[Smt-talk] Dylexia and music theory/aural skills

nancygarniez at tonalrefraction.com nancygarniez at tonalrefraction.com
Mon Oct 17 09:52:06 PDT 2011

Hi Everyone:
I find this discussion extraordinary as it goes into greater and greater depth -- i.e., reference to individual experience of ear / solfege issues. I joined the SMT because of the Disability interest group and was especially moved to read a draft of Joseph Straus' work on "Normal Hearing," (subsequently become a chapter in his most recent book "Extraordinary Measures." At issue is the conformity that underlies so much music training. Why should all musicians hear the same way or have equal commitment to a visual system, or an alphabetic system, or any system that seems to belie the immensely fascinating and compelling auditory world of their imagination?

It is the reason I never pursued formal graduate study in music and the reason I teach children music at the piano in a way that respects the integrity of their individual experience of sound. It is the rationale behind my alternate notation system, Tonal Refraction, which arouses awareness of the variances between spatial concepts of standard notation and the spatial aspects of resonance, which can be extremely confusing, especially to highly gifted individuals none of us should be discouraging from taking themselves seriously as musical individuals potentially with a great deal to offer, though not necessarily within what I consider to be the overly restrictive parameters of formal music theory studies.

Nancy Garniez

-----Original Message-----
From: Finn Upham [mailto:finn.upham at gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, October 17, 2011 10:52 AM
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: [Smt-talk] Dylexia and music theory/aural skills


As a dyslexic who was made to do (fixed do) solfege for years, it never became a useful exercise. For prepared tests, I would deduce the pitches and the solfege names separately and try to remembered both sequences correctly at the same time. With different staffs and the effect of key signatures thrown in the mix, on the spot sight reading ended up being guesswork. I was lucky to have sympathetic teachers who recognized that I was musically capable despite these particular performances. If only the people running auditions were always so sympathetic...

This problem was extremely frustrating. At the time, I was a very good sight reader when in a choral context and could even correct my professional section lead a few times per rehearsal. But that experience did not help when staring at new sheet music while someone played a starting pitch. It also did not appear to relate much with my sight-reading (frustrations) on piano or bassoon.

I don't know if this would help your student, but tonal sight reading was sometimes made easier with little more context, such as a short cadential progression. And for those situations where sight reading mattered (i.e. outside of the class room,) singing in a church choir for a year was a much more constructive (and comfortable) preparation than struggling with the extra cognitive load of solfege names. 

I'm not the only student who, at the end of four years' training, could not find solfege helpful. The names were never more than a distraction to the task of getting the intended notes off of the page and into my ear. For her sake, I hope you consider letting her sing on 'la'; it sounds like she has enough challenges to face already.

Finn Upham,
PhD student, Music Technology, NYU
(B. Mus, Music theory, McGill University)

On 11-Oct-16, at 9:05 PM, smt-talk-request at lists.societymusictheory.org wrote:

The biggest question I'm dealing with right now is whether solfege is the best way for her to learn this material, and how to teach it to her in a way that she can learn and that will be effective in learning the concepts. We're experimenting with colored staves and off-white paper for the time being, to see if that helps some of the reading/analysis/writing issues. But solfege is the big difficulty for her that I haven't found literature on yet. Does anyone have any experience working with that?

Kris Shaffer
Assistant Professor of Music Theory
Charleston Southern University

Prof. Kris Shaffer
Charleston Southern University
Horton School of Music
9200 University Boulevard
P.O. Box 118087
Charleston, SC 29423-8087
(843) 863-7964
kshaffer at csuniv.edu

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