Learning how to play piano is no simple matter. Instruction techniques are numerous and different, and their effectiveness varies according to the personality, progress speed and abilities of each student. How do I find the Middle C scale and where do I put my left hand again?
I remember having begun solfege instruction at the age of 4, forced into it by my parents. At the same time, I was discovering and becoming more advanced at playing the piano. Today, this type of instruction is becoming rarer and rarer: the two skills are taught independently of one another.
So why is solfege useful for learning to play the piano? What is the most efficient way of learning solfege? Read on to discover the answer to these and all your other solfege questions!
Solfege: a skill and a tool for learning the piano
Solfege is more than a tool, it’s an entire toolbox filled with the most useful tools of music instruction, for whatever instrument you’d like to learn.
Even if solfege is not obligatory for learning to play piano, it will bring major benefits to your playing and music education. And it will help you “read”!
Like a novel, music is read. And like any other traditional reading process, we decipher and analyze words and sentences before understanding what we are reading. With solfege, the process is the same. You’ll need to decipher the different piano notes and combination of notes or chords before understanding music.
Reading is the foundation of most piano courses. You’ll need to be able to read sheet music and understand a range of rhythms before you can become a more advanced pianist. You’ll be able to say goodbye to those easy piano songs and go on to perform more challenging tunes and different music genres (from classical to jazz piano) and even compose music yourself!
Why not also discover the basic piano scales and piano chords? From there, a chord progression, octave, arpeggio… !
When to practice solfege
The younger you are when you begin to learn piano, the easiest it will be to understand solfege. Of course, there is no official age to learn to play, so don’t be discouraged! But like most every domain, we do recommend learning piano from childhood. The reason is simple: children are like sponges. They’ll retain what their piano instructor teaches them quicker, whether it’s a major scale, a chord, a song or how to read sheet music…
We think it’s best for children beginner pianists to attack solfege and the piano at the same time. They have enough room to properly absorb the two skills, and so much more so with today’s methods to learn piano, which we’ll discuss further in the article. This isn’t the case for adults, whose attention span, stress levels, and capacity to retain information is not the same. For them it may be better not to mix the two, and take each one at a time.
Solfege instruction should begin in a fun and interactive way before adding the keyboard into the mix. But it’s the piano instructor’s role to adapt a methodology to the abilities, personality, and aims of each student. Also, there are no precise rules about when to play solfege during a piano class.
In the beginning, in the middle, at the end… there is little difference. The important thing is to not let it get in the way of the piano lesson’s coherence. The music teachers themselves will have to decide where to place solfege in relation to the class.
Doing solfege at the very beginning of a piano class will allow the student to devote 100% of his or her attention to it. The risk, of course, is that the student’s concentration may decrease quickly. Doing it at the end will mean that the lesson begins on a high and fun note. But the downside is that the content of the lesson won’t benefit from the solfege.
Ideally, your piano teacher will know the best time to insert solfege into a lesson, and it will often be followed by playing a piece of music as a complement. This way, the student will be able to mix theory and playing for maximum advantage.
Why learn solfege?
If used accordingly, solfege will allow a piano student to play music freely and on one’s own. Further, it will help structure his or her rhythmic training: to develop a sense of rhythm, distinguish between rhythms, and easily understand sheet music, and the structure of a composition.
Solfege means reading music. Knowing how to read music is fundamental if you want to be a composer or play in any music genre. You won’t need to imitate the music you hear in piano tutorials anymore.
Before all else, music should be an enjoyment, just like reading. And to like reading you must learn to read! But we won’t hide it. Learning solfege is no easy task, and it demands motivation and discipline. The good news is that, thanks to today’s new teaching methods, learning solfege has become more fun. Yes, you heard that right!
First of all, learning solfege alongside an instrument, allows you to see (or hear) the fruits of your labors. What’s more, if you focus your training on playing and not on memorizing technical terms, you’ll enjoy training that much more.
Some of the greatest musicians, such as guitarist Jimmy Hendrix, never mastered solfege. But that didn’t stop them from composing and playing amazing tunes. But in general, to avoid completely stumbling over a piano song, or getting over writer’s block if you’re a composer, a strong and confident knowledge of solfege is your best bet.
Once you’ve started, you’ll develop automatic reflexes pretty quickly. In a few piano lessons, you’ll be familiar with the basics, and you’ll progress quickly if you follow these tips:
- Self-taught players: with a good and clear method, a metronome (for rhythm), and a bit of work and perseverance, teaching yourself solfege is possible,
- Students with a private teacher: your piano instructor will teach you solfege during your music classes. You’ll normally begin with solfege exercises before playing,
- Students in a music school: group solfege classes will allow you to better read a piece of sheet music. The curriculum includes note reading, note writing, and dictation…
Some indispensable solfege basics:
- Distinguish notes: whole note, half note, quarter note, etc…
- Know your sharps and flats and even rests,
- Read a staff in the key of G, then in the key of F (the C key is generally more advanced),
- Learn about rhythms and measures.
Learn solfege as a beginner pianist
Well, yes. What’s most important to retain, is that solfege isn’t an obligatory step to starting those beginner piano lessons. As we’ve seen, it’s possible to have fun behind a keyboard without knowledge of sheet music or rhythm.
But learning to read music reading in an engaging and fun way will come to the musician’s advantage when learning how to play piano, or undertaking further instrumental or music instruction. This applies first to the reading and playing of sheet music, and composition later on.
One essential notion that music teachers must never forget is that of enjoyment. This alone will motivate the student to work when alone and become more advanced quickly. In any case, it’s one of the best methods for learning how to play piano!
And if you want to get more tips, why not explore the world of online piano lessons? You’ll be sure to find entertaining, interesting and even free solfege and piano tutorials on YouTube and throughout the Internet. Happy surfing!
Advice for learning solfege and piano
Be daring, but wise. Do them both at the same time.
Although this involves a different investment and higher motivation than required if you just want to learn an easy piano song you just heard on the radio. Doing solfege and piano at the same time will allow you to increase your confidence, advance faster and perfect your piano playing. You’ll also improve the two domains equally. And you’ll realize that you can play not one, not two, but all the pieces of piano music that you want! And this will make you keep wanting to learn more.
It’s also vital to note the importance of the student-teacher relationship in piano and solfege training. It should be a relationship built on mutual trust and listening. How should one lead a piano course when teaching the two practices together? The teacher must fix objectives for each lesson. This demands time to choose and prepare exercises, and how to approach them. Of course, the age, level and progress speed of the student should be taken into account too.
And since you’ll be spending a lot of time with your piano teacher, at least an hour per week depending on the method you choose, it’s very important that you get along with one another. So choose a teacher who corresponds to your personality and objectives. And if you don’t find the right match at first, try again!
The piano teacher, who is a professional with a love of music, will transmit this passion to you, increase your motivation, and enrich your playing. This will make it easier to learn music theory, play the key of middle C, and all those other less fun tasks!
So that you don’t lose motivation or direction in your solfege training, follow a schedule, such as one hour of playing every day or every two days (depending on your personal piano playing goals). Regularity is just as important as quantity. It’s better to play those black keys every three days than five hours every now and then!