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In music, solfège (pronounced /ˈsoʊlfɛʒ/, also called solfeggio, sol-fa, or solfa) is a pedagogical solmization technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable, called a solfège syllable (or "sol-fa syllable"). The seven syllables commonly used for this practice in English-speaking countries are: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti which may be heard in "Do-Re-Mi" in the film The Sound of Music. Earlier, si was used (see below) for the seventh scale tone, as it still is in many areas.

There are two methods of applying solfege, the fixed do (used France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Russia, China, South America and parts of North America and Japan) and movable do used in other parts of the United States, Britain and Germany. Fixed do always assigns 'do' to the note C whereas movable do, as the name suggests, is transposable to any scale or mode.

While various systems have been proposed to extend the traditional seven-syllable fixed do and moveable do systems to include syllables for accidentals, none have yet been accepted into mainstream music education. Only seven-syllable fixed do and moveable do systems can really be said to be in widespread use.

Traditionally, solfège is taught in a series of exercises of gradually increasing difficulty, each of which is also known as a "solfège". By extension, the word "solfège" may be used for an instrumental étude.



Italian "solfeggio" and French "solfège" ultimately derive from the names of two of the syllables used: so[l] and fa.[1][2] The English equivalent of this expression, "sol-fa", is also used, especially as a verb ("to sol-fa" a passage is to sing it in solfège).[3]

The word "solmization" derives from the Medieval Latin "solmisasiō", ultimately from the names of the syllables sol and mi. "Solmization" is often used synonymously with "solfège", but is technically a more generic term,[4] taking in alternative series of syllables used in other cultures such as India and Japan.

Origin of the solfège syllables

The use of a seven-note diatonic musical scale is ancient, though originally it was played in descending order.

In the eleventh century, the music theorist Guido of Arezzo developed a six-note ascending scale that went as follows: ut, re, mi, fa, sol, and la. A seventh note, "si" was added shortly after.[5] The names were taken from the first verse of the Latin hymn Ut queant laxis, where the syllables fall on their corresponding scale degree.

Sheet Music for Ut Queant Laxis

Ut queant laxis resonāre fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes.

The hymn (The Hymn of St. John) was written by Paulus Diaconus in the 8th century. It translates[6] as:

So that these your servants can, with all their voice, sing your wonderful feats, clean the blemish of our spotted lips, O Saint John!

"Ut" was changed much later in Italy to the open syllable Do,[7] and Si was added to complete the diatonic scale. In Anglo-Saxon countries, "si" was changed to "ti" by Sarah Glover in the nineteenth century so that every syllable might begin with a different letter[8]. "Ti" is used in tonic sol-fa and in the song "Do-Re-Mi".

In the Elizabethan era, England and its related territories used only four of the syllables: mi, fa, sol, and la. "Mi" stood for modern ti, "fa" for modern do or ut, "sol" for modern re, and "la" for modern mi. Then, fa, sol and la would be repeated to also stand for their modern counterparts, resulting in the scale being fa, sol, la, fa, sol, la, mi, fa. This was eventually eliminated by the 19th century, but it was (and still is in a few rare circumstances) used in the shape note system, which gives each solfège syllable a diffferent shape.

Alternative theories of origin

In all of Indian classical music, a form of solfege is the first lesson. In Indian classical music the corresponding sounds of solfege are Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni and back to Sa. Keeping in mind that the vedas( Holy texts of Hinduism) were the source for this technique, this dates back to 1000-1500 BC. This is the earliest known origin of the solfege.

An alternative theory on the origins of solfège proposes that it may have also had Arabic musical origins. It has been argued that the solfège syllables (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti) may have been derived from the syllables of the Arabic solmization system درر مفصّلات Durar Mufaṣṣalāt ("Separated Pearls") (dāl, rā', mīm, fā', ṣād, lām, tā') during the Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe. It is speculated[citation needed] that the reference to pearls might originate from the similar appearance of notes on a single line (the earliest known graphical musical notation) to a string of pearls. If so it can be taken as evidence that the Arabs had used or even invented a now lost staff notation system.

