In music and sight singing solfege or solmization is a way of assigning syllables to degrees or steps of the diatonic scale. In order, they are: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, and Do (for the octave). In India, the origin of Solfege was to be found in Vedic texts like the Upanishads, which discuss a musical system of seven notes, realized ultimately in what is known as sargam. Much later in the West it was a pedagogical technique created by Guido of Arezzo; These names are still used for the notes in Latin countries while in Germanic countries the names of letters of the alphabet are used.
"Solfege" came from French solfège in the 1910s. The French word in turn came from the Italian solfeggio, which is a combination of sol and fa. Its equivalent since Early Modern English is sol-fa.
The syllable names come from a formerly well-known medieval hymn, entitled Ut queant laxis, in which each successive verse starts on the next higher scale degree in the major scale; The first syllable in each verse corresponds to the solfege syllable, with the exception of the first, "Ut," which was changed to the more singable "Do." The original hymn did not start a phrase upon the seventh scale degree. To fill in this gap, at a later time the Ti (or sometimes Si) was added to the repertoire.
There are two main types of solfege: moveable Do, in which each syllable corresponds with a scale degree, and fixed Do, in which the syllables correspond to fixed pitches. The advantage of moveable Do is that Do always corresponds to the tonic; the disadvantage is that the singer must do a harmonic analysis of the piece in order to sing the correct syllables. In fixed Do, the pitches are set: the tonic, Do, is C, Re is D, and so on; Fa is easy to remember, since it is F.
There are also other syllables corresponding to notes outside of the major scale. All the solfege syllables are listed in the table below; the syllables in the major scale are shown in bold.
Some variations of the syllables are (e.g. the major scale): Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si, Do, and Fa, Sol, La, Fa, Sol, La, Mi, Fa. The first variation was common in English-speaking countries until John Curwen changed Si to Ti so each syllable would start with a different letter. The second variation uses four syllables and repeats three of them. This system always has a half step before the syllable "fa". It was once common in England, and, via England, in early America. It has survived in American shape note books such as the Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony. The article Shape note discusses assigning shaped noteheads to correspond with the solfege symbols. John Curwen developed the English Tonic Sol-fa system in the mid to late 1800s. Visual aids such as shape notes and Tonic Sol-fa remove the difficulty of singing the correct syllables in a moveable Do system.
Some common scales are given below in solfege for reference.
Ascending the chromatic scale (using sharps):
- Do Di Re Ri Mi Fa Fi Sol Si La Li Ti Do
Descending the chromatic scale (using flats):
- Do Ti Te La Le Sol Se Fa Mi Me Re Ra Do
The major scale:
- Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do
The natural minor scale:
- Do Re Mé Fa Sol Le Te Do
The minor scale is a "moveable" system:
- La Ti Do Re Mi Fa Sol La
In atonal music integer notation is often sung rather than solfege.
In colloquial language, singers sometimes incorrectly use "solfege" and "sight reading" as synonyms; sight reading means reading the piece without benefit of previous study, or numerical sight-singing, where the solfege syllables are replaced by the numbers one through seven.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04