Singing – What’s next?

Children’s songbooks present texts and pitches as an introduction to song.  The philosophy here is that by learning to read music, children can learn to sing, much as children learn to speak from lessons in reading and writing. Unfortunately, the analogy is false!

Liturature does not inform

  • The tempo of speech
  • The dynamics of speech
  • The rhythm of speech
  • The pitch of speech
Music literature must specify

  • the tempo of expression
  • the dynamics of expression
  • the precise rhythms
  • the precise pitches

Tempo and dynamics are hassle-free parameters and rhythmic notation is easy to understand.[1] Pitch, on the other hand, is such a difficult skill to master, that we often spend semester-long university courses devoted to its study. Professors often require that students can change the key of a peice without notation to do so.  This is especially important for future music teachers. The following example is not unusual: “The Song is in D-min. It is too early in the morning for the children to sing so high. Play it in Db-min please”.  An expressed melodie is, in cognitive science terms, a transpositional SHAPE.  Thus the change in pitch makes no difference to the children singing, the challenge is only for the teacher to know how to move it on the piano!

Thus within music learning the second step, after singing, should not be the pitch’s bound notation built from the Alphabetic nomenclature C, C#=Db, D, D#=Eb, E and so on. First, we need a tranposable nomenclature of tone; this is precicely the achievement of Solmisation with its transposable tone notation Do Re Mi and so on.  Solmisation is therefore the logical second step.[2] The agreement upon particular frequencies (ie Notes/Chromatics) comes later.

[1] See, for example, Herbert Schiffels: Rhythmic-Training. Music Making in the Classroom. Ernst Klett School book publishers.
[2] Please be aware: I do not speak of instrumental instruction. To play a song on an instrument, I myself must choose a specific key within which to practice. In singing, this consideration need not play a roll. “Man simply sings” – without the nessesity to be concious of whether he is currently in Eb minor or C minor.


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