Long, long, ago (a really long time ago:  in the 11th Century)


Lived a music theorist and teacher named Guido d'Arezzo.

That just means Guido of Arezzo because he was from Arezzo, Italy.



He was also a monk.  He noticed one day that each phrase of a certain chant began with the next note of a scale.

He used the syllables of each of those notes to give the note a name (other than the letter), so

C  Ut




G Sol



The first 6 notes of the scale were all he used at that time, referred to as the hexachord.


In modern notation, it would look like this:

At some point, Ut was changed to Do (probably because it was not so awkward to sing - however the French still use Ut).

The 7th degree of the scale was added as Si

Even later on (19th century), Si was changed to Ti.  This was so each syllable would begin with a different letter - easier to abbreviate.


Other contributions by Guido:

These innovations made it easier to learn music.


He added 2 more lines to the staff (there were only 2 before him).

He added a red line where fa should be (F) and a yellow line where do should be (C).

He standardized that the distance between 2 lines or 2 spaces would be a 3rd.

He used the "Guidonian Hand" to teach singers their notes


This was way before John Curwen (1816-1880) popularized the hand signs of his Tonic sol-fa system.


But why do we have to use solfege?  That was a very long time ago.  Surely they have invented something better by now . . .

If we have to use something, why can't we just use numbers?  It's hard to learn solfege and it's just one more thing (2 more things if you add hand signs) to think about when you are trying to sight-read.  Besides, I play trombone - when am I ever going to use solfege and hand signs?  I just want to get my degree and get out of here so I can do my own thing! 


OK, here are some answers:

Those who use some kind of solmization system learn to sight-sing better and faster than those who do not.  Granted, some of you who have never learned a system until now may not believe this and may think solfege is holding you back.

Solfege attaches relationships to notes that enhance the skill of sight-singing.  For example, Mi-Fa is always a half step/Fa-Sol is always a whole step, so individual intervallic calculations are not necessary.  The vast majority of music you will encounter will be tonal and solfege gives you the framework to read tonal music accurately.  Each scale degree (with its corresponding name) has a unique characteristic and your ear will learn these.  Some are anchor tones (do, sol), some are tendency tones (fa, ti) and the feel of these notes will connect with the syllables and become second nature.

If you can solfege a tune, you can write it down in any key.

What wires together, fires together.  I'm talking about brain synapses.  The more associations you have in your brain, the better your skill.  This is one of the reasons hand signs are helpful.

Teaching children solfege is considered "best practice" in elementary music education.  If someone had taught you the system when you were very young, you would be a much better sight-singer today.  Many of you will become teachers and/or will teach children in your careers.  This is another reason hand signs are required.

Numbers can work like solfege syllables as each one can be associated with a scale degree.  However, numbers are much more awkward to sing, especially in tune.  Several end in a consonant that makes the process somewhat difficult (four, five, six) and we all know how troublesome 'seven' is.  Also, you would be hard pressed to sing "sharp 4" rather than Fi.

This is not a mode of torture specifically concocted by me or the music faculty.  Systems of solmization are used all over the world.  Because they work.

Music experts (that's what you will be by the time we're through with you - Bwah ha ha ha ha) should have this skill.  If you just want to play music, go do it.  You don't need a degree.  If you want a degree, you end up learning some things outside your box.  Before you are through, they may just be inside your box!

Last, but not least, you cannot pass any aural skills course (there are 4) without it.



We are using Moveable Do, which means that the tonal center of the music is always Do.

There are other variations of which you should be aware:

Fixed Do uses the same syllables, but C is always Do, D is always Re, etc.  The advantage of this system is that students may be able to develop perfect pitch by the constant association of a syllable to a static pitch.  However, the tonality associations are lost and the syllables just become substitutions for the letter names instead of the function of the scale degree.

La-based minor vs. Do-based minor

In La-based minor, La is the tonal center in a minor key.  In Do-based minor, Do is still the tonal center.

We use Do-based minor.  Do is ALWAYS the tonal center!

When we need to alter a scale degree, we use altered syllables as well. 



And we all lived


Created and maintained by Vicky V. Johnson