Solfa for ABRSM Aural Tests 4B, 5B

Aural tests at Grades 4 and 5 of ABRSM Grade Exams require that the pupil sing from score. Although at both these grades the notes will be in free time, singing at sight, even without the added complication of rhythm, is a skill that takes time to develop. Time is very much at a premium in instrumental lessons, so this test is often poorly-prepared. No doubt, the examining board hopes to encourage sight-singing from the earliest grades, even though it is not required in Grade 1-3 exams. However, if pupils come to the Grade 4 exam without previous experience, Test 4B is problematic.

A crash course in basic solfa can certainly help pupils, but the pitch-range required at Grade 4 does not correlate with the starting points of the more common solfa-for-beginners resources in this country. These start with the falling minor third, “so-mi”, next adding “la”, a tone up from “so”. Next comes “do-re-mi”, before adding the lower “ti” and “la” required by the Grade 4 test. This sequence is a developmental one, based on the singing of young children in British and North American cultures. Establishments which focus on solfa training for young children usually work on the premise that the youngsters will master the basics before they begin instrumental instruction.

The youngster preparing to take Grade 4 without a foundation in solfa-singing needs a different approach. Some years ago, I published several printed and pdf resources for beginner instrumentalists, encouraging them to sing, as well as play, the first five notes of a major scale Another resource “An Introduction to Solfa for Instrumentalists, Part 1” covered a major scale and the tonic chord. These were more suited to support self-help by the instrumentalist but they did not cover the precise requirements of the Grade 4 and Grade 5 aural tests. The need for instrumentalists to master these has now been made more pressing by the introduction of more advanced sight-singing tests at Grades 6-8, so I have prepared two resources tailor-made to the exam requirements. They can be found on the Resources for Instrumental Teachers page of The Grade 5 resource follows on from the material covered at Grade 4.

Update 4/1914: Introduction to Tonic Sol-fa for Instrumentalists Part 1 may prove  a useful starting point for those preparing for the Grade 6 test. I will add part 2 shortly.

Several posts on my blog deal with aspects of tonic sol-fa, so if you don’t see what you want in this post, check the ‘Category’ menu in the sidebar for more on this subject.

Sheet Music for Absolute Beginners

In the first few months of instrumental tuition, teachers and pupils are generally very dependent on whatever method book has been selected for the pupil. These methods usually introduce one new note or rhythmic duration at a time, along with tunes to practise the new introduction. There is a plethora of methods on the market, so it should be possible to find something to suit each individual. However, the material provided at each stage is often insufficient for a pupil to master it. Moving on prematurely to the the next unit can leave the learner confused and losing confidence. Matters may not be helped by the way in which these books often head their units “Lesson 1”, “Lesson 2”, etc., which makes the learner feel they are failing if they are unable to master each in a week or two.

I frequently have pupils invest in two method books so that they have more repertoire at each level. With adult pupils, this allows me to draw their attention to the fact that teachers have different ideas about the way in which new learning should be sequenced: one may introduce note values more quickly, while restricting pitch to very few notes; another will adopt the opposite approach, and so forth.In the same way, pupils may progress in one area quicker than another. I prefer to delay selecting a method for an absolute beginner until I get a bit of a feel for their individual learning style. As a composer, I’m able to produce original materials for my pupils and I greatly enjoy the challenge of composing satisfying music from severely restricted resources. This was the origin of the “…..Start Here” series and “Sheet Music Starters” Many of these pieces are now available as downloads from the “Music for Beginners” section. They are intended to supplement popular method books. When a pupil needs supplementary repetoire for a particular unit, or to revisit an earlier one, it’s great to have access to another source of sheet music!