This origin theory was first proposed by François de Mesgnien Meninski in his Thesaurus Linguarum Orientalum (1680) and then by J. B. de Laborde in his Essai sur la Musique Ancienne et Moderne (1780).[9][10] Guillaume Villoteau (Description historique, technique et litteraire des instruments de musique des orientaux in the Description de l'Égypte[1], Paris 1809) appears to endorse this view.[11]

Table showing similarity between musical notes and the Arabic alphabet.[11]
Arabic letters ‎ﻡ mīm ﻑ‎ fāʼ ﺹ ṣād ﻝ‎ lām ﺱ‎ sīn ﺩ‎ dāl ﺭ‎ rāʼ
Musical Notes mi fa sol la si do re

The modern use of solfège

There are two main types of solfège:

  1. Fixed do, in which each syllable corresponds to a note-name. This is analogous to the Romance system naming pitches after the solfège syllables, and is used in Romance and Slavic countries, among others.
  2. Movable do, or solfa, in which each syllable corresponds to a scale degree. This is analogous to the Guidonian practice of giving each degree of the hexachord a solfège name, and is mostly used in Germanic countries.

Fixed do solfège

The names of the notes in Romance languages.

In the major Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian), the syllables Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Si are used to name notes the same way that the letters C, D, E, F, G, A, and B are used to name notes in English. For native speakers of these languages, solfège is simply singing the names of the notes, omitting any modifiers such as 'sharp' or 'flat' in order to preserve the rhythm. This system is called fixed do and is used in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium, Romania, Latin American countries and in French speaking Canada (province of Québec) as well as countries such as China, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece, Iran, Lebanon, Israel and Japan where non-Romance languages are spoken.

Traditional fixed do[12]
Note name Syllable Pronunciation Pitch class
English Romance Italian Anglicized
C Do do /dɔ/ /doʊ/ 11
C Do 0
C Do 1
D Re re /rɛ/ /reɪ/ 1
D Re 2
D Re 3
E Mi mi /mi/ /miː/ 3
E Mi 4
E Mi 5
F Fa fa /fa/ /fɑː/ 4
F Fa 5
F Fa 6
G Sol sol /sɔl/ /soʊl/ 6
G Sol 7
G Sol 8
A La la /la/ /lɑː/ 8
A La 9
A La 10
B Si si /si/ /siː/ 10
B Si 11
B Si 0

In the traditional fixed do system, shown above, accidentals do not affect the syllables used. For example, C, C, and C (as well as Cdouble sharp and Cdouble flat, not shown above) are all sung with the syllable "do".

Sotorrio argues that fixed-Do is preferable for serious musicians (Sotorrio, 2002[13]), as music involving complex modulations and vague tonality is often too ambigious with regard to key for any moveable system. That is, without a prior analysis of the music, any moveable-Do system would inevitably need to be used a like fixed-Do system anyway, thus causing confusion. With fixed-Do, the musician learns to regard any syllable as the tonic, which does not force the him to make an analysis as to which note is the tonic when ambiguity occurs. Instead, with fixed-Do the musician will already be practiced in thinking in multiple/undetermined tonalities using the corresponding syllables.

In comparison to the movable do system, which draws on short-term relative pitch skills involving comparison to a pitch identified as the tonic of the particular piece being performed, fixed do develops long-term relative pitch skills involving comparison to a pitch defined independently of its role in the piece, a practice closer to the definition of each note in absolute terms as found in absolute pitch.[citation needed] The question of which system to use is a controversial subject among music educators in schools in the United States. While movable do is easier to teach and learn,[citation needed] some feel that fixed do leads to stronger sight-reading and better ear training because students learn the relationships between specific pitches as defined independently, rather than only the function of intervals within melodic lines, chords, and chord progressions.[14]

If a performer has been trained using fixed do, particularly in those rare cases in which the performer has absolute pitch or well-developed long-term relative pitch, the performer may have difficulty playing music scored for transposing instruments: Because the "concert pitch" note to be performed differs from the note written in the sheet music, the performer may experience cognitive dissonance when having to read one note and play another. Especially in the early stages of learning a piece, when the performer has yet to gain familiarity with the melodic line of the piece as expressed in relative terms, he or she may have to mentally re-transpose the sheet music in order to restore the notes to concert pitch.

Instrumentalists who begin sight-singing for the first time in college as music majors find fixed do to be the system more consistent with the way they learned to read music.[citation needed]

For choirs, sight-singing fixed do using chromatic movable do syllables (see below) is more suitable than sight-singing movable do for reading atonal music, polytonal music, pandiatonic music, music that modulates or changes key often, or music in which the composer simply did not bother to write a key signature. It is not uncommon for this to be the case in modern or contemporary choral works.

