Apr 21, 2011

Rhythm Solfege verses Counting

This post is in answer to a question from Sarah from the post "rhythm blocks".  Sarah asks:

"Do you think this (rhythm solfege) may be better than teaching them 'semibreve has 4 counts. minim has 2 counts, etc and having them clap the counts?"

My short answer, and this is only my opinion, is that it depends.  How would you count this sequence?

There are a myriad of ways.  You might say "One, Two, Three, Four. One-and, Two, Three-and, Four."  Some people like to substitute nonsense words, which is especially appealing to younger children.  For example, "Cat, Cat, Cat, Cat. Ti-ger, Cat, Ti-ger, Cat."  Another way is to use rhythm solfege, which I prefer for a sequence like this: "ta, ta, ta, ta.  ti-ti, ta, ti-ti, ta". (I will grant that there are other systems for rhythm solfege, but this is the one that I use).
Which is best?  Well, it depends on the child, it depends on their musical maturity, and it depends upon what will give you results.  System one focuses on the whole measure, emphasizing the down-beat.  System two is great for building confidence.  Who doesn't like cats and tigers?  (or gum and candy, or cars and airplanes, or...).  But ultimately, they remain nonsense words that are not consistent.  The third system would be my first approach.  Why?
  1. It helps children focus on the individual notes and not how they fit into the measure.
  2. It is a consistent (a quarter-note/crotchet is always "ta", even when the meter is 6/8).
  3. It is fairly easy for children to play the rhythm correctly with this method.
In short, rhythm solfege is a valuable asset for your musical tool-box.  However, it is not a substitute for teaching your students that it is a quarter note.  I tell my students that like a cow says "moo", a quarter-note says "ta".

How would you count this measure?

This one is actually a little trickier, especially for younger students.  The first measure was more natural to count because we usually speak with similar rhythms.  On the other hand, the only time you would speak for four counts is when pausing to say "umm..."  The nonsense-syllable approach is simply not applicable here.  This leaves us with two approaches:
  1. "ONE-two-three-four, ONE-two, THREE-four, ONE-two-three, FOUR
  2. Ta-ah-ah-ah, Ta-ah, Ta-ah, Ta-ah-ah, Ta.
The verdict is out on which one is better.  If all measures were like these, I would probably favor the first approach because it is more concrete.  In my video for the rhythm blocks I demonstrated the second approach.  Bouncing a "ta" to make it "ta-ah" is a little bit abstract for a child, which is why I created the rhythm blocks in the first place, to help them see what is happening.
I do think that children need to know how many counts a note gets.  Counting "ta-ah" implies two counts, but sometimes it is easier for younger musicians to count it "One-two" (or "three-four" depending on where it falls in the measure).

The verdict is out.  I don't know which way is better, so I use both and between the two we somehow get the job done.  Good luck!


Lisa said...

One that I use with my students, that the younger ones really gravitate to, is saying the name of the note. I also have them clap the rhythm simultaneously. So:
"Hold-that-whole-note!" (over four beats)
"Half-note-dot!" (three beats)
"half-note" (two beats)
"quar-ter" (one beat, but only clap on the first syllable)
"two-eighths" (half a beat per syllable, clapping both times)
"tri-ple-let" (can be used for any triplet)

Since by the time that I split to singular eighth notes and add the super-short notes like sixteenths, the student is ready to use different types of solfege counting, I don't need anything beyond what is written above.

Tamsyn Spackman said...

That's a great idea, Lisa! Thank you for sharing. :o)

Sarah said...

Thanks a great bunch Tamsyn for your detailed post to my question. It was a pleasant surprise to read such a thorough reply!

The discussion really helps in finding what works. Ive got quite a bit to chew on.

Many thanks Lisa for your sharing too!

My son can answer how many counts a semibreve is but just wont hold the note over 4 beats. He gets the crotchet and minim clap right though :)

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