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The most recent revisions of the Musicians' Guide are now available from the git repository.

Requirements and Installation

Hardware and Software Requirements

It is assumed that, prior to using GNU Solfege, users have already correctly configured their audio equipment.

In addition, the timidity++ package is required by Solfege, which requires the installation of a large (approximately 140 MB) SoundFont library. This library is shared with the FluidSynth application, which has its own section in this Guide, and is used by several other software packages. timidity++ also requires the installation of the JACK Audio Connection Kit. If you have installed the Planet CCRMA at Home repository, and have not yet followed the instructions to correctly install and configure its version of JACK, then it is recommended that you do so before installing GNU Solfege. Instructions can be found here.

Other Requirements

Solfege requires knowledge of Western musical notation, and basic music theory terms and concepts.

Required Installation

Please review the "Requirements" section above, before installation.

Use PackageKit, KPackageKit to install the solfege package, or run [pre]su -c 'yum install solfege'[/pre] in a terminal.

Optional Installation: Csound

Csound is a sound-synthesis program, similar to SuperCollider. It is older, quite well-developed, and has a broader range of features.

To install Csound, first close Solfege, then use PackageKit or KPackageKit to install the "csound" package, or run su -c 'yum instal csound' in a terminal. When Solfege is restarted, you will be able to use the "Intonation" exercises.

Optional Installation: MMA

MMA stands for "Musical MIDI Accompaniment," and it is not available for Fedora in a pre-packaged format. The software can be found on the internet from here, where you can download the source code and compile it if desired. MMA is only used by some of the harmonic dictation questions, so its installation is not required.

Configuration

It is not necessary to configure Solfege. The simple first-time configuration will help to customize the application for your needs, but it is not required. The other configuration options are explained for your reference.

When You Run Solfege for the First Time

These steps allow Solfege to automatically customize some questions for you.

  1. Start Solfege.
  2. From the menu, select 'File > Preferences'.
  3. Select the "User" tab.
  4. Input your vocal range, if you know it. Solfege uses this information to assign questions in a comfortable pitch range.
  5. Input your biological gender in the "Sex" field. Solfege uses this information to assign questions in the correct octave.

Further Configuration

These configuration options are not required, but you may wish to change them. They are all available from the "Preferences" window, accesible through Solfege's main menu: 'File > Preferences'.

"Instruments" Tab

  • Tempo: Changes the speed at which examples are played.
    • Default: Applies to everything that isn't an "Arpeggio."
    • Arpeggio: Applies to arpeggios, which are, by default, played at three times the speed of the default tempo. This is standard practice.
  • Preferred Instrument: This MIDI instrument will be used when playing examples.
  • Chord Instruments: For polyphonic voices, these MIDI instruments will be used for the highest, middle, and lowest voices above the bass voice (which takes the "preferred instrument.")
  • Percussion instruments:
    • Count in: This MIDI instrument will be used to give "count in" beats that precede musical examples involving rhythm.
    • Rhythm: This MIDI instrument will be used to dictate rhythm-only examples.

"External Programs" Tab

Solfege uses external programs to perform many tasks. On this tab, you can provide the command to be used, as though being run from a terminal.

  • Converters:
    • MIDI to WAV
    • WAV to MP3
    • WAV to OGG
    • If you use %(in)s and %(out)s, Solfege will substitute the filename it wants inputted and outputted.
  • Audio File Players, each with "Test" buttons:
    • WAV
    • OGG
    • MP3
    • MIDI
    • Solfege will substitute %s with the name of the file to be played.
  • Miscellaneous:
    • CSound: Solfege uses CSound for intonation exercises. It is an optional component. See the "Optional Installation" section above.
    • MMA: Solfege uses MMA for certain harmonic dictation exercises. It is an optional component, and not available in Fedora through standard means. See the project's home page for details.
    • Lilypond-book: Solfege uses this for generating print-outs of ear training exercise progress. See the "Optional Installation" section above.
    • Latex: Solfege uses this for generating *.dvi format progress reports, rather than the default HTML format.
    • Text editor: Solfege uses this to allow editing of exercise files.

Interface

  • Resizeable main window: This allows users to resize the main Solfege window.
  • Select language
  • Identify tone keyboard accelerators: In exercises requiring the input of particular pitches, this will allow a conventional keyboard to be used as a MIDI keyboard - letters on the keyboard will be associated with particular pitches.

Practise

These options apply to exercises done in "Practise" mode.

  • "Not allow new question before the old is solved": Solfege will not provide a new question until you have solved the current question.
  • "Repeat question if the answer was wrong": Solfege will repeat a question if you provide an incorrect answer.
  • "Expert mode": Solfege will provide advanced configuration options for individual exercises.

Sound Setup

  • "No sound": This mode is used for testing and debugging Solfege.
  • "Use device": This mode lets you specify which audio interface Solfege will use.
  • "User external MIDI player": This mode lets you choose a MIDI synthesizer.
  • The button, "Test": allows you to ensure that you've correctly configured Solfege.

How to Train Yourself

There are three kinds of exercises available in Solfege:

  • "Listen-and-identify" exercises will play some sort of musical structure, and ask you to identify, classify, or label it according to widely-used conventions.
  • "Identify" exercises will show you some sort of musical structure (usually in Western classical notation), and ask you to identify, classify, or label it according to widely-used conventions.
  • "Sing" exercises will provide a specific musical structure, sometimes partially-completed, and ask you to sing the completion of the structure.

Unlike many commercially-available aural skills computer applications, Solfege often relies on the user to know whether they performed the task correctly - and how correctly. This is especially true of the "Sing"-type exercises, since Solfege lacks the capability to receive sung input from the user. This requires at least two things to be kept in mind: firstly, that it is to your own benefit to honestly tell Solfege when you correctly and incorrectly provide a solution, since this helps Solfege to focus on your weaknesses, and to more accurately track your progress; secondly, there are many degrees of correctness when it comes to music, and harmonic and melodic dictation are particularly prone to these forms of partial correctness.

When you encounter a rough spot with your aural skills development, remember that it takes a significant amount of time and effort to build your musical sensibility. It is easier for some people than for others, and most people will have an easier time with some exercises than with others. Although the prevailing cultural thought about musical sensibility (and aural skillls) still suggests that an individual either posesses musical ability or cannot acquire it, recent research has suggested that any hearing person with enough determination, dedication, and the right instruction can develop their musical sensibility and aural skills to a very high level.(!! cite?? !!)

With that in mind, the following sections aim to help you incorporate Solfege as part of a complete aural skills development program.

What Are "Aural Skills" and "Musical Sensibility?"

When somebody decides to receive musical training, what they are really doing is developing skills and acquiring stylistic knowledge required for participation in a particular kind of music. There are many different kinds of training, and the time spent in a classroom is not as important to musical development as time spent elsewhere, taking part in real, musical situations. Many different kinds of skills are useful for musicians, depending on the kind of music in which they intend to participate. A folk singer who plays guitar might wish to memorize the chord progressions, melodies, and words for thousands of different songs. An oboe player in an orchestra might wish to make their own reeds from cane tree bark. Most musicians need to be able to listen to music and perceive certain structures that other musicians use to describe their work. These structures are explained by "music theory," and the skill set used to hear these things in music is called "aural skills." Musicians train their aural skills by a set of procedures known as "ear training," or "aural skills training."

Musical sensibility is developed when aural skills are used to help a musician gain an understanding of how and why their music (and other people's music) works and sounds the way it does. This understanding is key to having a sense of the procedures and conventions that an audience will expect of a performer, and therefore to the performer's ability to produce aesthetically pleasing music.

Having a well-developed musical sensibility and set of aural skills are both important aspects of being a musician, but they are by no means the only aspects. More than anything, a musician (or an aspiring musician) should be talking and listening to other musicians.

Exercise Types

Solfege's exercises are arranged in six broad categories:

  • Intervals, which tests your ability to perceive and identify melodic and harmonic intervals.
  • Rhythm, which tests your ability to perceive and notate rhythms played with a single pitch, and to perform such a rhythm by means of tapping on the keyboard.
  • Theory, which tests your ability to name written intervals and scales, and to correctly use solfa syllables.
  • Chords, which tests your ability to perceive and identify chords built from various intervals, played at various pitch levels, and to sing such a chord.
  • Scales, which tests your ability to perceive and identify scales and their modes.
  • Miscellaneous, which includes a variety of exercises, including:
    • Intonation, which tests your ability to perceive and identify whether a second pitch is lower or higher than it should be.
    • Dictation, which tests your ability to perceive and notate melodies.
    • Identify Tone, which tests your ability to use relative pitch.
    • Sing Twelve Random Tones, which tests many skills.
    • Beats per Minute, which tests your ability to determine a tempo.
    • Harmonic Progressions, which tests your ability to perceive and apply Roman numeral chord symbols for a series of chords played together.
    • Hear Tones, which helps you to train for relative pitch.
    • Cadences, which tests your ability to perceive and apply Roman numeral chord symbols for two chords played together.

