By: Jeff Sabo


Playing repertoire requires bringing together a lot of different skills. In many traditional approaches, students learn repertoire by reading music from very early on in their development. Reading is a complex skill though, and it can be even more challenging for many students with exceptionalities. For instance, some students with exceptionalities are much more comfortable with learning by ear than reading. This may be particularly true for students with autism who have very good pitch perception and are not yet comfortable with reading music. In this blog, I’ll give some tips for how you can use solfege singing to teach repertoire to students who learn best with multimodal support..

Before we get started, I want to mention that the approach presented here does not require leaving out music reading. Instead, I’ll explain how to use solfege singing as a primary learning pathway to teach repertoire for students who would struggle to learn the repertoire through reading alone. This approach also helps support reading skills because the student learns to link sounds with what they see on the page.


How it works:

  • Start with singing: For beginner students, you can start by teaching solfege generally. Depending on the student, this could involve teaching the student to sing the notes themselves, or you can sing the notes and have the student follow along in another way (e.g., by using gestures or touching visuals). I won’t get into the details of this here, but we have lots of other resources to help! The goal is to teach them the sound of each pitch, while also linking those sounds to the notes they will play on the instrument. As the student is learning the solfege notes and names, you can start incorporating them into their beginner repertoire. Singing away from the instrument is a good way to start for many students at this level. I usually combine singing with another modality, which could include visuals like solfege cards or written notation, or movements like body tapping or hand signals. You can also use pitched percussion, which has many learning benefits and is a lot of fun! After you’ve gone through the song using the solfege, you can add a backing track if it’s available. All of these multimodal elements help the student learn what the music sounds like and learn the pitches before they have to worry about any technical challenges of playing it.



  • Play on your instrument: Next, you can go to your instrument to start playing. A demonstration is a helpful place to start, so that the student can hear the song on the instrument. If you play an instrument that allows you to sing and play at the same time, you can play through the song (or a shorter section of it) while singing the solfege. If not, you can sing and then play. For some students, listening to you play it once is enough to help them, and their reading abilities can carry them the rest of the way. For others, you may need to teach small sections explicitly using the solfege. You can do this by singing and playing each short section and then having them play it (singing is optional here). Adjust the length of each excerpt to fit the student’s abilities, like their focus, memory, pitch perception, and technical skills.


How you pace each aspect of this process will be different for every student, so you can experiment with it to find what works best for them. For example, some students may be able to play it on the same day they start learning the solfege. Others may need more time to learn repertoire away from the instrument before they can play it. More advanced students may be able to just start at the instrument (step 2 above), rather than learning the solfege separately. At some point, students may reach a music reading level where you can transition out of singing altogether. For others, this may just be how they learn repertoire, and that’s ok too! The important thing is to make sure students have enough support that they can succeed and their current level and continue improving their skills moving forward.


Happy Teaching!