Takadimi and Solfège – Tools for Teaching Music

As part of the Curriculum Review process our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) went through in recent years, the K-12 Music PLC chose to specifically use takadimi and solfège to teach rhythmic and tonal literacy in General Music, Vocal Music, and Instrumental Music (we do not have an orchestra program in our district). Before delving in to the details of these tools, I want to emphasize that these are only tools. They are not necessarily the way, the truth, and the light. They are a means we use to teach to our power standards. This is my first year teaching using these tools in band, but it is our district’s fourth or fifth year of implementation. Students in fourth grade or below have received nothing but these tools in their instruction. Students in fifth grade or above have received a mixture of these and other tools. From my personal experience teaching vertically in a 6-12 Instrumental Music PLC, the consistency is the key. Because students have received a consistent method of instruction on rhythmic and tonal literacy, they are better at decoding the musical symbols on the page. So how do we use these tools?

The Wikipedia article on takadimi does a good job of explaining this counting system. Other resources can be found at takadimi.net.

Takadimi is focused on the beat, its division, and its subdivision. Regardless of time signature, the beat is always ta. In simple meter (beat divides into 2), the division of the beat is always di; the four subdivisions of the beat will be ta ka di mi. In compound meter (beat divides into 3), the three divisions of the beat are ta ki da, and the six subdivisions of the beat are ta va ki di da ma.

This system creates a rhythmic vocabulary, distinct words for nearly every possible rhythm under the sun. Distinct words is the most important part. No two different rhythms will have the same “word” associated with it. Rhythms can be borrowed from simple meter into compound meter and vice-versa (triplets in simple meter are ta ki da, duplets in compound meter are ta di). If the division-subdivision does not fall into this 2-4 or 3-6, the syllable ti is added (ex: a quintuplet is ta ka di mi ti, a septuplet is ta va ki di da ma ti). Yes, there will be some rhythms that will not fit the mold, but the vast majority of rhythms our students will encounter in K-12 Music can be described using takadimi.

Again, the Wikipedia article on solfège does an excellent job of explaining this tonal system. We apply the system using movable do and la-based minor.

The solfège system applies syllables to each tone in a scale. With the movable do system we use, do moves as the tonal center/key signature move. Thus, the syllable pattern for notes in a major scale are always: do re mi fa so la ti do. We use guideposts like “The farthest flat is fa” and “The last sharp is ti” to help students always be able to find do.

With the la-based minor system, students use the familiar syllable pattern for the major scale but change the starting pitch to lala ti do re mi fa so la. We then incorporate si (raised so) for harmonic minor and fi (raised fa) for melodic minor. Because students are so successful at finding do, moving the starting pitch to la for minor is not very difficult. We have also found that students are successful because of their familiarity with pitch patterns using those seven syllables instead of the modified syllables for do-based minor (do re me fa so le te do).

I was pleasantly surprised at how well this worked with a band full of transposing instruments. In General Music, students develop the skill of being able to find do. In 5th Grade Band, they further that skill with finding do on their instrument and developing the understanding that do may be different on the different instruments in the band. The most important thing is that they can find do on their instrument. In 6th Grade Band and beyond, we further that skill by helping them find do from concert pitch. Because students are so well-versed in solfège at this point, we can typically relate their transposing instrument to a different solfège pitch:

Do for Concert Bb on…

  1. C Instruments is Do
  2. Bb Instruments is Re
  3. F Instruments is So
  4. Eb Instruments is La

Again, consistency is key. This system works for us because the students are receiving consistent instruction on this K-12. Pick a system that works for you and stick with it! A lot of our conversations around the success/failure of the implementation of the curriculum has revolved around students only having this for 3-4 years thus far. Each class that has had more experience in the system is getting better and better at utilizing the tools to decode music.

How do we use it? In a variety of different ways! As a high school director, I am not as well-versed in how our General Music, Vocal Music, or 5th Grade Band teachers are utilizing it. I know by the time the students reach me in 6-12th Grade brass lessons or 10th Grade Band, they have a basic understanding of the vocabulary. I try to help them solidify their understanding so they can use takadimi to decode the music in front of them as an individual.

Many of our strategies are based off Dr. John Fierabend’s Conversational Solfège, whose strategies work for solely rhythm, solely pitch, or both rhythm and pitch based patterns. There are twelve stages students move through:

  1. Readiness – Rote: Teacher models on neutral syllable, students repeat on neutral syllable
  2. Conversational Solfège – Rote: Teacher models using takadimi/solfège, students repeat using takadimi/solfège
  3. Conversational Solfège – Decode Familiar: Teacher models familiar rhythm/tonal pattern using neutral syllable, students repeat using takadimi/solfège
  4. Conversational Solfège – Decode Unfamiliar: Teacher models unfamiliar rhythm/tonal pattern using neutral syllable, students repeat using takadimi/solfège
  5. Conversational Solfège – Create: Students create original rhythm or tonal patterns using takadimi/solfège
  6. Reading – RoteTeacher reads notated rhythm/tonal pattern using takadimi/solfège while students read silently, students repeat using takadimi/solfège
  7. Reading – Decode Familiar: Teacher asks students to think through notated familiar rhythm/tonal pattern, students respond using takadimi/solfège
  8. Reading – Decode Unfamiliar: Teacher asks students to think through notated unfamiliar rhythm/tonal pattern, students respond using takadimi/solfège
  9. Writing – Rote: Students copy existing patterns using proper manuscript techniques
  10. Writing – Decode Familiar: Teacher models familiar rhythm/tonal pattern using a neutral syllable, students think the rhythm/tonal pattern (Step 3) then write using notation
  11. Writing – Decode Unfamiliar: Teacher models unfamiliar rhythm/tonal pattern using a neutral syllable, students think the rhythm/tonal pattern (Step 4) then write using notation
  12. Write – Create: Students write original rhythm/tonal patterns using notation

I find that in my 10th Grade Band rehearsals, I am typically helping the students in Steps 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, and 11. I know I need to begin incorporating more of the creating steps in my teaching, but this has been a great start! I plan on writing a bit more in the near future on how these line up with our power standards and our transition to standards-based learning.


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