We are perceiving, too, that a human being is endowed with an ear attuned to harmony and melody, with a voice from which music may issue, hands whose delicate action may draw forth sounds in enthralling sequence. With the ancient Greeks, we begin to realise that music is a necessary part of education (Mason, 1925d, pp. 328-329).

Sight Singing and Sol-Fa (Solfege)
Sol-fa is a system of graduated ear training and voice exercises that are added in Form 1a and beyond. In Form 1b Mason included Singing Games instead of Formal Ear training lessons.  This makes perfect sense, because Mason always moved from concrete to abstract.  She wanted the youngest children getting the music into their ears through singing and the rhythm into their bodies through moving to those singing games.

For the most comprehensive overview of PNEU Solfa Principles, I strongly suggest you read the following resources! 

The two part PR article written by W.H. Leslie, entitled, A Few Remarks on Music Teaching,   This article was required reading of parents/teachers who were teaching Solfa from the PNEU programmes once it was published in the Parents’ Review.  It will seem somewhat technical to an untrained musician, but it will help cast a vision for the goals of this subject! (Thank you to Art Middlekauff for scanning this article for me!)

For a modern perspective on this topic and to see some of the history of the Curwen Method, read the article entitled ‘Where do you think we come from?’ on page 7 of the Australian Kodaly Journal. (Thank you to Minda Ciardi for helping me think through how Curwen and Kodaly are related.)

You can also go directly to the source and read the brief (36 page) booklet that John Curwen himself wrote on the principles on Tonic Solfa.

The Story of Tonic Solfa, PR article by Mrs. Curwen (Author of the PNEU piano curriculum and daughter-in-law of John Curwen, the developer of Tonic Solfa) These by Mrs. Curwen are more simple to understand.

What is Tonic Solfa? PR Article by Mrs. Curwen




You can use hymns and folk songs in your Sol-fa lessons initially to get started. It’s a fun game to try and figure out the Solfege syllables for the tune of a song you already know. Mr. Curwen, the developer of the Tonic Sol-fa system, said sight singing was about learning Tune (pitch) and Time (rhythm). So on this website, those are our primary focuses to ear training.

For example with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star here is a tune (pitch) lesson you could work through with your children:
Sing to the tune –  Do,do, Sol, sol, La, La, Sol—, Fa, fa, mi, mi, re, re, do —-, Sol, sol, fa,fa, mi, mi, re—, Sol, Sol, Fa, fa, mi, mi, re—, Do, do, Sol, Sol, La, La, Sol—, Fa,fa, mi, mi, re, re, do—.  Learn with Hand signs. Play around with the interval Do to Sol as well as the stepping down movement of Sol, fa, mi, re, do.

The notes on the piano would be: CC, GG, AA, G-, FF, EE, DD, C-, GG, FF, EE, D-, GG, FF, EE, D, CC, GG, AA, G-, FF, EE, DD, C-.

Here’s a Time (Rhythm) lesson for Twinkle:
Have the kids walk to the steady beat and then when they have that figured out, then have them clap the rhythm that goes with the words.  You could do this song two ways. You can use all quarter notes for the words and the beat, except on ARE ( the last note of each phrase) it’s a half note and so they will step twice and only clap once. Or you can have each word be an eighth note and clap twice for each step of the beat.  A harder one would be Mary Had a Little Lamb, London Bridge or Hot Cross Buns.   Clap the words(rhythm) and walk to the steady beat. This teaches introductory rhythm as well.  This will help children establish the beat and also understand that the rhythm is different from the beat.

If that was confusing to you just now, Don’t worry!  The Lesson will help you along! You can also go and watch some of the Introductory Videos to help you along!

You can even go a little farther as kids get older and are reading about Music History and Theory in Forms  2 and up.
You can talk about Form with simple folk songs.  Here’s an easy example with Twinkle. The song is in ABA form.
A: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, How I wonder what you are.
B. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.
A. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little star, How I wonder what you are.  (the same phrase from the beginning is repeated at the end)

These forms are also used more extensively in Classical pieces, so this will help them listen well to their composer studies.

Folk Songs, Patriotic Songs, Foreign Language Songs:

  • It is unclear to me whether Mason would read any background information about the song, history or composer.  But if you and your children are interested in that sort of thing, I think it is fine to offer as a sort of scaffolding or set up to the singing lesson.  Keep this short, around 1-2 minutes. Because the singing is the “thing” we’re ultimately getting at.   Work on one verse at a time. Listen first and then sing along.
  • Different songs will take different lengths of time to learn, bu Mason would learn either 2-3 Folk tunes/National Songs or Foreign language songs per term depending on the Form.
  • If the child is learning to play an instrument, appropriate versions of the terms folk songs, hymns and composer study pieces can be played for additional practice and delight.
  • Foreign Language pieces are used like an immersion language piece as well as an opportunity to understand other cultures.
  • It seems based on research that The folksongs may have been included into formal Sol-fa Lessons, so that Sol-fa was included in every singing lesson. I am still looking into this more.