All of these exercises require the use of your aural skills outside an actual musical situation. This may seem fruitless, but it has long been recognized as an important part of the eventual ability to hear them within a musical context. Neither ability will suddenly appear; it will take dedicated practice.

Developing an Aural Skills Development Program

Aural skills training - like eating - requires a regular, daily commitment of various kinds of input. As far as food is concerned, you should eat at least three meals a day, with a large portion of fruits and vegetables, and a good balance of meats and alternatives, grains, and other kinds of foods. Ear training also requires diverse inputs at various times throughout the day.

There is no solution that will work for everybody. You will need to choose and modify the time of day, number and length of sessions, and content to suit your needs. The following suggestion can be considered a starting point.

  • Training for 30 minutes daily, in three 10-minute segments.
  • Segment 1
    • When you wake up, before breakfast.
    • Warm up your voice and body (good activity anyway - not part of the ten minutes!)
    • Sing and perfect some excerpts from a book designed for sight-singing.
  • Segment 2
    • After lunch, before getting back to work.
    • Listen to some music, then try to transcribe it.
    • To make the task more manageable, take a small portion of music, and focus on one aspect: melody, harmony, or rhythm.
    • You can test correctness either by using a piano (or fixed pitch reference), or comparing with a published score, if available.
  • Segment 3
    • Some time after supper.
    • Use GNU Solfege to test your ability to perceive musical rudiments.
    • Spend only a few minutes on a few different kinds of exercises.

Three ten-minute segments is not a lot of time, and indeed it may take additional time to plan and to find and set up materials. Even so, the point is that training your aural skills does not have to take an inordinate amount of time or effort. What's important is that your effort is consistent and well-planned.

Supplementary References

GNU Solfege offers a relatively wide variety of exercises, but no one source can possibly offer all of the exercises and training required to develop a well-rounded set of aural skills. Some of the following books and activities should be used to supplement the exercises available in "Solfege." Note that melodic and harmonic dictation are not yet "Solfege's" strong points, mostly due to a lack of different exercises. This may improve in the future, as the developers improve the software.

Activities:

  • Taking dictation from real music. Try focussing on one element, rather than writing a complete score. Verify your solution by checking a published score if possible. Remember that some orchestral instruments may not be written at concert pitch.
  • Using your sight-singing skills to sing a melody or rhythm to a friend, who can use it as an example for dictation.
  • Use Bach chorales as sight-singing examples for a group of four or more people. It helps to have friends in all vocal ranges, but it isn't necessary. Remember to use solfa syllables, and avoid the chorale's text.
  • If a mechanical device, like a fan, is emitting a constant pitch, you can practice singing harmonic intervals with that device.
  • Perform exercises for your friends - long and short - on different instruments. This will help to build competence in musical contexts more realistic than a computer can provide, but still in an isolated situation.

Books:

  • Hindemith, Paul (1949). Elementary Training for Musicians. Schott.
    • Antiquated instructions, but the exercises are excellent.
    • Offers a wide variety of exercises and strategies, especially for coordination of quasi-independent musical lines.
    • In particular, Hindemith avoids the use of solfa syllables; modern practice uses them anyway.
  • Karpinski, Gary (2007). Manual for Ear Training and Sight Singing. Norton.
    • Contains chapters with detailed theoretical explanations, tips for listening, and developmental exercises.
    • Comes with a CD containing listening exercises; possibly incompatible with Linux.
  • Karpinski, Gary. Anthology for Sight Singing. Norton: 2006.
    • Organized by chapter to coincide with the above Manual.
    • Contains examples that can be used to train one's ear by singing.
    • It is best to play only the tonic tone (not a chord or scale) on a keyboard instrument before singing. Only after you are sure that you have sung the excerpt correctly by ear should it be played on a keyboard instrument for verification.
    • Contains some ensemble excerpts, to be sung by a group of people who are working on ear training together.
  • Hall, Anne (2004). Studying Rhythm. Prentice Hall.
    • Similar in principle to Karpinski's Anthology: contains one- and two-part rhythms to be spoken or spoken-and-clapped. Also contains some 3- and 4-part rhythms.
    • Progresses incrementally from easy-to-perform rhythms to more difficult ones.
    • Offers some performance tips.
    • Provides a few ensemble rhythms to be performed by a group of people working on ear training; all two-part rhythms can also be treated as ensemble rhythms.
  • Crowell, Ben (2004). Eyes and Ears: an Anthology of Melodies for Sight-Singing.
    • An open-source sight-singing text, available free from here.
    • Contains about 400 melodies from the public domain, and some instructions.
  • Hoffman, The Rhythm Book. Smith Creek Music, 2009.

How to Use Listening Exercises

  1. Open the software
  2. It is at the "Front Page"
  3. Decide which type of exercise to do
  4. Decide which sub-section to focus on
  5. Click "New" or "New Interval" or whatever to get the first question
  6. On some exercises, you need to click "new" whenever you want a new one
  7. Some exercises can be configured to automatically provide a new question when you correctly answer the previous one
  8. After hearing each exercise, try to make a correct identification.
  9. If you need to hear the exercise again, do it.
  10. It is good to limit the number of times you listen.
  11. Select what you think is the correct choice.
  12. Go to the next question, which may be automatic for some questions. You may want to pre-select a number of seconds to wait before progressing to the next question.

How to Use Singing Exercises

These are: "Sing intervals"

  1. Select "Sing intervals"
  2. Choose which ones you want to focus on
  3. The exercise will begin, playing the first of the tones you are to sing
  4. You must sing the first and the second tone, or to make it harder, only the second tone (tip: use sol-fa syllables!)
  5. Solfege does not know whether you sang the interval correctly, so you must tell it.

"Tap generated rhythm"

  1. Select "Tap generated rhythm"
  2. Choose a subcategory (they correspond to those in the dictation, but there is no compound metre available). See below.
  3. Click "New"
  4. It will play you a rhythm; listen carefully, and conduct the beat if you can.
  5. as with rhythmic dictation, you will be given an intro
  6. You must repeat the rhythm by click on the "Tap here" button
  7. Best to use the space bar to tap in; here's how.
  8. The "accuracy" may be set too high; I like 0.30
  9. On "Config," change "Number of beats in question" to adjust the difficulty

"Sing chord"

  1. Select "Sing chord"
  2. Choose the type of chords you want to sing
  3. Click "New"
  4. Solfege will automatically play an "A" for you, and you can hear it again by clicking, "440hz"
  5. Sing the chord ascending
  6. Verify that you sang correctly by clicking "Play answer" and hearing whether the pitches are the same.
  7. Click "New" for another question
  8. On the "Config" tab, it allows you to change how far it will transpose the built-in models; best to leave this as it is ['key', -5, 5]
  9. Solfege does not know whether you sang the interval correctly, so you must tell it.

"Sing chord tone"

  1. Select "Sing chord tone"
  2. Select which chordal member you want to practise singing
  3. Click "New"
  4. Solfege will display and play a chord in blocked form, and you must sing the chord member that it tells you to sing.
  5. You can repeat the chord in blocked form ("Repeat") or in arpeggio form ("Repeat arpeggio"). It is much easier to hear a chord played in arpeggio form, so we recommend that you practice both ways.
  6. When you are sure that you correctly sang the chord member, click "Play answer"
  7. For the next question, click "New"

Using "Configure Yourself" Exercises

These exercises allow you to choose the focus of your training, rather than using a Solfege preset. When you enter an exercise, you are given a default setup, which is then customized on the "Config" tab in the activity. The following things are customizeable in "Configure Yourself" exercises, but not in the other counterparts:

"Harmonic intervals"

  • Allows you to de/select specific intervals between m2 and M10

"Melodic intervals" and "Sing intervals"

    • Allows you to de/select specific intervals between m2 and M10, and whether to test them up, down, or both.

"Compare intervals"

  • Allows you to de/select specific intervals between m2 and M10.
  • Allows you to choose harmonic or melodic intervals independently for the first and second interval.

"Id tone"

  • Allows you to choose a "weighting" for each pitch, to concentrate on specific ones.
  • Allows you to choose octave displacement from octave "4"... 0 is that octave, and positive numbers are higher octaves and negative numbers are lower octaves

All of the Rhythm Exercises:

  • "Binary Time" means "Simple Metre"
  • "Ternary Time" means "Compound Metre"
  • All sections allow you to choose which single-beat rhythms to use when creating the question.

Using "Rhythm" Exercises

This is dictation or play-back. The rhythms described in this section use the "takadimi" rhythm system, which is explained here. You can use any rhythm system you prefer.

For Rhythmic Dictation:

  1. Click "Rhythm"
  2. Choose which subcategory:
    • Rhythms (easy) is: quarter, 2x eighths, 4x sixteenths
    • Rhythms is: those plus ka-di-mi, ta-ka-mi, ta-ka-di, ta-mi, and ta-ka
    • Rhythms (difficult) is: those plus rests and triplets
    • Rhythms in 3/4 is: compound metre everything
  3. Click "New" to get a new question
  4. Click the buttons above the "Play" button to input the rhythm-units, in order from start to finish
  5. Use paper to work it out
  6. If you make a mistake inputting, use the "Backspace" button
  7. You can "Repeat" to hear it again - not too many times!
  8. You can change the difficulty by increasing the number of beats per question, on "Config" tab
  9. If you get a question wrong, you will have a chance to correct it; the incorrect parts are underlined for you in red

For Rhythmic Tap-Back, see above section "Singing Exercises."

Using "Dictation" Exercises

These dictation exercises are for melodic dictation. There is not a great variety of examples here, and they are either easy or difficult, with no middle-ground.

  1. Click "Dictation"
  2. Choose a level:
    • Volkslieder 1: German folk songs (easy)
    • Volkslieder 2: German folk songs (easy)
    • Parts of 2 Bach inventions: only 2; the hardest of the four categories
    • Norwegian children songs: only 3 (easy)
  3. The clef, key and time signatures are given for you, along with the starting note, and title.
  4. The quarter-note buttons allow you to play only part of the melody.
  5. "Play the whole music" plays both parts of the music.
  6. "Back" and "Forward" shifts through the excerpts for dictation.
  7. It's best to "Play the whole music" as many times as needed (5 - 7 or less maximum, depending on the excerpt).
  8. It's best to avoid playing only part of the music.
  9. Write down the excerpt on paper, then when you're sure that you've finished it correctly, click "Show."
  10. This exercise is self-policing, and does not track progress.

Using "Harmonic progressions" Exercises

These dictation exercises are for harmonic dictation. You will be asked to guess the harmonic progression, but users should also notate at least the outer voices (lowest and highest). It should be noted that these progressions do not follow Common Practice Period harmonic procedures.

  1. Click "Harmonic progressions"
  2. Some harmonic progressions require MMA (as indicated). See below for instructions on installation.
  3. The Non-MMA Categories contain the following chords:
    • "Easy harmonic progressions": I, II, IV, V, VI
    • with Inverisons: add IV6 and V6
    • "Three chords, root position": I, II, III, IV, V, VI
  4. Choose a category.
  5. Click "New" to get a question.
  6. The passage will automatically play once, but you will not get a key signature. If you are notating the dictation, and you do not know which pitches are being used, then you may wish to guess the key, using sol-fa equivalents to know if you're correct.
  7. Click the chord-buttons to input the series of chords that you hear, in order from first to last.
  8. To hear the example again, click "Repeat."
  9. If you make a mistake, click the "Backspace" button to erase the last-input chord.
  10. When you are sure that your answer is correct, click "Guess answer."
  11. To get another question, click "New".

Intonation

In order to use the Intonation exercises, you must install the "Csound" application. Instructions are located here.

  1. Click on "Intonation"
  2. All of the exercises test an ascending perfect fifth. The closer the number is to 1.0, the less the difference when it is out-of-tune.
  3. Click "New" to get a new question.
  4. The interval will automatically play.
  5. Click "Repeat" to repeat the interval.
  6. You must choose whether the second tone is flat (the interval is too small), in tune (the interval is the right size), or sharp (the interval is too large).
  7. When you are sure of your answer, click the corresponding button.
  8. To get the next question, click "New."