Solfa Challenge Level 2 – Part 1

Once my students have achieved the Solfa Challenge Level 1 they should be able to perform a collection of simple songs and rhymes. In Level 2 we will start to do more interesting things with these pieces. Here is Part 1 of my guide to Level 2.

Level 2 is split into three sections as you can see from the Solfa Challenge – Level 2 Chart

Section 1 – I can play…

I can play Stand Up Sit Down

This is where the games come in. We play the ever popular Stand Up, Sit Down game from Cyrilla Rowsell and David Vinden’s Jolly Music. The game starts simply and becomes more complex as the student becomes more competent with their pitch awareness. The teacher sings either “stand up” or “sit down, and the student must stand up or sit down! Easy right? The pitches sung either rise from so to do’ (dominant to high tonic or G to high C) for “stand up” and descend from so to do (dominant to low tonic or G to middle C) for “sit down”. The teacher starts each instruction with their hands in the ready position by their chest and either moves them up to their head or down to their waist with the direction of the pitch. You can try and trick the student by singing “stand up” when they are already standing up! They think this is hilarious – if they notice!! For those who don’t notice I put a mischievous grin on my face before I do it to give them some warning.

The benefits of this game are to associate up and down with the different pitches. The children are hearing the pitch change, seeing the arms move, physically responding with their whole bodies and also hearing the instructions.

For the second stage of this game the teacher replaces the lyrics with a “doo” sound. So the children no longer hear the instructions but they still see the arms move and hopefully have started recognising the pitch. My mischievous face is used a bit more here.

Finally we remove the arm movements and the children rely purely on their pitch awareness. If anyone is struggling I might use my face to give them clues until they can do it comfortably.

The children love this game and I am definitely the first to get bored! They especially love being the teacher and it can sometimes be quite a challenge to do what they’re expecting. I want to build their confidence but in the early days with some of the students their pitch can be all over the place. Luckily they think it’s hilarious when I get it wrong!!

I can play Guess the Pitch

The second game can be sung or done on the piano. It’s Guess the Pitch. They don’t have to identify the actual pitch – that would be far too challenging at this level. They just need to identify if the pitch is high or low. Sometimes it’s easier for them to hear it sung, sometimes having the massive extremes of the piano is more helpful. As always the key is to make it really obvious to start with and only move to smaller intervals with the most confident. The aim of the game is to get them to label high pitches as high and low pitches as low.

When I started teaching I was surprised how many students had an issue with this concept. Even one of my most musical 5 year olds had it completely the wrong way round. When I corrected her, she thought I was joking and laughed herself silly! So if a student struggles I give lots of extra verbal clues like “Is this sound high like a tweeting bird or low like a grizzly bear?” Gradually those verbal clues can be removed. Now I’m not surprised, why would a student associate high frequency vibrations with high in the sky and low frequency vibrations with low down? It’s only a shared label, the words don’t actually mean the same! Then we expect them to realise that high in the sky equates to the right of the piano and low is the left – and this is before we even get onto notation! If we need to spend more time on this task then it’s time well spent.

Section 2 – I Can Show…

For this section we use some of the two note so-mi songs we learnt in Level 1. The songs have been taken from Cyrilla Rowsell and David Vinden’s Jolly Music. For each song the student must show the pulse and then the shape of the pitch with their bodies.

I can show the pulse

For Pulse I usually start with Cobbler Cobbler. The students are really familiar with this one as we will have been clapping, tapping and marching the pulse from lesson 1 or 2. They achieve their sticker if they can mark the pulse without help and with a steady beat. The biggest hurdle for this task is stopping the student from tapping the rhythm. Cobbler Cobbler is a good starter because it starts with quavers, where the pulse is crotchets. So if you get them started with a good crotchet pulse then they are more likely to succeed. Contrast that with See Saw or Hey Hey (which we also do at this level) which start with crotchets and then have quavers a couple of words in. With these songs the students may start of tapping the crotchet beat but on the quavers they may tap each quaver – which is actually the rhythm.

Marching is a good way of eliminating this, it’s easier to march the pulse than the rhythm. Also patacake can help them get a good sense of pulse. My own youngest son still manages to patacake the rhythm though, and gets very cross with me when I’m not in sync with him. Still, he is only 5 so there’s time.

I can show the pitch

To show the pitch I just mean to raise or lower the arms as the pitch raises and lowers. Just like we did in Stand Up Sit Down. The teacher should show the pitch with the students initially, until they are ready to do it alone. Ideally to achieve their sticker they should be able to perform it alone, accurately and at a lesson where you haven’t already practised together.

For this I start with Up and Down because the first two pitches are labelled within the lyrics. The pitch of all these two pitch so-mi songs swaps on the beat so the arms will be moving with the beat as well as with the pitch change. To help the students you can sing the song first and work out together if the song starts on a high pitch or low pitch. For this set of songs, they always start on the high pitch. It is important to start with the hands in a neutral “ready position” around chest height. If the students start with their hands high, in anticipation of the first pitch, then they may invert the whole melody!

Section 3 – I can record…

to be continued in Part 2

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