Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lilting Solfege adds "words" and meaning to instrumental tunes

Here’s a fun and helpful exercise that combines the concepts of Lilting and Solfege.  It's basically a way of adding "words" to instrumental tunes, which can expose similarities and order across various modes and keys.  All you need to do is determine a root or tonic note for a particular tune, then everything falls into place from there.  I'm still in the process of developing this idea since I just happened upon it, but here's how I currently understand and explain it.

Lilting is basically Celtic mouth music, used to preserve a tune’s “diddly-dee” without the use of instruments.  Experienced traditional musicians say that if you can lilt a tune then quite often you can also play it.  To me, lilting just feels like nonsensical gibberish, but by applying Western Music’s Solfege syllables to this practice I can give it meaning and relevance.

In Western Music Theory, Solfege, as I choose to interpret it, is simply assigning a unique syllable to each of the 12 chromatic notes.  The 12 syllables I use (in the order of 1 through 12) are:  doh, dee, ray, ree, mee, fah, fee, soh, see, lah, lee, tee.  From those 12 syllables, you can assign a phonetic sound to every note in a melody, once you determine what the tonic or “doh” is. (You may notice that the Sound of Music "doh-ray-mee-fah-soh-lah-tee-doh" major scale is contained within these 12 syllables.  In fact, all scales can be extrapolated from these 12 notes).

Note:  I use a non-conventional phonetic three-letter spelling for the Solfege syllables because it helps me to visualize them.  I also assume that “doh” is always the tonic note no matter what key or scale we are using (this is called movable solfege).  And, for the purposes of this exercise I use the same chromatic scale for both ascending and descending. 

All you need to do to get started is determine what note is the tonic for a particular tune.  For example, chances are that a tune that resolves to an A note over an Amajor or Aminor chord has “A” as its tonic.  In that tune every A note = doh, A# = dee, B = ray, C = ree, C# = mee, D = fah, Eb = fee, E = soh, F= see, F# = lah, G = lee, and G# = tee.  In another example, for a tune with a D note as the tonic, you would move the doh so that every D note = doh, Eb = dee, E = ray, and so on. 
Example:  Lilting Solfege for the tune Doon the Brae (in Am)
For this exercise, it helps to use a sheet music tunebook such as The Portland Collection Volume I or II.  Once you figure out what a tune’s tonic is (typically the note that the melody resolves to), make that note the “doh” and then from there you can pencil in a solfege syllable to every single note in the melody.  You don’t have to worry about “accidentals” because since you have a syllable for every single one of the 12 possible chromatic notes, you automatically have a solfege syllable for every note that could be in the tune.

Tip:  don’t get hung up on key signature.  A tune in D-mixolydian can look like it has a G key signature due to the one sharp in the treble clef, while still resolving to a D note in the melody.  In this case D would be your tonic “doh” and you don’t even need to worry about what key or mode the tune is in.  If a tune with D as the tonic happened to have a C-natural note in it, then the solfege name for that note would be “lee” (indicating a flattened 7th note in the scale).

Once you have a Solfege syllable penciled in for every note in the melody, try singing those Solfege notes in the proper pitch, in time with the tune’s rhythm.  Also try singing this while playing the tune on your instrument. With enough practice, soon you’ll be able to easily lilt the Solfege melody for any tune that you know all the notes for. 

One of the many benefits of doing this exercise is you’ll start to notice commonalities and patterns in ways that had never been synchronized before.  For instance, make note of the Solfege notes that occur at chord changes to see if any rules of thumb come together.  In the above picture for Doon the Brae, note how it changes to the ii chord (G) on the "fah" note, the V chord (Em) on the "ray" note, and the I chord (Am) on either the "doh", "ree" or "soh" notes.  

This exercise will also help you to hear intervals, and it has a way of providing "words" for instrumental tunes which will allow you to apply the same structure to all tunes regardless of key, which will help bring them together.

1 comment: