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Accidentals with Scale-degree numbers


A number of you have contacted me requesting a compilation of responses I've received to my recent request regarding sight singing with numbers versus the traditional solfege syllables, and how to handle accidentals and minor.

As many of you suspected, I was inundated with replies (thank you!) and a traditional "compilation" would have been like reading a small novel! (ok, slight exaggeration!). So, I will instead try to summarize the various responses I have received, hopefully doing justice to them all.

Thanks again to all.


*** As many of you noted, doing any type of sight singing method is definately better than nothing. And it is important to be consistent and persistent.

*** The opinions of respondents broke down to about 2/3 saying - teach traditional solfege and 1/3 saying teaching numbers works very well for them

*** It seems that most colleges still prefer the traditional solfege syllables, and for the sake of consistency, that is why many of you use the solfege system,including a number of directors who used to teach numbers and were quite happy with that system, but switched for consistency and ease of transition into High School programs within their districts.

*** In response to my question about how to treat accidentals with the number system, there seem to be different approaches. One is to sing "4-sharp" or "6-flat", etc. for the appropriate accidental. The difficulty with this approach is rhythmic compromises that become necessary. A solution to this dilema is to simply sing the word "flat" or "sharp" on the correct pitch and leave off the number.

A second approach to accidentals is to use related "nonsense" words to the number word. Some suggestions with this approach are (1) 1-way-2-tay-3-4-fair-five-fay etc. (2) ascending: 1-ween-2-tee-3-4-fear-5-feev-6-seeks-7-1 descending: 1-7-sayv'n-6-sakes-5-fave-4-3-thray-2-tay-1

Some people also just say the regular number (1,2,etc.), but sing at the accidental pitch.

*** An arguement against using numbers is that traditional solfege syllables are more condusive to promoting open, pure vowel sounds and in turn improving overall tone and blend in an ensemble.

*** An arguement against numbers is that students may become confused with sight singing in numbers and simultaneosly learning a number-based counting system (1&2&3& etc.). It was also mentioned that in teaching theory (chords -root, 3rd, 5th, 7th) it may be confusing.

*** Among those who use numbers, not all people start the minor scale on "6". Some prefer to teach both major and minor starting on "1" and teaching the students to discern the differences between the two scales. For example 1-3-1 is used for both a major 3rd and a minor 3rd, because even though they are different major/minor, they are still both essentially the interval of a 3rd.

*** An arguement for using solfege is the very fact that the syllables are "foreign" to the students. The syllables become their own language, therefore stretching student's minds to learn new concepts and relate the learning of this new skill (reading music) to the learning of this new language (solfege).

*** A suggestion for singing the two-syllable number seven in the numbers system is to shorten the word to "sev", which eliminates the rhythm problem

*** A response recommended looking at the traditional system used by the Mennonite faith called "Ziffern" which was a numbers based music reading system.

*** In conclusion, I received convincing arguements that the number system of sight singing will work with students, and also equally convincing arguements why the solfege system is superior. Confused??? - so am I!

What I'm doing, for those who are interested (if you're not interested, this is the end of my post):

Previously in the school year, I worked quite extensively with my choir on recognizing the sounds of various major scale intervals and being able to sing them (without reading anything). I tried introducing solfege midway through the first semester, and was met with typical junior high "we hate this" attitudes. With teaching, I think you have to pick and choose your battles, and because of other dynamics within the choir, I choose at that time to drop the solfege teaching, but still keep drilling in interval ear training.

2 weeks ago, I introduced sight singing with numbers and using the Curwen hand signs. For whatever reason, the students immediately took to it and have since done very well. They seemed to effortlessly make the transition from singing a 5th on a "ah" with no music, (just me giving them the starting pitch), to seeing the relationship on written music.

So, for now, I am sticking with the number based system. They were able to make the connection and immediately feel a sense of pride in being able to sing various exercises correctly the first time, rather than struggling through trying to figure out the right pitch and the correct solfege syllables.

Granted, I may have had better success with a different approach to teaching the solfege than what I used, but finding a different approach to teaching the solfege is research that I'm saving until summer!

What I did to transfer from ear training to sight reading:

I have 30 or so lessons sequentially teaching solfege using 6-7 one line examples for each lesson. (these were the lessons I tried using earlier in the year and was met with great resistence from the students)

I took those excercises and, on regular staff paper, wrote in the
numbers instead of the pitch letter.

For example, the first exercise was something like:
do-do- / so-so- / do so do- //
written with the first letter of the solfege on the corresponding correct staff line or space, and the 'd-' symbol indicating to hold that pitch for 2 counts or "d--" to show 3 counts and so on.

So I took that exercise and wrote:
1-1- / 5-5- / 1 5 1- //
on the correct lines or spaces of the staff

Corresponding lessons introduce the other scale degrees (2,4,3,6,8,7)

After all the scale degrees have been introduced, I moved away from writing the specific number and instead drawing the correct rhythmic note (quarter note, half note, etc.) on the staff paper. The students still sing the number.

*** That's what I'm doing for now anyway. It's working and I think we would all agree that some type of sight singing is better than no sight singing! Who knows, I may change in the future, but I'm going to finish out the year with this system. I also teach the High School choir in our school system, so if I do switch back, the students will be able to adapt and I'll know where they're coming from.

Thanks for your time. If you have further questions or comments, feel free to email me.


Katie Talsma
Choral Music/Drama Director
Central Valley Christian School
5600 W. Tulare Ave. Visalia, CA 93277
(559)734-9481 email:krtalsma(a)

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on June 22, 2007 10:00pm
I have not worked with solfege much in the last few years and would like someone to go me the solfege for natural minor, melodic minor and harmonic minor. If anyone can help I would appreciate it.
on July 6, 2008 10:00pm
Natural Minor (Aeolian):


Harmonic Minor:


Melodic Minor: