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How To Use Solfege To Understand Your Melodies

· Performing,Songwriting

Understanding the melodies you're singing has so many benefits: Your pitch will be more accurate when you understand whole steps and half steps, you'll become more comfortable with runs and improvisation, and writing melodies will become a whole lot easier.

There are two ways you can analyze melodies: literally and relatively.

Analyzing them literally would be thinking of the literal "D, F#, G, E, A" as you sing a melody. Which CAN be helpful, but I think it's more important to understand the notes you're singing relative to the key.

So what does that mean?

It means understanding where each note falls within the scale.

And that's where solfege comes in.

Solfege is a system for labeling each note of the scale with a unique syllable.

Solfege syllables

Here are the solfege syllables in the major scale: (If you've heard "Do Re Mi" from the Sound of Music - that's what solfege is!)

do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do

So in the key of C, the first note of the scale (C) would be "do."

The second note of the scale (D) would be "re."

...and so on.

Practicing solfege with easy songs

Here's an easy way to practice solfege - Pick out an easy melody (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) and play it on the piano in the key of C. Then sing along using the solfege syllables.

Try some more easy songs (Row Your Boat, Mary Had A Little Lamb, etc.) in the key of C and see if you can figure out the solfege without using the keyboard.

Finding "do"

Practicing solfege without an instrument to check yourself is much harder, but once you get the hang of it, melodies will start to make much more sense to you.

First, listen to a song on the radio (in a major key) and practicing finding the syllable "do." This syllable is the easiest to find because the melody will often end on "do." It has the most "stable" or "ending" sound out of all the syllables.

The first few times you do this, you should probably double-check yourself. If the song is in the key of D, Play a D on your keyboard and make sure the note you thought was "do" was a D.

Labeling Phrases

Once you feel confident finding "do," try to figure out a short phrase. Go slowly, walking up the scale from "do" to find every note in your phrase. Double check yourself every step of the way.

With pop songs, the lyrics are so fast-paced, it's incredibly hard to analyze large sections of the song - so take it slowly! Start with single notes. Then short phrases. Then sentences. Then entire sections of the song.

Learning solfege is a process, so don't beat yourself up if you don't get things perfectly the first time! It'll take lots of time and practice.

P.S. If you want to go more in depth about keys, notes, and solfege, check out the Music Theory for Songwriters course.

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