The Modulator

The modulator!!! What a fun tool for music teachers to use back in the 1800’s! Our modern day music education classrooms haven’t changed too much because any music classroom you enter will likely have a solfege/solfa ladder displayed on the wall.


Back in the 1800’s, even before the “Tonic Solfa” method had been written by the Curwens, a woman named Sarah Glover had developed a system of a singing education based on the chromatic and diatonic tones in music.  The fascinating tool she used in educating students was called a “Modulator” and this is what it looked like!


Fortunately, our current music teachers look much more friendly than this picture of dear old Sarah!  But, you can see that this tool of a visual representation of melodic intervals can be very helpful while learning to sing!  If the teacher is pointing to the low “D” (DO) of the sign, you know your voice will sing the lower home tone (tonic) note.  If her hand moves up by step, your voice can follow accordingly.

This method was developed further by the Curwens of the famous “Tonic Solfa Method” which is credited to be one of the most influential music education tools in history!  They added the hand signs which are still used today in almost all elementary music classrooms!  Although some of the principles within the original Tonic Solfa book are not practiced within music education circles today, the principle of “elemental” learning is present in our Kodaly, Orff, and Gordon music education methodologies.

If you are a Charlotte Mason educator:  Have no fear!!!  You can be at peace knowing that you are following the same principles the PNEU schools were following even if you are watching resources by a Kodaly music educator.  I may write and expound more on the similarities and differences on the blog at a later time.  I have read the Tonic Solfa method and agree with much of the process regarding melodic interval training using the Modulator.  The Curwens and Kodaly modified Sarah Glover’s invention by creating hand signs instead of pointing to a board.  You can do both with this free printable! (click here)

Just like the modern classroom picture above, you can display your printed solfa ladder at home! While teaching songs using solfa, use the ladder to guide your children in the understanding of melodic direction and interval training!  You know you are a Jedi Curwen Master when you can point AND show the hand sign simultaneously! (Or, lead a two-part choir with the hand signs!)

One of the reasons I love learning and teaching solfa is that students are actively using all learning modalities.  We learn visually from looking at a sheet of music or a leader’s hand signs, aurally from listening and echoing intervals, and we have kinesthetic/tactile learning with the clapping or patting the beat and rhythm along with using the Curwen hand signs!

I hope you enjoyed reading a little bit about this cool invention and how we can still benefit students today by using the tools adapted for sharing music education!  If you have any questions for me I would love to hear from you! Email: