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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Teaching Solfege Without Singing

I can't believe I'm even writing a post on the topic of solfege without singing, but this is the crazy world we live in right now! So far my school has been in a hybrid model in the school building wearing masks, where none of us are allowed to sing. Although this is certainly a less-than-ideal situation, I've found some creative ways to still keep students practicing solfege- here are some of my favorites.

1. Solfege Challenge Videos

The YouTube channel "Visual Musical Minds" has a few videos with different sets of notes that have patterns notated on the screen, with a singer singing them on solfege syllables and then repeated instrumentally for students to echo. These have been perfect for practicing humming and using hand signs with- students listen to and watch the pattern the first time, then echo it back by humming and showing the hand signs. Here's an example of one of them with sol, mi, and la- there is also one for sol and mi, and another for do, re, mi, and sol:

2. Speed Rounds

Since we can't sing the solfege syllables, I have been taking the opportunity to focus on aural identification and solidifying the hand signs, especially with my younger students. One thing I started doing that is super simple but has proven highly effective is a quick round where I pick a note and students identify it in different ways (generally progressing in this order over the course of several lessons from easiest to hardest):
  • I hum and show a hand sign and they say the name of the note
  • I say the name of a note and they show the hand sign
  • I hum a note (without hands) and they say the note name and show the hand sign
  • I say the name of a note and they hum and show the hand sign
I start off doing this with one note at a time, and once they seem to have a handle on it I build up to 2 notes, then 3 notes in a row. I have been surprised at how well students are able to hum patterns with hand signs on their own by the end! I usually throw in a few quick rounds of this at the beginning and/or end of each lesson and they really enjoy it (and get pretty competitive!).

3. Notation

Of course besides performing them, we have also been practicing notating. Here are the 3 most effective ways I've found for practicing notation in the hybrid model we're in, where some students are learning from home on zoom and others are in the building where we can't share supplies:
  1. Google Slides
    Our district is using Google Classroom to post lesson material and I rely heavily on Google Slides for my visuals and interactive materials for students. One easy way for all students (whether they're in the building or at home) to practice notating solfege on the staff is to have a slide with staff lines and moveable notes for students to click and drag to the correct spot as I dictate patterns.

  2. SongMaker
    Another fantastic tool I can use in Google Classroom assignments is SongMaker. Because the notes are color coded by solfege it's a great way to have students create their own patterns using specific solfege notes- I use this often to have students compose using specific solfege syllables. The great thing is they can save what they create and send the link to me, so they can turn it in within Google Classroom as well.

  3. Manipulatives
    At the beginning of the year I was able to send home some basic templates with each student, both distance and in-person learners, with staff lines etc, to use for dictation and composition (and if they lose theirs, I send them a PDF to print). Another way I have had students notate is by using whatever they have on hand- math manipulative tokens, marker caps, coins, etc- as notes and placing them in the correct spot. The unexpected and undisputed favorite, though, has been ripped up pieces of sticky notes! I have them use just the top half sticky side of a post-it and rip it into 3-4 pieces to place on the staff, and that way they can actually hold up their paper to show me without the notes falling off.
I hope this gives you some fresh ideas to try if you are facing the same predicament of teaching solfege without singing! If you are looking for more non-singing alternatives, I wrote another post with more general ideas for teaching various concepts and adapting lesson activities when you can't sing here:

And see all of my posts related to pandemic teaching on this page:

If you have more ideas for teaching solfege without singing that you've found work well for you, I'd love for you to share them in the comments below! 


  1. How do you make the Google Slides? Do you have a template or model to put the staff and moveable notes?
    All GREAT suggestions. Thanks:)

    1. Yes, I have the staff inserted as a background image with moveable notes- I'm planning to do a post soon with some more Google Slides tips :)