Sunday, 27 April 2014

Solfège and how it saved me

In my undergrad I was fortunate to have a musicianship teacher who was FANTASTIC. From him, I learned tons of incredible things that have always been of tremendous use. Especially with music that falls outside that easy to hear world of tonality. One of the skill is, as the post gave away, is solfège, for those of you that don't know you can read about it here. In short it is the assigning of syllables to degrees of the scale. There are two forms we used and had to master, movable do and fixed do. Movable do was reserved for tonal music where as the key changes so does the location of do. Fixed do was used in Atonal music at times. I should explain this a bit.

In the simple form fixed do is a method of solfège in which middle C is do and as tonality shifts you alter where the tonality falls. So C major would be do  then as we modulate towards G major suddenly your scale is based off so which is now functioning as do. In Atonal music we would use this form, it made you truly internalize what the intervals were and how they sounded. That being said if we hit a moment that was based on a diatonic scale we would insert or modulate to movable do to match that. This was something we exercised with our teacher, which was great because it taught you to find harmonic stability. As time has gone on it has given me the ability to quickly recognize these things, since there are times where you will totally miss it.

Lately I will work in fixed do when I encounter these moments but that is for a personal ear training reason. I have a feeling after a few months I will be back to my old ways of using movable do and fixed do together. This is because I really enjoy the way it allows you to dissect the music beyond a purely technical "checklist" fashion of analysis and into a larger scale understanding of the work.

So that is the preamble if you are still with me here I am going to talk about how I use these tools. One thing I have been asked, or commented towards is. How do you get this stuff in your head and the extension of how to sight read music that lacks obvious harmonic structure (talking in the sense of diatonic or chromatic music... for purposes of this post the word chromatic does not apply to something like Salome which is at the edge of chromaticsicm.).

Here are my secrets, they are not that ground breaking, they are tools I learned from my musicianship professor that I have kept up and built on.

NUMBER 1: Solfège... be good at it, if you can sight sing it... you can sight read it (On this, practise using middle C as do for fixed do. I am talking to horn players and such here. Don't think of the horn middle C as do in fixed do since the horns C is an F which is a fa. We are working on our ear, not horn.)

NUMBER 2: This is an extension of number one. The book Modus Novus.
This book is remarkable, it will help train your ear to hear elements of Atonal music. It gets them in your ear. Again I work out of this book in fixed do most the time. I will sing exercises, then buzz them, and finally play them on the horn. We are trying to make slightly obscure intervals second nature so when you encounter similar things in the wild you have them in your bones.
NUMBER 3: Practise sight reading Atonal melodies. Find things with rhythms that are not super complex, dissect the music into manageable chunks first, find intervals, think in solfège. Then either sing it or play it. The benefit of working in fixed do as a horn player is that nothing changes onto the horn, I just recreate the exact same pitch content, and the solfège syllables are still relevant. (Though one could argue this is the case with movable do also. The argument I would make based on personal experience is that each scale has a certain "colour"  or "taste" and you are changing that around when you start transposing.

That is all for this week. In the coming weeks I have some Q & As planned with some cool people, and some more topics.

Slap that +1, or drop a comment letting me know you were here.

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