Several chromatic Fixed-Do Systems that have also been devised to account for chromatic notes (and even for double-sharp and double-flat variants) are as follows:

Chromatic variants of fixed do
Note name Syllable Pitch class
English Romance Traditional
5 sharps / 5 flats
Cdouble flat Dodouble flat do duf daw du 10
C Do du de do 11
C Do do do do da 0
C Do di da di de 1
Cdouble sharp Dodouble sharp das dai di 2
Ddouble flat Redouble flat re raf raw ru 0
D Re ra ra ra ro 1
D Re re re re ra 2
D Re ri ri ri re 3
Ddouble sharp Redouble sharp ris rai ri 4
Edouble flat Midouble flat mi mef maw mu 2
E Mi me me me mo 3
E Mi mi mi mi ma 4
E Mi mis mai me 5
Edouble sharp Midouble sharp mish mi 6
Fdouble flat Fadouble flat fa fof faw fu 3
F Fa fo fe fo 4
F Fa fa fa fa fa 5
F Fa fi fe fi fe 6
Fdouble sharp Fadouble sharp fes fai fi 7
Gdouble flat Soldouble flat sol sulf saw su 5
G Sol se sul se so 6
G Sol sol sol so sa 7
G Sol si sal si se 8
Gdouble sharp Soldouble sharp sals sai si 9
Adouble flat Ladouble flat la lof law lu 7
A La le lo le lo 8
A La la la la la 9
A La li le li le 10
Adouble sharp Ladouble sharp les lai li 11
Bdouble flat Sidouble flat si sef taw tu 9
B Si te se te to 10
B Si ti si ti ta 11
B Si sis tai te 0
Bdouble sharp Sidouble sharp sish ti 1
A dash ("–") means that the source(s) did not specify a syllable.

Movable do solfège

Movable do is frequently employed in Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Hong Kong and English-speaking Canada (although many American conservatories use French-style fixed do). Originally it was used throughout continental Europe as well, but in the mid-nineteenth century was phased out by fixed do in Romance countries.[citation needed] In Germany Agnes Hundoegger [2]reintroduced it using the Curwen system which she got to know when visiting his courses. In the movable do system, each solfège syllable corresponds not to a pitch, but to a scale degree: The first degree of a major scale is always sung as 'do', the second as 're', etc. (For minor keys, see below.) In movable do, a given tune is therefore always sol-faed on the same syllables, no matter what key it is in.

The solfège syllables used for movable do differ slightly from those used for fixed do, because the English variant of the basic syllables ('ti' instead of 'si') is usually used, and chromatically altered syllables are usually included as well.

Major scale degree Mova. do solfège syllable # of half steps from Do Trad. Pron. Sato Method[20] Sato Pron.
Lowered 1 (-)1, 11 De /dɛː/
1 Do 0 /doʊ/ Do /dɔː/
Raised 1 Di 1 /diː/ Di /diː/
Lowered 2 Ra 1 /rɑː/ Ra /rɑː/
2 Re 2 /reɪ/ Re /rɛː/
Raised 2 Ri 3 /riː/ Ri /riː/
Lowered 3 Me (or Ma) 3 /meɪ/ (/mɑː/) Me /mɛː/
3 Mi 4 /miː/ Mi /miː/
Raised 3 5 Ma /mɑː/
Lowered 4 4 Fe /fɛː/
4 Fa 5 /fɑː/ Fa /fɑː/
Raised 4 Fi 6 /fiː/ Fi /fiː/
Lowered 5 Se 6 /seɪ/ Se /sɛː/
5 Sol 7 /soʊ/ So /sɔː/
Raised 5 Si 8 /siː/ Si /siː/
Lowered 6 Le (or Lo) 8 /leɪ/ (/loʊ/) Le /lɛː/
6 La 9 /lɑː/ La /lɑː/
Raised 6 Li 10 /liː/ Li /liː/
Lowered 7 Te (or Ta) 10 /teɪ/ (/tɑː/) Te /tɛː/
7 Ti 11 /tiː/ Ti /tiː/
Raised 7 12 To /tɔː/

If, at a certain point, the key of a piece modulates, then it is necessary to change the solfège syllables at that point. For example, if a piece begins in C major, then C is initially sung on "do", D on "re", etc.. If, however, the piece then modulates to G, then G is sung on “Do”, A on “re”, etc., and C is then sung on “fa".

