Top 8 Solfege Exercises For Musical Improvement

solfege exercises

Do you want to get better at singing in solfege? 

Are you looking for ways to improve your singing and ear training skills?

I’ve said many times on this website: solfege is a critical tool for dramatically improving musicianship. 

As a musician, I took leaps in my abilities when I realized and dedicated myself to hearing pitches better through solfege. 

As a teacher, I’ve seen my students learn faster and better retention when we take the “extra” time to learn solfege. 

But it’s hard to know where to start. It’s hard to find practical ways to improve online. 

I’m here to help with 8 of my favorite solfege exercises to improve all musicians. 

Solfege exercises should be modeled after real melodies while focusing on improving pattern recognition. Solfege practice improves your ability to hear pitches and sing on sight. 

Check out the rest of the post for the exercises and other relevant information. 

Top 8 Solfege Exercises For Musical Improvement

This section contains my favorite solfege exercises. 

I’ve included them in a sequential order moving from easiest to hardest. 

These are pulled from real songs, mostly slow ones. 

The rhythms are more straightforward because I wanted to focus on hearing the pitches in challenging ways with these. 

Note: If you’re looking for vocal warmups, click the link. 

Do Re Mi Song

For this exercise, I start with some easy 3-note movements based on an Irish-Scottish lullaby. 

This is a good part of a vocal warmup routine and a great solfege exercise for beginners.

Once you’ve sung through it in one key, move it up and down by half steps to gently stretch your vocal cords. 

The mi-re-do patterns are never overrated and a massively common pattern in most songs and pieces. 

Focus on singing on pitch and feeling how the notes move from one to another. 

It all starts with these 3 simple notes, so don’t be afraid to spend some time on this one. 

I do at least twice per week, even after 20 years of singing. 

Pentatonic Scale

Evolving from Do Re Mi, we now include Sol and La to give us the whole pentatonic scale. 

Pentatonic-based melodies make up much of our Western music, even in the modern-day. 

Being able to hear these pitches and sing through and around them is the first big step to using solfege in more complicated songs.

This exercise is a scale going up and through the pentatonic scale, including “extension” above and below the standard 5. 

Like the first exercise, sing this in a comfortable key and then move it up and down by half steps.

Pentatonic Melody

Putting the pentatonic scale exercise into a practical context is a simple melody using the pentatonic scale. 

Adding in some jumps, we begin to hear better how the pitches work together in real music. 

This melody is drawn from another authentic folk song, The Colorado Trail. 

As you sing the melodies, don’t forget to sing with good sound. 

If the solfege is messing you up, slow down. 

It’s essential to get it right rather than quick. 

Some encourage the use of hand signs, I think they’re good, but it’s up to you. 

This is another awesome solfege exercise for beginners.

Major Scale

Moving on, we add all the diatonic pitches: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Ti. 

Learn about all the solfege syllables and their history.

The scale and patterns are simple but effective. 

When sight-singing (singing music without ever hearing it), I always include these exercises as a way to lock in the scale and feel of the melody. 

In practice, almost no songs will go all the way up and down the scale in order, but it’s a good thing to practice to familiarize yourself with the sound. 

Remember, when you go above Ti, the scale starts over. 

The same happens when you go below Do (as shown with the Ti-Re-Do at the end).

Major Melody

Do you see a pattern yet? 

Good solfege practice includes scale and pattern exercise, then connects it to real songs drawing on these concepts. 

In this case, we pull from a beautiful melody based on the Utah folk song, Where Are you Going My Pretty Maid?

The jumps and leaps all show essential elements all music, even modern ones, have including: 

  • Stepwise motion
  • Leaping large intervals
  • Sequencing common patterns
  • Sticking within chord changes

You don’t need to know all this for the exercises, but just know, this is a powerful melody to use. 

Minor Scale

Switching from Major, we’re now in Minor. 

Briefly, minor are songs which are based around La instead of Do. 

Learn more about solfege for minor scales.

There are 3 main types of minor scales, and some use altered pitches. 

For brevity’s sake, this exercise focuses on natural Minor, which only uses the typical solfege notes but based on La. 

La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, and Sol. 

As with all music, notes repeat when going up or down, always in the same order. 

Here are the scale and pattern practice. 

Minor Melody

Connecting the above exercise into practical music, we see how hauntingly beautiful Minor is. 

Most pop music songs neglect the minor key, and the few out there are almost always big, classic hits (think Sound of Silence)

This song’s melody is repetitive and straightforward, but it’s nice and reinforces the changed key. 

It’s pulled from the Halloween-related song, Skin and Bones. 

In most real music, minor songs use the altered pitches, but this one doesn’t. 

As mentioned above, I’m avoiding these for this post not to overwhelm anyone but give them a taste of some practical solfege exercises. 

Chromatic Scale

Beyond the minor scale, there are altered pitches and solfege called chromatic solfege

These are advanced and, honestly, not always applicable. 

Most of your time should be spent on the above areas. 

But it’s still good to hear and be familiar with these pitches, so I’ve included this simple exercise. 

The trickiest part of chromatic solfege is how the syllables change depending on if you’re raising or lowering the note. 

For more details and exercises on this area, click the link above. 

How Often Should You Do Solfege Practice?

As with any life skill, you only get what you put in. 

Solfege is an easily forgotten thing to practice when you want to get to the songs. 

But just like you need to stretch and visualize a run to perform well, you need to “visualize” the notes with solfege practice. 

At a bare minimum, I recommend you do some solfege practice 5 days per week for 10-15 minutes at the start of your practice sessions. 

Better yet, do it every single time you practice for 15 minutes with some listening throughout the day. 

The more consistent the time, the better. 

Frequency Over Massive Amounts

If you only have 60 minutes per week to spend on solfege, spread it out throughout the week. 

It’s better to practice 12 minutes for 5 days than all 60 minutes on one. 

Why?

It comes down to 2 things: 

  • Habits
  • How learning works

First, by doing something consistently, it becomes a habit. 

Good singing and ear training is a habit and lifelong pursuit, not something just to pick up when the moment suits you. 

The second speaks to how we learn. 

Essentially, as you learn, you’re building and strengthening neural pathways into the knowledge and skill in your brain. 

Research shows that “cramming” by studying the night before or practicing only once in a while for a long time results in little retention over time. 

Sure, hours later or the next day, you’ll probably be fine, but your brain won’t remember it as well even two or three days later. 

Give it shorter, but consistent time. 

Solfege Patterns For Ear Training Mastery

Beyond the exercises above, it’s important to recognize common solfege patterns as they appear in music. 

Boiling music down into (much too) simple terms, there are the following types of patterns: 

Steps – When one note moves right to the next one. Do → Re → Mi → Re → Do.  

Skips – One note jumping another to the next. Do → (Skip Re) Mi → (skip Fa) Sol.

Leaps – Any note jumps farther than a skip. Do → (skip Re, Mi, Fa) Sol → (skip La, Ti) Do.

Whole steps – A full step, shown by 2 half steps. Do → Re YES! Mi → Fa NO!

Half steps – The smallest step possible, usually between Mi → Fa and Ti → Do. 

Triads – Groups of three notes separated by skips. [Do → Mi → Sol.] [Re → Fa → La.] 

Major – Melodies and scales built on Do. 

Minor –  Melodies and scales built on La. 

As I said before, this is far too simple, but it should serve to get you started on the many solfege patterns out there to learn. 

Fortunately, I’ve also developed a pattern exercise to help cover most of the important ones. 

Explanations Of The Patterns

These longer exercises should be performed on different starting pitches, but they contain all the following essential steps.

This doesn’t cover every pattern possible, but it does cover the key ones found in most music. 

  1. The song runs through the entire scale
  2. Each phrase uses the Do → Ti → Re → Do (La → Sol → Ti → La in Minor) to anchor you in the key. 
  3. The triad outlines for the I, IV, and V chord appear. 
  4. Interval exercise based on Do going up. 
  5. Interval exercise based on Do going down. 
  6. One more time going down the scale.  

Solfege Patterns For Major

Solfege Patterns For Minor

Other Helpful Solfege Exercises Resources

Besides these exercises, you may want to check out some other solfege resources. 

These are just a few of my favorites to sing through and how I use them. 

Disclaimer: The links are an affiliate, which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

I could have chosen any of dozens of options out there, and I chose these because I believe in and use them. 

Bicinia Hungarica

This book is a series of short melodies designed to get more challenging over time. 

They’re also written to build solfege skills specifically. 

Even better, they’re all mini-duets! 

333 Elementary Exercises in Sight-Singing

Zoltan Kodaly was one of the main drivers behind the idea that solfege exercises build musical flow and ability. 

This series of 333 exercises move along in a logical sequence to master rhythm and pitch. 

Best of all, they’re drawn from existing folk melodies. 

Practical Sight Singing, Level 1

I honestly didn’t expect this series to amount to much when I first checked it out, but I was pleasantly surprised. 

It’s like they take the work of the 333 exercises from above and expand them into more detail. 

This may not sound fun, but it presents a long term plan for those to practice a little solfege every day and dramatically improve their ears. 

Theta Music Trainer

Image from the Trainer

This is a musical ear training app available on Apple and Android by the awesome people over at Musical-U. 

It’s full of tons of fun games to train ears, many of which are available for free. 

I like how difficult some of it gets.

It’s enough to challenge even advanced musicians (though they’ll blow through the easy levels quickly). 

For those newer to ear training, this is a good one to check out. 

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed checking out these solfege exercises. 

In my colleagues, I’ve seen in myself and all my students from ages 4-100 how impactful solfege practice is. 

Put in the short bits of time every chance you get and watch your ears begin to pick apart melodies without even realizing it. 

Though I sing a lot, I also play instruments (including band instruments, guitar, ukulele, recorder, and more). 

Developing my solfege and listening skills helped with these instruments as well. 

I play better on pitch and can play back almost any song I hear. 

This isn’t to brag; it’s to show you how powerful solfege is for all musicians. 

Do these a little every day and watch how much you improve. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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