Edited by Ukulele Staff
One of the most important aspects in learning to play any musical instrument is ear training and becoming familiar with the intervals of the major and chromatic scales. Learning solfège will improve your listening skills if you incorporate its use into your daily practice.
The technique of solfège (pronounced sol-fej) involves assigning the notes of a scale a particular syllable, and then practicing by singing different note sequences using these syllables. You may be familiar with this already as the “Do-Re-Mi” song from The Sound of Music.
To get the most from your solfège practice, be sure to sing the notes as you play them. Before you know it, these helpful syllables will be fully assimilated into your musical ear and you’ll be hearing and learning music in a new way.
Major Scale Exercises
The first step is to play and sing the notes of the C major scale using the solfège syllables. Go slowly, playing and singing each note in Example 1.
C–DO (pronounced doe–ray–me–fah–sol–la–tea–DOE)
You can do this in any key by making the first note the “Do” and following the major-scale pattern of whole steps (W) and half steps (H): W-W-H-W-W-W-H. To play the E major scale, for example, play the 2nd string open and then follow the whole-step/half-step pattern up the 2nd string (Example 2).
Read more about solfege and the benefits of singing and playing notes at the same time, including exercises to learn intervals by ear, in this lesson by Jim D’Ville.
Chromatic Scale Exercises
A proven way to improve your listening skills is to play and sing the C chromatic scale up and down several times each day. This practice will help you hear the notes of the major scale better too. Playing and singing the chromatic scale is like practicing every possible melody note you’ll ever encounter in advance. (Check out this lesson by Jim D’Ville for more on chromatic solfege.)
A chromatic scale consists of 12 tones (13 counting the octave), each a half step (semi-tone) apart within the octave: do to do. On a ukulele, if you start on any open string and play every fret climbing the scale one fret at a time until you reach the octave, you will have played a chromatic scale.
An example of how important chromatic scale practice is can be found in the article about Canadian educator J. Chalmers Doane in the Fall 2020 issue of this magazine. There, Doane states, “I’ve changed one thing in my pedagogy, and that is the importance of the chromatic scale. No matter what the song, the chromatic scale harmonizes it. Chromaticism is the secret to improvisation.”
While major-scale syllables remain the same ascending or descending, the five chromatic notes are sharped ascending and flatted descending, resulting in different syllables (Example 3).
One of the most beautiful sounding intervals found in the major scale is the third interval, for example do–mi. Practice playing and singing the following exercises highlighting major and minor third intervals. Example 4a shows the C major scale, ascending and descending in thirds, with corresponding solfège syllables. Example 4b again ascends and descends the C major scale, this time using the pattern of going up-a-3rd/down-a-3rd.
Another good solfège exercise for daily practice is to play and sing the ascending and descending intervals of the major scale, as shown in Example 5.
Ukulele Basics – Learning and Practicing is a great resource for players just starting out, as well as those looking to build a more solid foundation of knowledge and skills. Get your copy today at store.ukulelemag.com.
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