Take the Solfege Plunge: How Moveable Do Solfege Transpositions Changed My Life

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My decade long study of piano as a youth was not exactly swimming with solfege.  In fact, when it came to solfege, it was bone dry.  Other than seeing Julie Andrews sing “Do, a Deer” and having the occasional brush with solfege hand signs in my general music classes in elementary school, my solfege education didn’t really begin until my college theory classes.  In those classes, when I was formally introduced to solfege (the moveable Do variety) and was taught to use it in transposing simple melodies and harmonies, I was shocked by how it made music theory gel for me.  This revelation was truly enlightening – angel choirs singing, light bulbs illuminating, dark clouds parting – it was THAT transformative for me!

Solfege transpositions led me to a much better understanding of diatonic harmony, which improved my sight-reading dramatically as I started “seeing” the underlying harmonic structures in the music I was playing.   Solfege also improved my ability to “think within a key”, so I could improvise, arrange, and compose far more capably than before.  And solfege patterns were so ridiculously simple, that I wondered why I hadn’t been taught them when I was six years old.

Now, you’d think that the great benefit I derived from learning solfege transposing would have meant that I immediately began sharing it with the students in my studio when I started my teaching career 23 years ago.  Oddly enough, I didn’t.  Looking back now, it seems crazy, but here’s what happened.  I sought beginner piano curriculum that incorporated solfege transposing, but I couldn’t find any at my local music store.   The “fixed Do” curricula I found didn’t excite me, as it was the application of “moveable Do” with simple transpositions that had been so transformative for me.  So, I did a foolish thing.  I just accepted that the people who knew more about piano curriculum than I did must have decided that introducing moveable Do solfege to beginner students wasn’t a good idea, and that solfege study was best left for college theory classes.  After all, I thought, that’s the path I had taken, and I’d turned out all right.

So I began my teaching career helping my students learn to hold their hands right, to read the notes on the staff, to count rhythms, to play musically, but not to transpose simple solfege patterns.  Fortunately, I kept having this nagging idea that my musical journey, which I just described as turning out “all right”, hadn’t really been “all right”.  I knew that the early phases of it could have been a lot more complete.  I thought back to my high school days when I played piano for my church.  This was often stressful for me because I wasn’t yet knowledgeable enough to arrange and improvise well.  It was difficult having just a few days to learn the exact written arrangements of every song needed for the services, and I lived in fear that any deviation in the normal order of things during the services would lead me to have to “wing it”.  I realized it really wasn’t “all right” with me for the students in my own teaching studio to turn out as musically unprepared as I was after a decade of piano lessons.  This is when I had my next blinding revelation - I knew that my students needed and truly deserved the solfege transposing I hadn’t been teaching.  They would be better, more confident musicians once I had helped them to develop this skill. 

So, with that renewed sense of purpose, I started creating my own progression of solfege transpositions and slowly mixed them in with my students’ lesson books to help them understand scale/chord structure in the “hands on” way that had worked so well for me.  Within a couple of years, I had written and arranged so many pieces to also support the development of my students’ reading and technique in concert with the transpositions, that I had a full-blown piano method on my hands: The Diamond Piano Method. 

I’m happy to report that for two decades now, the solfege transpositions in my Diamond Piano Method have been working the same transformative magic in my students that they worked in me.  Fortunately for my students though, most of them get a huge head-start because they are introduced to theory through solfege when they’re young children instead of having to wait until college like I did.  Many of my students become confident arrangers, improvisers, and songwriters by the time they’re in middle school.  As you know, that is a time in a person’s life when music can be an incredibly beneficial outlet for self-expression and a wonderful way to feel connected to peers and society. 

I would urge every instructor to consider making solfege transposition part of his or her teaching.  Transposing through solfege is a great means of making theory stick in a practical, useful way.  If you don’t already do so, I urge you to take the solfege plunge with your students.  Once you do, I am positive your students will surface feeling more capable about playing music in every genre that excites them.  Go to DiamondPiano.com to learn more about us and take a free trial!

- Gerry Diamond, Diamond Piano Method Author/Instructor

 

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