Passages in a minor key may be sol-faed in one of two ways in movable do: either starting on do (using "me", "le", and "te" for the lowered third, sixth, and seventh degrees which is referred to as "Do-based minor"), and "la" and "ti" for the raised sixth and seventh degrees), or starting on la (using "fi" and "si" for the raised sixth and seventh degrees). The latter (referred to as "la-based minor) is sometimes preferred in choral singing, especially with children.

Natural minor scale degree Movable do solfège syllable (La-based minor) Movable do solfège syllable (Do-based minor)
1 La Do
Raised 1 Li Di
Lowered 2 Te (or Ta) Ra
2 Ti Re
3 Do Me (or Ma)
Raised 3 Di Mi
4 Re Fa
Raised 4 Ri Fi
Lowered 5 Me (or Ma) Se
5 Mi Sol
6 Fa Le (or Lo)
Raised 6 Fi La
7 Sol Te (or Ta)
Raised 7 Si Ti

One particularly important variant of movable do, but differing in some respects from the system here described, was invented in the nineteenth century by John Curwen, and is known as tonic sol-fa.

In Italy, in 1972, Roberto Goitre wrote the famous method "Cantar leggendo", which has come to be used for choruses and for music for young children.

The pedagogical advantage of the movable-Do system is its ability to assist in the theoretical understanding of music; because a tonic is established and then sung in comparison to, the student infers melodic and chordal implications through his or her singing. Thus, while fixed-Do is more applicable to instrumentalists, movable-Do is more applicable to theorists and, arguably, composers.

Use of solfège syllables as Note names

In the countries with fixed-do, these seven syllables (with Si instead of Ti) are used to name the notes of the C-Major scale, instead of the letters C, D, E, F, G, A and B. (For example, they would say, "Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is in Re minor, but its third movement is in Si-bemol major".) In Germanic countries, the letters are used for this purpose, and the solfège syllables are encountered only for their use in sight-singing and ear training. (They would say, "Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is in D minor".)

See also


  1. ^ "Solfeggio". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  2. ^ "Solfège". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  3. ^ "Sol-fa". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  4. ^ "Solmization". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  5. ^ Davies, Norman (1997), Europe, pp.271-2
  6. ^ Cgregorian chant - Translation & scores for diverse festivities
  7. ^ McNaught, W. G. (1893). "The History and Uses of the Sol-fa Syllables". Proceedings of the Musical Association (London: Novello, Ewer and Co.) 19: 35-51. ISSN 0958-8442. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  8. ^ This also freed up Si for later use as Sol-sharp
  9. ^ Farmer, Henry George (1988), Historical facts for the Arabian Musical Influence, Ayer Publishing, pp. 72–82, ISBN 040508496X, OCLC 220811631 
  10. ^ Miller, Samuel D. (Autumn 1973), "Guido d'Arezzo: Medieval Musician and Educator", Journal of Research in Music Education 21 (3): 239–45, doi:10.2307/3345093 
  11. ^ a b [ "The Arab Contribution to Music of the Western World"] (PDF). Retrieved 2008-01-06.  cited on page 10
  12. ^ a b c Demorest, Steven M. (2001). Building Choral Excellence: Teaching Sight-Singing in the Choral Rehearsal. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-19-512462-0. 
  13. ^ Sotorrio, José A (2002). Tone Spectra -and the Natural Elements of Music. (1st Ed) Spectral Music, 2002.
  14. ^ Humphries, Lee. Learning to Sight-Sing: The Mental Mechanics of Aural Imagery. Minneapolis: Thinking Applied, 2008, No. 1.
  15. ^ Benjamin, Thomas; Horvit, Michael; Nelson, Robert (2005). Music for Sight Singing (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson Schirmer. pp. x-xi. ISBN 978-0-534-62802-4. 
  16. ^ White, John D. (2002). Guidelines for College Teaching of Music Theory (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-8108-4129-1. 
  17. ^ Hullah, John (1880). Hullah's Method of Teaching Singing (2nd ed.). London: Longmans, Green and Co.. pp. xi-xv. 
  18. ^ Shearer, Aaron (1990). Learning the Classical Guitar, Part 2: Reading and Memorizing Music. Pacific, MO: Mel Bay. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-87166-855-4. 
  19. ^ Siler, H. (1956). "Toward an International Solfeggio". Journal of Research in Music Education 4 (1): 40-43. doi:10.2307/3343838.  edit
  20. ^ *Sato, Kentaro (2001) Sato Method of Solfege Syllables [

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