Which Solfa to Start with in Kodály Music Lessons

Do you teach music using the Kodály Approach? Or maybe you’re thinking about it and are wondering where to start.

You know you want to teach using solfa, and you know that throwing them into the full diatonic scale is not the best way. But which subset of the tones, or toneset, do you teach first?

Here are my thoughts, including details on how to access a free mini course that’s usually just for Doremi members.

Oh and get ready for some controversy.

Key Points:

  • Young beginners
  • so-mi and la-so-mi
  • Older beginners
  • so-mi or mi-re-do or something else?!!
  • When do we make an exception?
  • Grab my Free Mini Course

Let’s start with the uncontroversial young beginner

Whether it’s a music lesson or a piano lesson, I, along with many other Kodály practitioners, start with the descending minor 3rd so-mi – the fifth and third degrees of the major scale.

  • It’s perfect for young children
  • It’s the natural interval of childhood all over the world
  • Think “ner ner, you can’t get me”
  • Easiest for them to pitch
  • Of course that playground chant is often heard with the note a major second above ner ner na ner ner – so mi la so mi

la is the next pitch to develop and there are so many songs with just that toneset, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Remember in Kodály music lessons it’s all about preparation presentation and practice so you need plenty of repertoire to prepare, tiny presentation, and then plenty of repertoire for practice. It’s rediscovering and applying the knowledge in different contexts that really develops the skills effectively and permanently.

Not too small, after all semitones are the hardest to pitch, they’re far too close

Imagine learning to write or draw… Think about the gross motor skills you need to develop in order to start to write or draw. Confidence and coordination grows and then you can develop the fine motor skills needed for precision.

It’s the same with the voice. First we need to develop that larger interval before we can focus in on the smaller ones. But of course, remember small children may only have a singing range of a 6th, so intervals much larger than a third will also be less stable as they approach the limits of their range. And we all know, even as adults, how much harder it is to write in larger print.

So finding that sweet spot is the aim.

For singing students I like G and E or A and F sharp

For piano students I’ll use F sharp and D sharp (or E flat) because that’s where we’ll be playing our pieces initially

 

What about older beginners, or adults?

Well here’s the controversial bit.

Lots of teachers, including some of the Kodály gurus advocate for starting with mi-re-do. They say that so mi songs can sound babyish and put off older beginners.

But here’s my problem. It doesn’t matter how old the beginners are. And I’ve taught all ages, from primary school, to teenagers, to working and retired adults.

If they can’t sing in tune, I want them to learn in the most positive way possible.

I want them to succeed as quickly as possible. And to do that I need two pitches. A higher pitch and a lower pitch.

It’s far easier to distinguish between two pitches than three. Even if all you’re doing is identifying if they’re getting higher or getting lower.

When we’re notating, even if they’re old enough to go straight to stave lines, it is still way easier to see high line and low line, or high space and low space, rather than a combination

And they still have that innate ability to sing the descending minor third from their childhood, so that’s going to set them up to succeed faster too

And remember my mantra – it won’t seem babyish if they have to concentrate to be able to do it. If it doesn’t come easily, then it won’t feel babyish.

Of course we might need to choose different repertoire but there are lots of so-mi examples in repertoire that is appropriate for teenagers and adults.

And once you have la so mi then there are loads of examples in pop music, as members of my adult musicianship classes will know

 

I actually have a mini course for members inside Doremi demonstrating how a simple song can be used in ways that are definitely NOT babyish. And today I’ve decided to open that up to you guys too. So just click here and sign up for free!

One thing that does make a song sound more appropriate for older beginners is the existence of do. And I think this is why mi re do advocates have chosen to go down this path.

Having that tonic in the song, and particularly at the end, is something we yearn for musically and it can feel uncomfortable to finish a song without it. 

But we can get around that by spending some of our so-mi time with so-mi-do repertoire. For example a song like Double Double from my Solfa from Scratch course. It uses the major triad of so-mi-do. We can use it to develop pulse, or beat. We can use it to present rhythm, triads, notation, canon singing in two or three parts, and even transform it to the minor.

You can grab the Solfa from Scratch course if you’re a Doremi Member, or it’s also available to buy separately as one of my Getting Started courses.

So with older beginners would you go from so-mi to so-mi-do instead of la-so-mi?

Yes, maybe I would. I’ve done both. But not mi-re-do.

Exceptions

Actually that’s not quite true, there’s one time where mi-re-do has been a useful starting point.

With an older piano beginner I have started with mi-re-do, Hot Cross Buns etc. The three black keys are just sitting there looking so appealing and easy to use.

However, a word of caution. I’ve used this when I know I’ll be handing over a new beginner to a non-Kodály piano teacher in the near future. For example if I’m teaching at a primary school and they only have a year before moving to a new teacher then I need to get them onto letter names and ready to continue with a more mainstream approach.

However much I might be in love with the Kodály approach, my main objective is for my student to have as smoother transition as possible. So I’ll use mi-re-do as a stepping stone to move onto mi-re-do on white keys and quickly onto Grand Staff notation.

But we compromise on their aural development and understanding of musical literacy. If I can just get two years out of them before they move up then I’ll start them my preferred way. The benefits are well worth it.

Do you teach Kodály music lessons or piano using the Kodály approach? Which toneset do you prefer? Dare you tell me? If you are a mi-re-do advocate I’d love to hear from you. It would be great to chat and hear your thoughts on why that’s the best way.

Because remember, the real best way is the way that works for you and your students. Empower yourself. You’re the expert.

Contact me or send me a DM on any of the socials you think I might respond to!!

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Responses

  1. I use doh t/si doh as in the fanfare before abow or magic itrick accomplished!

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