solfege vs. letter names

Diana said: Feb 15, 2005
Diana Umile
Suzuki Association Member
Coatesville, PA
36 posts

Do you use solfege or letter names to identify notes for beginners? Advantages/disadvantages of either?

Ghost People said: Feb 15, 2005
 92 posts

finger numbers

Melissa said: Feb 15, 2005
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

I use solfege.
I love singing in solfege.
When I was a child I was so drawn to the Sound of Music’s “Do a Deer…” that I went to the piano and taught myself the song and learned the notes in solfege. I was fascinated with it.
So now I can continue singing solfege with my students when learning their notes and pieces. We do learn letter names later :D in Book 1 but we never quit solfege.

Ghost People said: Feb 15, 2005
 92 posts


Do you use solfege or letter names to identify notes for beginners? Advantages/disadvantages of either?

What is solfege?

Melissa said: Feb 15, 2005
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

Solfege is naming the notes: Do-Re-Mi-FA-Sol-La-Ti-Do
Do being “C”. Re is “D” etc.
Please correct me if I am wrong other users, but I believe it is only in the United States that we teach children how to identify notes using letter names. Most elsewhere in the world they use solfege.

Ghost People said: Feb 16, 2005
 92 posts

Solfege is used at major conservatories in the US (I know specifically regarding Juilliard).

Ghost People said: Feb 16, 2005
 92 posts

There is solgfege and then there is fixed do solfege(where do is C).the first one is a movable “do”(tonic of whatever scale). So the beggining of Twinkle is sung do do so so la la so …… it is helpful for sightsinging purposes

Ghost People said: Feb 16, 2005
 92 posts

I grew up on finger numbers and letter names. I had never even heard of solfege until I saw the Sound of Music, and even then I thought it was only that song. Personally, I find it confusing…

Ghost People said: Feb 16, 2005
 92 posts

Movable Do Solfege is really confusing for people with perfect pitch because they have to keep singing a differnt syllable for the same note depending on what key they are in. “Movable Do” is easier for people with strong relative pitch because those people are hearing the relationship between notes. It also helps with transposing to different keys.

However, I just prefer sticking to letter names. Solfege works best for music in major keys. If you go outside of major keys, it starts to get really confusing and it’s easier just to go with letter names.

Melissa said: Feb 16, 2005
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

I use the fixed “do” system. This way it is not confusing even in minor keys.
Moveable “do” I consider a different tool that can be used when the student is more advanced and used when transposing and/or learning theory.

Ghost People said: Feb 16, 2005
 92 posts


Please correct me if I am wrong other users, but I believe it is only in the United States that we teach children how to identify notes using letter names. Most elsewhere in the world they use solfege.

I believe most English-speaking countires use letter names for notes, certainly not only the United States (Canada, the UK and Australia also use letter names, for example). I found an article which I hope some people will find interesting. Some of the links are particularly fascinating.

said: Apr 28, 2005
5 posts

I grew up using note names (aka. C-D-E, etc)

however, in university I had to relearn the notes in solfege (or as I like to think of it—translate the note

names into french). This was challenging but it is very useful, and I have heard solfege is considered to be the

‘International’ system and is used all through Europe.

When teaching technique and theory, I sometimes

find scale degrees very useful (ie. leading tone -7, tonic -1, etc.) I usually stick to these two methods in my

teaching now…

said: Apr 29, 2005
 103 posts

Interesting post…

When I was young I took

piano in using the Yamaha method, in which they used the fixed Solfege. I am dyslexic, so when I started violin

lessons and my teacher expected me to know the alphabet way, I could no longer really remember either of


It wasn’t until I was 15 and I started piano again that my teacher was able to give me a way to

remember the alphabet note names.

In teaching piano or violin I like to use alphabet. There was one year

that I helped my cousins dayly with their practiceing and so had to sing the notes using Solfege (they were also

learning by the Yamaha method). It was kind of funny because there were a few times where I had to stop myself

from calling one of my students notes, one of the Solfege words instead of the alphabet that they were used to!


said: Apr 29, 2005
 26 posts

Fixed Do is silly silly silly! Why limit a

very useful universal system to one key when we already have letter names that do what fixed Do would? Not

teaching letter names handicaps children in note reading later on, and Suzuki children pick up on solfegge quickly

anyway because of their good ears (hear pitch relationships well). Teaching children to recognize specific pitches

is invaluable (”Sing C”), too.

Melissa said: Apr 29, 2005
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

I respect your opinion, but I disagree. I think

singing in solfege is much more beautiful than singing letter names!! And, Twinkle Rhythms, it is funny when

reffering to the music using letter names, I tend to say the sofege name instead too. Which to me is fine and

I really think it is very important for students to learn BOTH systems, then they will have no problem

learning solfege when and if they decide to continue their studies at a music school where it is required for them

to learn and use.

Laurel said: Apr 30, 2005
Laurel MacCullochViolin
Langley, BC
120 posts

I’ve been teaching finger numbers and letter

names with my prep class. Mostly because I’ve been frustrated with teaching older kids in book 2 & 3 who are

still stuck on thinking “E1″ and “A3″ for everything. I use the string/finger number as a sort of shorthand, but

I would like them to know where the notes are on the instrument. It can help with note reading and also shifting

later on.

I learned solfegge years and years ago, in Grade 1, but don’t remember it well enough to teach

this way! :roll:


said: Apr 30, 2005
 103 posts

Well I would have to agree with honeybee singing

in solfege does have a nicer sound to it. If you think about it the alphabet is really a, bee, c-ee, dee, e, eff,

gee, in sound. That’s a lot of “eeeee’s”.

However I do think that it is important that the kids

understand how the alphabet works on an instrument and know which note that finger ___ is playing.

As far

as solfege goes, when I started with the violin teacher who expected me to know the alphabet, I could no longer

remember either, so I relied on finger numers and my ear.

The struggles that I meantioned in my previous

post on this topic, were helped as I said before by my piano teacher who made up stories for each of the keys to

help me remember which key was which note name in the alphabet. She was also the one who strengthened my sight

reading abillity in piano. So in piano at least I could look at the staff, know what it’s alphabet name was and

know which key it was on.

However this did not completely translate to violin. I could look at the music,

know which note it meant on the staff, but would then translate that into finger numbers, in order to read it. So

if I was away from the music, and my teacher asked me to “start on D” (or that idea), I wouldn’t have the foggist

idea which note she meant.

Over the last few years this has gotten easier, and I do know now what the

notes are. But I do find that sight reading in high postitions is still hard.
Considering all these things, I

know that most students will not struggle with these issues, but I still feel that they need to be strongly

grounded in the alphabet in order to find their way around the instrument. Besides we live in a culture that uses


Hope this makes sense! Sorry it’s so long!

Rachel Schott said: May 1, 2005
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

Though I don’t use solfege (yet) an obvious benefit for

string players would be to help clear up the half-step, whole-step issue.

It seems a student could accept

“re and mi are closer together than fa and sol” better than “e and f are closer together than f and g”.

As far as the alphabet is concerned, D-E-F-G is a logical, ordered, pattern with no deviations.

Melissa said: May 1, 2005
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

I have a student who started with me four years

ago. She had taken about a year of lessons from a traditional piano teacher and had the hardest time learning the

letter names to her notes. Her mom told me that she learned best by the sound the letters made when reading

words, not by the actual name of them. When I started teaching her piano we used solfege, which she picked up

immediately and learned her notes very easily this way. When starting her on reading music, after book 1, we also

used solfege. This is how I teach all of my students. Reading then singing really makes the connection. Now I

do introduce letter names towards the end of book 1, when we start five finger patterns major and minor in all

keys; but when refering to the notes of their Suzuki pieces, I use solfege. When continuing into book 2, they

have a theory book where they are asked to name the notes etc… this is where I do not use solfege at all, but

letter names. I also do not use solfege when teaching scales and chord progressions, Letter names.

works beautifully for me and my students, they end up learning both which to me is important. I also feel by

singing their pieces in solfege allows the student to develop artistry and musicality in their playing.

said: Jun 22, 2005
 6 posts

My daughter’s teacher has been having her learn

solfege for awhile now. It has been just like anything else, small steps and lots of praise. But now she can sight

read many pieces singing the solfege, and I’m amazed at how well it is working. We now tend to use the solfege

syllables more often than the letter names, though she knows both. Also, it is a lot easier to sing “fi” than “f-


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