R – For any debate of solfege vs. numbers, let’s establish a few things. First, solfege 1) has easier, more singing friendly vowels for all notes including chromatics, 2) uses a maximium of 2 phonemes (units of sound), 3) works in all languages, 4) incorporates hand signs that are naturally incorporated into solfege practice. Second, numbers 1) possess no learning curve whatsoever, 2) incorporates hand signs that are naturally incorporated into basic number practice, 3) relate directly to all studies of music theory. I’m sure there are more pros for each that I haven’t mentioned, but these are some basics.
Which is better?
The Apple vs. PC debate is an apt analogy to me. Does each have pros? Yes. Does each have cons? Yes. Is one better than the other? It depends. It depends on preference. It depends on familiarity. It depends on function. It depends on resources (financial). It depends on support (infrastructure). Are there biases on either side of the debate? Of course there are.
Here’s my take on numbers and solfege: it goes back to the why. Do I want to incorporate a system that develops the reading skills in a sequential elementary through College setting? Solfege. Do I want to take an apathetic High School Junior who hasn’t sung since 5th grade and takes my one semester chorus class and make him musically literate within 4 months? Numbers. Do I want to utilize a system that naturally incorporates the half steps? Solfege. Do I want to teach reading skills to the adult learner in my Community Chorus? Numbers. Do I want to utilize a system that easily incorporates good tone and phonation? Solfege. Do I want to utilize a system that requires the singer to consciously analyze their tone placement and phonation out of necessity? Numbers. Do I want to use the universally “accepted” system of teaching reading skills? Solfege. Do I want to utilize a system that immediately translates to Music Theory? Numbers. Do I have a rehearsal schedule that allows me to invest the time into teaching my students a new musical language to the point of functional literacy? Solfege. Do I have a rehearsal schedule that limits my ability to teach my students a new musical language to the point of functional literacy? Numbers.
York, Maine teaches solfege at the Middle school level and numbers at the High School level. “That’s confusing, isn’t it?” Yup. For almost a day. Sometimes even two. “But you can’t use hand signs with the High School kids.” Have you ever held up fingers in the air and had students sing those pitches? “Numbers are unnatural to sing though.” You mean, unlike the text my singers are going to have to sing on those exact same notes in the next phase of learning the music? “But it is difficult to use numbers if you also use them for rhythms/count singing.” Yes it can be. That’s why it’s called academic rigor.
The singers who learned solfege in York Middle School arrive at YHS with reading skills I only wish I had when I was their age. Solfege rocks. The most egregious thing I subject them to is the ability to fluently read music with two distinct systems by the time they go to College, and those who weren’t in Middle School Chorus are also able to sight read. Numbers rocks.
Mac vs. PC. Solfege vs. Numbers. Which is better? It depends.