The greatest mysteries in life are often the things that we take for granted. As a child, you learn about colour; you learn which colours are which at first, a simple game of identification. As you grow older, you learn that you can mix colours together to make different colours. As you get older still, you learn that the property of colour is derived from reflected light. Later still, you might begin to wonder whether or not others see what you call “purple” as purple in the same way that you do; colour as a gateway to questioning subjective experience in and of itself.
You might have had a similar trajectory when learning music. You start with your “Do-Re-Mis”, very much in the vein of The Sound of Music. Later, you might realize that very few people actually use Do-Re-Mi as a system to define notes (no one I know has ever used “Do Sharp”). You might then realize that “Do” can either be “C Natural” (Fixed Do) or the start of a scale (Movable Do). You might realize later still that Western scales aren’t the be all and end all of music, and that a staggering number of microtones exist between the naturals and sharps.
The system of Do-Re-Mi is known as a solfège. Solfège is, simply put, a teaching method where syllables are attached to notes to make them easier to remember. You could, ostensibly, develop a chromatic solfège that includes 12 notes, Do-sharps and all, but going past this into microtones seems to obviate the point of the solfège in the first place (easy memorization). The problems that we see with interpreting the infinite space of microtones, however, doesn’t prevent us from trying the same thing with rhythm.
Rhythmic solfège, then, is the “Do-Re-Mi” of rhythm, and like Do-Re-Mi, you’ve probably heard it before. When you count quarter notes “1, 2, 3, 4”, you’re using rhythmic solfège; assigning memorable syllables to a rhythm. In a similar vein, you can count eighth notes as “1 and 2 and 3 and 4”, and triplets as “1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4”. Let’s say you need a chord to be played on the 3rd note of the first triplet; you can say “The chord comes in at 1 a” to make it easier to remember.
Of course, we can get a little bit more wild with our rhythmic solfège than just counting; after all, this is a tool we want to use to count almost any rhythm imaginable – and not just to count it, but to really feel it, too. You can, for example, use rhythmic solfège to help you count in difficult time signatures. Let’s say you have 4/4 time; you could count it by saying “Brandon Brandon”. There are two syllables in Brandon, so saying it two times gives you 4 syllables, matching with your four quarter notes. Let’s say you throw a Winnipeg into the mix: “Brandon Winnipeg”; now you’re counting in 5/4 times! “Brandon Brandon Winnipeg” gives you 7/4, and so on. This type of rhythmic solfege is particularly useful for keeping time during odd time signatures.
The solfège I just used, as you might have guessed, was one I came up with on the spot. That’s what I want you to get from this post – it’s not about a specific system, but about modes of thinking. You don’t have to know the most used solfèges to feel rhythms; you can create your own in order to wrap your head around a piece you’re trying to play. Use what you already know to learn something new.
Solving all of life’s great mysteries is impossible, but making sense of them by delving in – with a keen, curious mind, a willingness to learn and grow, and a bit of creative flair – that’s something we can all get behind. You might start by diving into our violin lessons; they’re taught at home, in order to give you the feeling of security that’s needed to delve head first into the unknown. From there, you might learn a lot about the hidden rhythms and notes that surround us at all times. You might learn to hear things a bit more musically. You might make your own solfège. You might uncover things you never knew about yourself. You never know.