Tonic Sol-fa for Instrumentalists

Where can instrumentalists who want to teach themselves tonic sol-fa find suitable resources?

For a singer, sight-reading means singing at sight and many progressive sight-reading materials which combine tonic sol-fa and notation will be found in the voice section of music shops. Instrumentalists can also make use of these, but an experienced player will quickly need to quickly apply the sol-fa syllables to a wide range of keys. A good source of tunes for this situation is “The Folk Song Sight Singing Series”, published by Oxford University Press. This is a a series of twelve little books, starting with a major scale and leaps between notes of the tonic chord and progressing, with increasing rhythmic complexity, through minor and modal scales, to difficult leaps and modulations. For less experienced players, “150 American Folk Songs” published by Boosey and Hawkes is a useful publication, in keys up to two sharps or flats.

These books presume that the pupil has already been made familiar with the sol-fa syllables:they merely identify the position of ‘do’ on the stave and which syllables are used in a song. “An Introduction to Tonic Sol-fa for Instrumentalists” is a resource which can be downloaded from The Full Pitcher website. It introduces syllables for one octave of C major scale and provides exercises in singing interrupted scales, scales in thirds and simple leaps. These can be transposed to other keys and then followed up with publications like those mentioned above.

High-School Band:Involving A Pupil With Special Needs

One of the most rewarding of my recent online activities must be an exchange of emails with an American high-schooler.This wonderful child was looking for a way to share the joy she experienced as a member of her school band with one of the school’s special needs pupils. She had some excellent ideas of her own and sought advice as to whether she was on the right track. She explained that the challenge was to find a way to involve him in the band without detriment to the performance of this competetive and advanced ensemble. A few weeks later, I was thrilled to hear that the school had put my suggestions into effect, to the general delight of pupils and staff. I thought I’d share these ideas here, as they may be relevant to other schools:

“It really brightened my day to hear from a young musician who has given so much thought to sharing the wonderful gift of music!

Providing a suitable instrument for a disabled player is a very individual thing but I can make some suggestions that have proved useful in similar situations. As you have worked out, any electronic instrument could be used with headphones, so that the band’s performance is not disrupted. I believe, though, that a more truly inclusive solution is to feed the sound output into a small keyboard amp, the volume of which can be controlled by the conductor or by the special needs teacher/facilitator. It may not be the case with this young man, but the contribution of people with severe disabilities is often surprisingly musical and appropriate. Even if this boy’s performance leaves much to be desired, he could have the satisfaction of joining in ‘live’ when the band’s going at ‘full throttle’ and could be easily silenced when his contribution is inappropriate. This would be educational for everyone. :>)

An electronic keyboard is an extremely versatile bit of kit for a lifeskills program and, if one is available, it could be used in the manner suggested. For the more physical experience that you are exploring for your friend, Yamaha drum pads are worth considering. Higher specification sets, like the DD35 and the DD55, are touch-sensitive and have a hand-percussion mode. The DD55 has two foot-switch inputs built in. Any kind of switch can be attached. This could be useful if the conductor wanted, for instance, for the pupil to use a single sound and he was unable to confine himself to one pad.  A MIDI facility makes it possible to attach a switch box, enabling several switch-users to play a variety of percussion ‘instruments’ through the drum machine.

Thank you for exploring this issue. I hope my reply will be useful to you and that you will let me know how you get on. Do get back to me if you have any further questions.

Happy music-making, everyone!

Best wishes,

MIDI Connections

I was very interested in your “Have Fun with MIDI” posting and I’ve started using some of this music in my classroom. The school has a music keyboard and, on the back, there are two sockets marked “MIDI IN” and “MIDI OUT”. Does that mean I could connect it to the computer and play the music with the, much nicer, sounds on the keyboard. If so, how do I do this?

Yes, you can connect the keyboard to your computer. The simplest way to do this is with a USB MIDI Interface with in-built cables, 1-in/1-out. This will come with software to install the drivers. You must plug the “Out” cable into the “In” socket on the keyboard and the “In” cable to the “Out” socket. Once the drivers are installed, your computer will detect when you’ve got the interface connected. If you are using vanBasco’s Karaoke Player, right click anywhere on the player and select the “MIDI” Tab. Set the Output Device to “USB Audio Device”

If you are using Windows Media Player, Windows will probably set the MIDI output automatically. If it doesn’t, go to Control Panel> Sound & Audio Devices> Audio and set the MIDI player to your device. If you’re using simple music software like GridPlay, Music Box or Compose World, you will be able to set the MIDI output device from the, user-friendly, onscreen menus.

Of course, when you have an external MIDI instrument, the fun really starts when you use it to input what you are playing on the keyboard into your computer software, but we’ll save that for another day!

Guitar after a stroke

This afternoon, I’ve been replying to a website visitor who is trying to find a way for a guitarist to continue playing after a stroke affecting the left-hand side of the body. I thought this reply might also be of interest to others:

“If your guitarist has some use of his left hand, he might be able to play a Suzuki Q Chord, a sort of combination of electronic keyboard and guitar. There are many ways of using this versatile instrument, the most guitar-like of which is to press chord buttons with the left hand and strum various patterns on the ‘strum-plate’ with the right. The internal sounds are pretty good but the Q-chord can also be connected to an external MIDI device such as a sound card or guitar-sampler. (See:

The simplest, and cheapest, solution might be a customised version of GridPlay software. Gridplay, published by my own company, The Full Pitcher Music Resources, is a (Windows) software instrument that can be played by means of the mouse. Each GridPlay package has 15 grids, each a mini-application in which the instrument is configured in a different way. It can be used with the nothing more than the internal sound-system but it also has a full MIDI specification and like the Q-chord can be used with other software/hardware synthesizers and samplers. (see:, for demos of a standard package and for more information about customisation for special needs). Grids could be prepared using guitar sounds and various scales, arpeggios, block chords/ strum patterns.

I know that a stroke often has a negative impact on learning and recall but, if this does not apply to your gentleman, the Sibelius G7 software has great guitar samples and provides an excellent way for an experienced guitarist to channel their musical energies into composing for the instrument. A Suzuki Q-chord or a GridPlay/MIDIgrid software package could be used to play the music for recording/editing in G7. (see:

Update 7/02/2014: What do you all think of this? Ian Pearce can play again, after 47 years, with this adapted guitar: