Solfeggio (musical theory)

Is solfeggio a night mare for amateur singers? Past. Music theory in basic does not differ the simplest mathematical equation therefor you start without hesitating. Semitone, second, third, seventh, interval, chord, cadenza, octave, half note, metre? At practical work with amateur singers you usually as a rule come across to a negative relation to acquiring practical music theoretic knowledge. When it is about a melodic rhythmical problem the singers already at the first contact with the occurred problems fence themselves from intervals, harmonic and other music elements. Where do we have to look for the exaggerated vocal fear – respect I leave the researchers of conventional teaching methods. In this chapter I am going to limit especially the system of teaching intervals.

Intervals (music)

Interval is a melodic distance between two tones or so to say the difference of their tone heights. Either choirmasters or singers do the reading of singing material imagine as a way of fast progressing. With the skillful managing of intervals you mostly avoid the process and expenses of vocal training. If the singers in the choir do not get this aim as crucial we have to motivate them additionally with the explanation of the concrete concert situation.

Supporting explanation

Let’s imagine the situation after a successful performed concert with choirs. There follows social gathering of the performing choirs and solo singers. Because singers like exchanging music experiences, there comes a member from the guests and invites us to sing together and surprises us with note material of a simple melodic structure. Because we master solfeggio basic elements of the interval and rhythmic recognition it is possible to associate into making music. The responsible singing relation to musical literature contributed that the image of the artist ensemble is not affected with additional vocal training on the contrary – a successful concert is confirmed also in the sense of the knowledge of music theory.

Semi tone and whole tone

Solfeggio: For gaining skills managing intervals you have to focus on differentiate the whole tone from the semi tone (minor second and major second). This will be later the basis for »measuring« the rest of the intervals.

A faultless performance of the semitone and whole tone of the music scale will strengthen the differentiation and the listening imagination. I also recommend to use a testing method with the above mentioned music scales at auditions for searching special talented singers.

Chromatic semitone scale

Whole-tone scale

The analyses of the note material require chromatic and semi tone melodic steps. I for myself use the markings 1 (whole tone) and ½ (semi tone). The difference between the whole and semi tone can be trained with some of the simple exercises to warm up before singing which are regularly used as a basis for the intention to warm up the vocal body.



vaja 27-1


vaja 27-2


vaja 27-3


Now let’s have a look at the rest of special intervals. For reading the melodic relations in the score I do not like to make things complicated. I use simplified descriptive examples which the singers usually personalize gratefully.

Interval of third

– the line to the next line (from gap to neighbouring gap).

Differentiate the minor and major third

minor third  measures a whole tone and a half
– written in the score: m3
– at the major third the whole tone is added an additional whole tone
– marking: M3

Interval fourth

– you count the major or so to say the minor scale from 1 to 4; starting note-1, ending note-4,
– example in literature: starting interval »Zdravljica« (Slovenian national anthem),
– written: P4 (perfect fourth).

Tritone (Augmented fourth)

– listening performance (devil in music),
– add to the first tone two whole tones,
– marking: A4 or TT or for example the sketch of devil’s horns,
– the tritone is used as a basis on the whole tone scale.

Interval fifth

from line to line (from gap to gap) over the left out middle line (gap),
punctually performance of the perfect fifth is reached by singing over a major or minor triad (chord). As a rule the intonation with using the intermediate third is much more precise from the help with counting from 1 to 5,
– written: P5.

Diversity of the major and minor sixth

the major sixth adds to the fifth chord (triad) a whole tone,
– marking: M6,
– example in literature: starting interval of the Slovenian Christmas song »Pastirci kam hitite«,
– minor sixth (m6) adds to the fifth a semitone,
– marking: m6.

The more skillful singers also use the turns (M6↑ = m3↓ or m6↑ = M3↓).

The difference between the major and minor seventh

– at the minor seventh or septima  to the fifth chord a minor third is added, you can also take one whole tone away from the octave,
– recognizing the dominant seventh chord,
– marking: m7,
major septima adds to the fifth chord a M3 (take a semitone from the octave),
– marking: M7,
– example in literature: the first widened chord in extent M7 in the song »Nad mestom se dani« − Jože Privšek.

More skilful singers also use the turns (M7↑ = semi tone↓ m7↑ = whole tone↓).

Have you ask yourself about the level of singing pre-knowlege or you’re interested for more about singing warm-up, correct singing breathing, vowels and consonants articulation, posture and expression, polyphonic singing, vocal range (singing high and low tones) or about complete song preparing… Check out my The Basics of Vocal Technique.

Did you find in the article “Solfeggio (musical theory)” some useful advice for yourself?

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Robert Feguš