On Friday I met Sophie (aged 12) for our first piano lesson. She had been learning for a number of years with different piano teachers. She appeared musically bright and willing but had not progressed. After a short time it transpired that her learning consisted entirely of Tonic Sol-fah.
Tonic sol-fa is a technique for teaching sight-singing. It uses a system of musical notation based on a fixed or a movable ‘do’. This ‘do’ proved a real problem for Sophie. The only ‘do’ Sophie knew was C. For Sophie, C was always ‘do’ and G was always ‘sol’ regardless of key. To be clear, if G was played in G major, it was still ‘sol’ for her. Sophie did not know the layout of notes on the piano and the idea that there were others scales than C major was quite baffling for her!
Whilst Tonic sol-fah can be helpful to musicians, (for example, understanding the degrees of a scale helps with intervals and transposition) teaching sol-fa is absolutely not a substitute for teaching classical piano notation. Sophie’s previous teachers have made ‘sol-fa’ a hindrance to her musical understanding and progression.
I believe the teaching of notation can be started in the very first formal lessons and that children understand it easily. Further, there is no point in teaching any other method of reading musical notation as a preliminary to actually teaching musical notation. It only delays and confuses the real learning. Sophie and I are now going back to square one.