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 www.fullpitcher.co.uk. 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.