Music in First Grade: How to Practice Sol and Mi (Part 3)

Sol and Mi are the first of many melodic intervals our students will learn with us. In past posts, we’ve looked at:

Finally, we’re on to my favorite phase - the practice phase. 

In this step, students use everything they’ve learned so far and apply it consciously to sol and mi. Let's look at three ways to practice this interval.

Practicing Sol and Mi_1-8 Sol mi Practice.jpg

1. Use Activities from Preparing Sol and Mi

Some of the most natural ways to practice sol and mi are from the preparation post. These activities are natural because students have already done them, but sol and mi were been called something different. Now the only thing to do is keep the same activities, but use the real names for sol and mi.

Here are some of my favorite ways to practice sol and mi:

  • Games (like Apple Tree)

  • Improvising a Melody

  • Writing Down the Melody

  • The case of the missing notes


Read more about these ways to prepare and practice sol and mi here and grab the free worksheets in the library.

2. Dictate the Teacher’s Melody

Dictation is a great way to make sure students know the theory behind an interval. To complete this activity students need to be aware that if sol is on a line, mi is on the line below it. If sol is on a space, mi is on the space below it, and we call that a skip in music.

Manipulatives for dictation:

One great manipulative for dictation is a bag with two pieces of string and a few bingo chips inside. When students get their bag, they lay out the black string to create two parallel lines. When they’re done, everything gets thrown back in the bag and you’re good to go for the next class!

If your students use the full staff to dictate sol and mi, consider laminating a class set of staff paper to use again and again with your bingo chips.

Dictation activities with sol and mi: 

There are several forms that dictation can take in the music room. Whatever the dictation activity, I always have the students sing the pattern back to me before they write it down - especially at the beginning. I want to make sure they have aurally deciphered the melody before they dictate it.  

  • Sing and Sign Sol Mi: This is the easiest one. The teacher literally sings and signs the pattern, “sol mi sol sol mi” and students write it down exactly as they heard it. (While it might seem as though you're "giving the answer", this step shows that students understand the basic concept of this interval being a skip apart. If students are confused about what line and space to use, the rest of your dictation activities will go awry.)

  • Sign Sol Mi: This is similar, but the teacher does not sing. Students need to watch the signs closely to get the pattern.

  • Hum Sol and Mi: When students have had enough practice with singing and signing, the teacher may change to humming. No words, no hand signs, just the interval. This really challenges students to pay attention to the melodic contour instead of relying on clues like solfege names and signs.

  • Play Sol and Mi on an instrument: Similar to humming, when a teacher plays sol mi on an instrument there are no words or signs for the students to follow. They just have the melodic interval! It’s possible for a change in timbre to throw students off, so I like to use this one toward the end of our practice.

Students as Teachers:

These activities are great, and students get even more value out of them when they are the ones giving the pattern! Consider handing over your teacher role to a student once they’re comfortable with this way to practice sol and mi.

3. Improvise an Answer

Improvising is one of the best ways I have found to show how a student understands the material. It takes a real understanding of the element to be able to use it on the spot, effortlessly, in an improvisation.

Improvisation is something that can bring adult musicians to tears if they’re not used to it! Students, however, can easily improvise easily, without nervousness, if they have enough structure.

Improvisation activities with sol and mi:

  • Question and Answer: The teacher asks a “question” and students improvise an answer. I like to have students copy me a few times at first. Then I say, “great! This time, instead of copying me why don’t you make something up!”. Since they’re in a group, this is a non threatening way for students to try out new ideas.

  • Use text: Some students need extra help to create a new melody. In these cases I like to use text. Sing a very basic question to the student (“What’s your favorite dinner?” “How are you today?”) and allow him or her to sing back an answer. One danger I’ve found in this approach is that students may sneak “la” into the response. The first time it happens, I wouldn’t address it - congratulate the student on responding. The second time it happens, I address it by saying we should only use "high and low" in our response.

  • With a song: Another very natural way to make something up is through a song. Choose one phrase that students improvise - either vocally or on an instrument - in a song they know well. This can be done as a group first and then as individuals later.

The practice phase is my favorite of the three because I really get to see what students know, and what they can do with all the information of an element. I love watching their process of developing as young musicians and I’m always so proud of the skills they’re developing in the practice stage!

There are even more sol mi songs in the Folk Song Index.

What are your favorite ways to practice sol and mi?  


Music in First Grade: How to Present Sol and Mi (Part 2)

In the first part of this post, we looked at some ways to prepare sol and mi through movement, games, improvisation, composition, and completing melodies.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, read it here!

The next step in teaching sol and mi is to present these melodic elements with their real names. In order to complete this phase, students need to have a lot of experience using high and low, and be able to hear and dictate high and low on their own. 

Let's jump in!

How to Present Sol and Mi

The presentation phase has three main parts:

  1. Assess: We need to be sure students are ready to practice sol and mi, so we need some sort of assessment.

  2. Present: We give the real names of sol and mi

  3. Apply: We apply our new knowledge just a bit to reinforce the connection between their preparation and practice.

1. The Presentation Test:

Before moving on from the preparation to the practice phase, it’s good to be sure you know when students are ready to move on. That’s where a presentation test comes in.

Using one of the songs from my favorite sol mi songs, The Case of the Missing Notes from my favorite ways to prepare sol and mi, and the printables here, we're ready for a presentation test!

In The Case of the Missing Notes, the teacher notates a portion of the song, but leaves some notes out. Students are tasked with filling in the missing pitches.

Student responses from this activity will tell you if your class is ready to move on to practicing sol and mi. If students aren't ready, congratulate yourself on another great preparation activity and try again in a few classes!

These printables are available for free in the Folk Song Index - just go to "activity sheets". You'll also find a great selection of sol mi songs while you're there.

Happy printing! 

2. Presenting Sol and Mi:

Once you know you’re ready to present sol and mi, use this sequence:

  1. Sing a song you know very well and have been using to practice sol and mi (like Apple Tree).

  2. Ask students to sing Apple Tree (the first four beats) with hand signs showing high and low.

  3. Read Apple Tree from the board, but sing "high low high high low" instead of text.

  4. Say, "High and low have real names. The high note’s real name is “Sol” and the low note’s real name is “Mi”

Now that students know the real names of high and low, it’s time to practice.

The practice phase for sol and mi will cover the next several lessons, but I like to start practicing in the presentation lesson so students have a chance to solidify what they've learned. 

3. Practice by Reading a Known Song

Simple, quick, and very important for students, reading a known song from notation is a great way to practice sol and mi. Choose a song - or a portion of the song - and write it on the board. Here are the steps I like to follow:

  • Ask students to sing the song on text while you point to the notation.

  • Ask students to sing the song on solfege while you point to the notation.

  • Ask a few students come up to the board to point while the rest of the class sings solfege.

With a solid presentation plan, your students have the information they need to soar in their practice activities!