (in the key of C for example).

    My ability to recognize scale degrees in the manner like proposed in the Study
    Aids section greatly improved (varying with instrument and mode).

    When I confine myself to two octaves around middle C, a major tonality, and only notes from a major key, then my “recognition rate” of single notes is almost 100%. This is the range I practized most, and the Solfege mp3s of piano-ology were extremely helpful to reach this milestone. 🙂
    (milestone for me anyway, as I started out as “tone deaf” as can be)

    My question:

    Even though I got to the point of almost instantaniously hearing the degree of a (single) note played within the reduced interval described above, I still have a hard time recognizing any of the sound-feelings of those single notes in even the simplest melodies.

    This is still true in the most basic setup: Key of C-major, and a single octave starting from C4. I until now don’t hear any Re, Mi, So, etc, in any melody.

    As a question for people who have their ears developed to a much more advanced state: If you compare how, let’s say, the So feels in isolation, to a So in context. For instance, in the melody of Twinkle Twinkle.

    Would you say that the So in isolation (playing a cadence followed by a G in
    the key of C), and the Twinke-So, have so much in common that one can’t help
    but recognize their sound-feeling as essentially the same?

    Even if I play the melody very slowly, everything gets so blured, hearing-wise, that I lose any feel for the scale degrees (except Do, perhaps).

    In case this is at all possible, could you try to describe the communalities and differences between the lonely-So and the twinkle-So, how you perceive them?
    This would surely impossible without any reference point whatsoever, but we have the single-So as ancor point! 🙂

    Or put differently, what should I focus on. Should I try to hear more of the isolated-So-ness within the Twinkle-So, or does the Twinkle-So bring something else to the table, that I am not yet able to hear?

    Thanks very much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for asking. I am happy to know that you made some progress, but disappointed to hear of your frustration hearing the Solfege “in context”. The problem would be easy to diagnose in person, but I will do my best to help from a distance.

      A few thoughts come to mind: 1) To answer your most general question… Yes, So as experienced given the establishment of a major tonality, whether by playing a V-I cadence or major scale is heard and felt EXACTLY the same as So as a component of a major melody such as Twinkle Twinkle. 2) Your choice of words for So as part of major scale/major tonality, calling it “So in isolation” makes me wonder why you chose the word isolation. So is not “isolated” in the least. There is no such thing as So “in isolation”. So does not exist without Do. It is embedded in the context, in this case, of the major tonality established by the V-I cadence…. or in the context of major scale. In fact, a major scale is just one of countless possibility melodies. 3) One possibility is that the listener is perceiving the note in question incorrectly. Can you sing it accurately? 4) Another problem, in many cases, is not that the listener is incapable of perceiving the unique sound-feeling of each Solfege syllable. The problem is that they have lost their reference point Do. This could be a problem with memory or… 5) A common problem that I see time and time again is that people confuse Solfege with intervals. Solfege listening and interval listening are NOT the same thing. For example, So is simultaneously a perfect 5th above and a perfect 4th below Do. Ti is a major 7th above, but also a minor 2nd below Do.

      Please let me know is any of this helps, my friend. And also know that I will not give up trying if you don’t! : ) So, let me know how it goes, but if you are still frustrated, perhaps a live interaction may be in order. All the best.

      Like

      1. Thanks very much for your quick reply.

        Let’s go over the raised points one by one. : )

        “1) To answer your most general question… Yes, So as experienced given the establishment of a major tonality, whether by playing a V-I cadence or major scale is heard and felt EXACTLY the same as So as a component of a major melody such as Twinkle Twinkle.”

        Thank you very much for making this point absolutely clear. This puzzled me for quite some time, but now I got reassured that something
        can’t be right if I don’t hear the Solfege qualities within a melody.

        “2) Your choice of words for So as part of major scale/major tonality, calling it “So in isolation” makes me wonder why you chose the word isolation.”

        Sorry about this. But it’s been just a bad wording on my part. I felt slightly uneasy having phrased it this way, but I didn’t know how to express it better.

        I really did just mean, playing a single note after having established a major tonality (by a V-I cadence or a major scale).

        “3) One possibility is that the listener is perceiving the note in question incorrectly. Can you sing it accurately?”

        Umm, yes. I mean, I still need a lot of support from the piano
        to help me recall the sound-feeling if I simply sing on “ah”.

        But when I use the Solfege syllables, and have sung Do for a few times, I definitly get the notes in the right region (of by a few douzen cents perhaps).

        “5) A common problem that I see time and time again is that people confuse Solfege with intervals.”

        This one I believe I can rule out.

        I did two experiments:

        In the first I played a ascending major scale, starting and ending on the lower Do. This is the setup I am most familiar with at this point, and discerning the individual scale degrees was easy.

        In the other experiment I also established the key center by playing a major scale, but started on the low Do, and ended on the high Do.

        Here, too, I could (somewhat easily) hear the notes relative to do. : )

        I think this experiment would confirm, that I am not listening to intervals, at least not exclusively (?).

        Because, as you pointed out, the intervals of the scale degrees change ascending and descending.

        Would you agree with this conclusion or am I missing an important detail?

        “4) Another problem, in many cases, is not that the listener is incapable of perceiving the unique sound-feeling of each Solfege syllable. The problem is that they have lost their reference point Do. This could be a problem with memory”

        Yes, I think this could realy be the case.

        What I noticed right from the start of my ear training adventure, is that at least for me, the main issue is memory. And I think this will certainly be true for most people (assuming normal, healthy ears).

        In the beginning I just couldn’t recall how Mi or Re sounds, even if I heard it only a few minutes ago.

        So what I did was to get rid off the expectation that I could retain the sound-feelings of any note (relative to do) for more than a few seconds, and instead I “refreshed” my memory each time before trying to recognize the scale degrees in the coming ear-training session.

        In order to test the “weak Do memory” hypothesis I did another experiment. I played a major scale, again starting on the low Do, ending on the high do.

        But instead of playing a note right after, I waited between one and two seconds.

        And indeed, the longer rest appears to alter my perceived quality of the played note.

        About the first two experiments I’m pretty certain. But with the latter one I
        don’t know if I’m actually tricking myself here.

        Do you have another idea how I could test myself about weak key center memory?

        And almost more importantly, do you have any (further) suggestions how I might
        go about practising key center retention specifically?: )

        “And also know that I will not give up trying if you don’t! : )”

        No worries, I’m not done with my ear training yet. ; )
        In factt I feel that I have just begun! haha

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, losing the key center Do sounds like THE issue! And, importantly, there is nothing defective with your ears or hearing! BTW, retention of the sense of key center Do is MY biggest issue still. While I do fine in relatively simple contexts… like a two chord vamp, blues, or a common-used turnaround.. it becomes more of a challenge as the context becomes more complex… as in some jazz tunes, for example, that have lots of chord changes with secondary dominants and chord inversions and modulations. That said, my suggestion is to solfege and sing out loud simple melodies like nursery rhymes and children’s songs and to fight for each and every note until you hear and feel its relation to Do.

          PS. Thanks so much for your questions and engagement. Interactions like these are a joy for me, an inspiration to improve my own musicianship, and motivation to improve my teaching methods. Thanks and peace.

          Like

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