Teaching Tonic Sol-fa and Standard Notation Simultaneously

Some years ago, a group of music educators who were great fans of John Curwen’s sol-fa method, developed in Victorian times, founded the Curwen Institute and one of them, William Swinburne, wrote a book, through which they hoped to renew the use of sol-fa in UK schools by teaching the method in parallel with notation.This was the “New Curwen Method”, published by Stainer and Bell. Sadly, it looks as though the venture wasn’t well supported and the Institute seems to have disappeared (as its founders have aged or died?). I believe that the book is now out of print but there are copies available from Amazon. It was based on the idea of teaching with a giant stave on a whiteboard against which the teacher would form the sol-fa hand signs. Doh (Do in Kodaly system) would be marked with a square at the beginning of the stave. Kodaly’s system was also a development of John Curwen’s ideas. In the Kodaly method, pupils initially learn to read from rhythmic stick notation with the first letter of the sol-fa syllable under it. It is possible to combine the two by writing sol-fa letters on a stave, with stems and dots to indicate rhythm.  “The Kodaly Method” by Lois Choksy, published by Prentice Hall. has  an appendix of songs in progressive order, in addition to examples of stick notation and hand signs.
In my  free software Learn Tonic Sol-fa With GridPlay, described on this blog, I try, in some grids, to parallel the New Curwen Method by writing the sol-fa syllables on a modulator which is as close as I can get to a musical stave. The pitches of these syllables can be ‘played’ with the mouse, so the user can check  pitch accuracy when singing from the syllables.
This example is in C Major but the layout of the grid could be used as a template for other keys.
 The software also includes fully chromatic C-based ‘notation’ grids in different registers.
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.

Pre-schoolers and Tonic Sol-fa

Someone commenting on my post, “Sol-fa, So Good” asked about materials for parents to learn sol-fa with their pre-schoolers.  I think a lot of people might be interested in my reply, so I’m putting it up as a new post and also posting it on my Family Music Forum. I’m figuring that more people will see it in these places than buried amongst the comments about sol-fa generally:

Any pre-school music group describing its sessions as based on “Kodaly” or “Colourstrings” principles will be using tonic sol-fa. Parents will usually be encouraged to learn with their little ones and to continue the fun at home.

Colourstrings Music Kindergartens began life as the pre-instrumental programme of the junior music school at the East Helsinki Music Institute. Everyone was astonished at the effect the programme had on the musical development of the young participants and the standards they went on to achieve in the Institute’s junior ensembles. There is now an excellent training programme for people who wish to teach the programme and classes are available in many different countries.

Songs in the “Singing Rascals” books and tapes have been selected from those which over the years have proved appealing and easy to learn. They are presented in child-size hardback books which are beautifully illustrated and children adore them!

Dr. Géza Szilvay, Head of East Helsinki Music Institute and Compiler of the “Singing Rascals” series says in his introduction:

The “Singing Rascals” books are intended as a means of helping parents, grandparents, kindergarten and nursery school teachers, and all those who have children in their care, to create stimulating and purposeful moments with them… …The series is supported by a parallel series of audio tapes on which infants sing and young children perform the melodies, but no cassette, however good, can replace the lap and guidance of the close relative or friend.

These same sentiments inform my own “GridPlay: Creative Explorations, Level 1” software resources, which owe much to my experience of using “Colourstrings” materials with pre-schoolers:


For more information about “Colourstrings”, visit www.colourstrings.co.uk. I would recommend starting with the “Pentatonic” book. The audio is now available in CD format from www.westcoastmedia.co.uk. I can’t recommend these resources too highly.

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.