Tips to Help You Play by Ear Better With Moveable do Solfège part 1 of 3

Here are some tips to help you play by ear better using “moveable do” solfège. These are not quick fixes or easy answers. In fact they’re really not tips at. Together they form a recipe which you can learn all at once or in parts. It takes focus, time, consistency, reinforcement, and practice to improve. The good news – no, the great news! – is that all of these aural skills practices are made of music and lift your spirit, too!

In this recipe, you will learn how to figure out a song in solfège and then to quickly be able to play that song by ear on an instrument.

 

Learn to Pre-hear

Always hear a note before you play it. This is called pre-hearing and it is a crucial element of playing music by ear. You imagine a note – you imagine how it sounds AND imagine which note on the instrument or in solfege it is. Only THEN do you play it. Do not hunt and peck, or play random notes and hope they are right. This kind of guesswork does not culture your ear to improvement and tends to lead to discouragement and frustration. Trust me. I’ve been there, which is why I’m giving you this recipe. The less guessing and the more pre-hearing you do, the surer your ear will become and you will become more and more confident playing by ear!

If you are used to employing a lot of guesswork into your playing, you will find that careful pre-hearing slows you down. It’s supposed to! The benefit of hearing, imagining, and understanding synergistically far outweighs this initial bit of slow down.

 

Find do in Songs You Can Sing

Do (pronounced “doe”) is the musical center of the universe.  In moveable do solfège, do can be any note in the chromatic scale, and the notes of the major scale line up according to where do is.

For example, if do is F, re is G, mi is A, fa is B-flat, sol is C, la is D, and ti is E.

And if do is D, re is E, mi is F-sharp, fa is G, sol is A, la is B, and ti is C-sharp.

In tonal music, do gives the most at rest or feeling of solidity or arrival. I don’t want to put words in your ears, so you’re going to have to feel it for yourself.  

Let’s work with the song “Happy Birthday To You”.  This is an interesting song to begin with, and I hesitate to do so, because it does not start on do.  But it does feature do in some important ways and I’m guessing that if you live in North America, you are familiar with this song. 

By the way, if you are one of the many people who are uncomfortable singing this song at birthday parties, this will help you, because you are going to become so clear about how this song goes, you’ll find your comfort level rise at each birthday party you attend.

First off, sing the song to yourself. Start on any note and sing it out loud. Humming is fine, but you want to clearly imagine the lyrics.

Happy birthday to you.

Happy birthday to you.

Happy birthday, dear reader.

Happy birthday to you.

Ok, now sing the first two lines and determine which of those lyrics is sung on the sound *do*. Remember, if you don’t get this right away, it’s ok. This is the very thing we are working on cultivating and once you taste how *so* sounds, you’ll start noticing it pop out everywhere.  It is the center of the tonal universe after all, and it will serve as a compass for you to keep your bearings in a musical texture.

It’s rather well hidden in the first line, so let’s go straight to the second.  “Happy Birthday To You.” You might notice that the “you” feels like it ends a thought.  It might feel momentarily at rest.  Savor that feeling. Hum the second line only.  Can you feel how *you* has a subtle but tangible quality to it?  That is the feeling of *do*.

Now sing the first two lines, replacing do like this.  Give yourself an extra little moment on each do to let the feeling sink in.

Happy birthday do you.

Happy birthday to do.

Sing through the third phrase. It contains one do. Sing slow and savor each tone. Be curious. The feeling of do deepens with time and it also feels slightly different depending on where it lands in melody.

Happy birthday dear reader.

Did you find it?

Happy birthday do reader

And then the last phrase. Follow the same process to uncover where two more do‘s are. Take the time to mull it over. Replace the lyrics that are sung on do with the word “do“.

We now have.

Happy birthday do you.
Happy birthday to do.
Happy birthday do reader.
Happy birthdo to do.

So that’s the first big step: find do. Over time and with consistent practice, you will find that this whole bit happens in an instant. But don’t overlook this part. Just as you always want to know which way is north if you are hiking through the forest, you will always want to know the sound of do before trying to figure out the music by ear.

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