The what, how and why of handsigns

The what, how and why of handsigns

Comments Off on The what, how and why of handsigns

Why use handsigns?

Each Solfa note (do, re, mi etc.) has a certain shape you make with your hand whenever you sing it – a handsign.

As you sing the notes, you also move your hand up and down in a way that matches how the pitches are moving.

It’s this approach that means you use your whole body to understand the way notes relate to each other.

Handsigns are used to provide a visual or kinaesthetic aid to singing and allows you to actually see the height or depth of the pitch.

These physical signs are made in front of the body, with do falling at about waist level and la at eye level. Their distance in space corresponds with the size of the interval they represent.

How handsigns help your music theory

  • they can help with pitch recognition, in-tune singing and interval recognition (e.g. fa and ti always point to where the semitones lie)
  • handsigns are a way to practice pitches (or sight-read them) without making any sound as they are physically associated with pitch, this fosters the skill of Inner-Hearing
  • integrating handsigns also varies the way you can practice aural patterns
  • you can use them to perform an aural pattern simultaneously – that is, sing one thing and sign another
  • handsigns offer physical or kinaestethic learners another way to engage and practice

Dive into handsigns with DSMusic

Looking for some opportunities to build your music theory skills, sing in Solfa and practice handsigns? Great news! DSMusic content is chock-full of chances to consolidate your handsign skills, and in the process, your musicianship.

The videos below are but a few examples of the handsigning that’s possible with DSMusic!

Images of the handsigns you’ll see around the place might have slight differences, but the general principles are the same. Here’s an example from page 4 of the Musicianship & Aural Training for the Secondary School Level 3 books:

Example of handsigns for do, re and mi from page 4 of the Musicianship & Aural Training for the Secondary School Level 3

A gift from us to you! Access a FREE full handsign chart for download here.

Deb’s Tip for handsign use

Make sure though that your handsigns show the pitch in the air accurately. For example, do should be around the height of your belly button, re is a step higher and so on up to high do” which is probably around the height of your forehead.

What are handsigns?

As mentioned when we’ve discussed Solfa previously, John Curwen developed handsigns in the 1840’s to accompany Sarah Ann Glover’s Solfa syllables. These were then slightly adjusted again and integrated into the Kodály teaching method by Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist and educator Zoltán Kodály.

Handsigns, just like conducting, are a gateway skill – using the physical action will support other elements of musicianship and aural awareness, particularly when you’re trying to introduce or practice concepts.

Happy handsigning! – Deb


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