SOLFEGE

Solfege is a system that helps musicians gain fast fluency with pitch.  Solfege is used in most non-English speaking countries as the primary way of describing musical notes.

ORIGINS OF SOLFEGE

The system of Solfege can be traced back to the 11th century where theorist Guido D’Arezzo (990-1035) created it as a way to teach simple melodies at a fast pace to singers who at the time did not read, nor had access to, what little music was notated.

 

Establishing what would become a universal system, Guido added names to the six pitches of the hexachord based upon lines of an old Gregorian chant to St. John the Baptist, using these syllables to represent the symmetrical design of the hexachord, a set of six notes derived from the tuning of a 6-stringed lyre tuned in steps with the following intervallic relationships: tone-tone-semitone-tone-tone.

The symmetrical design with a single semitone isolated at the center of the group makes the semitone the defining feature of the hexachord. 

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

 

 

 

*Ut became do overtime

**Once a seventh note was added to the hexachord, a seventh syllable was created using the "S" and "I" from "Sancte Iohannes"

By taking the beginning syllables of specific words from the text, Guido transformed the pitches into the solmization syllables: Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, always placing the single semitone of the hexachord between the syllables Mi and Fa.

ORIGINS OF MOVEABLE DO

In order to sing melodies that spanned more than one hexachord, singers were taught how to “mutate” (a term used in Medieval and Renaissance theory, meaning “move”) between hexachords. This process is identical in concept to the modern system of movable Do: singers would take a passage and assign it to the hexachord that required the least mutation, giving each note a solmization syllable. If the passage spanned the scope of more than one hexachord, the singer would “mutate” to a new hexachord at an appropriate time so that any semitone was placed between Mi and Fa. Guido’s system was fundamentally, “moveable do” as the distance between mi and fa was always a half step.

ORIGINS OF FIXED DO

As music became increasingly chromatic, and the rules of harmony emerged, musicians realized that in order to properly describe the music and notes they were singing and playing, that they would have to assign syllables to individual notes rather than relying on the half-step from "mi-fa" for identification, thus “fixed do” solfege was born with “do” replacing “ut” and “si” being added as the seventh syllable.

BENEFITS/DRAWBACKS OF FIXED/MOVEABLE DO

FIXED DO

  • Works in all kinds of music, tonal or atonal, regardless of the harmony or lack thereof

  • Each Solfege syllable corresponds to a specific pitch

  • Used in almost all non-English speaking countries

  • Develops long term relative pitch

MOVEABLE DO

  • Does not work well in music that modulates, and does not work in atonal music

  • Each solfege syllable corresponds to a scale degree, not to a specific pitch

  • Sometimes used in the USA, England, and Australia

  • Develops strong harmonic relationships

SYLLABLE DRILLS/EXERCISES

  1. Solfege Scales

    Conduct in 4

    Pick any Solfege syllable

    Go up two octaves with each syllable getting the value of half a beat.

 

2. Solfege in Thirds

    Conduct in 4

    Pick any Solfege syllable

    Go up two octaves skipping every other syllable in the scale with each syllable getting the value of a beat.

 

3. Solfege in Fifths

    Conduct in 4

    Pick any Solfege syllable

    Go up four octaves skipping every other third with each syllable getting the value of two beats.

SOLFEGE FUN FACTS

THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Many of us were introduced to solfege by Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music

While almost all sheet music of the song "Do-Re-Mi" is written in Do Major so that the syllables correspond correctly in both Fixed and Moveable Do systems, Julie Andrews' performance in the movie is actually in Bb Major. This may have been to fit Andrews' vocal range, or due to pitch shifting in the original tape recording. Thus, the film recording of this song uses moveable do.

SHAKESPEARE

Solfege, and "the Gamut" were colloquial enough in Shakespeare's time that they feature as sexual innendo in The Taming of The Shrew.

THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
 

ACT III
SCENE I. Padua. BAPTISTA'S house.

Enter LUCENTIO, HORTENSIO, and BIANCA

 

LUCENTIO

Fiddler, forbear; you grow too forward, sir: Have you so soon forgot the entertainment Her sister Katharina welcomed you withal?

HORTENSIO

But, wrangling pedant, this is
The patroness of heavenly harmony:
Then give me leave to have prerogative;
And when in music we have spent an hour, Your lecture shall have leisure for as much. 

LUCENTIO
Preposterous ass, that never read so far
To know the cause why music was ordain'd! Was it not to refresh the mind of man
After his studies or his usual pain?
Then give me leave to read philosophy,
And while I pause, serve in your harmony. 

HORTENSIO
Sirrah, I will not bear these braves of thine. 

BIANCA
Why, gentlemen, you do me double wrong,
To strive for that which resteth in my choice:
I am no breeching scholar in the schools;
I'll not be tied to hours nor 'pointed times,
But learn my lessons as I please myself.
And, to cut off all strife, here sit we down: Take you your instrument, play you the whiles; His lecture will be done ere you have tuned. 

HORTENSIO
You'll leave his lecture when I am in tune? 

LUCENTIO
That will be never: tune your instrument. 

BIANCA
Where left we last?
LUCENTIO
Here, madam:
'Hic ibat Simois; hic est Sigeia tellus;
Hic steterat Priami regia celsa senis.'
BIANCA
Construe them.
LUCENTIO
'Hic ibat,' as I told you before, 'Simois,' I am Lucentio, 'hic est,' son unto Vincentio of Pisa, 'Sigeia tellus,' disguised thus to get your love; 'Hic steterat,' and that Lucentio that comes

a-wooing, 'Priami,' is my man Tranio, 'regia,' bearing my port, 'celsa senis,' that we might beguile the old pantaloon.
HORTENSIO

Madam, my instrument's in tune.

BIANCA

Let's hear. O fie! the treble jars.

LUCENTIO

Spit in the hole, man, and tune again.

BIANCA

Now let me see if I can construe it: 'Hic ibat Simois,' I know you not, 'hic est Sigeia tellus,' I trust you not; 'Hic steterat Priami,' take heed
he hear us not, 'regia,' presume not, 'celsa senis,' despair not.

HORTENSIO

Madam, 'tis now in tune.

LUCENTIO

All but the base.

HORTENSIO

The base is right; 'tis the base knave that jars.

Aside

How fiery and forward our pedant is!
Now, for my life, the knave doth court my love: Pedascule, I'll watch you better yet.
BIANCA
In time I may believe, yet I mistrust. 

LUCENTIO
Mistrust it not: for, sure, AEacides
Was Ajax, call'd so from his grandfather. 

BIANCA
I must believe my master; else, I promise you,
I should be arguing still upon that doubt:
But let it rest. Now, Licio, to you:
Good masters, take it not unkindly, pray,
That I have been thus pleasant with you both. 

HORTENSIO
You may go walk, and give me leave a while: My lessons make no music in three parts. 

LUCENTIO
Are you so formal, sir? well, I must wait,
Aside
And watch withal; for, but I be deceived,
Our fine musician groweth amorous. 

HORTENSIO
Madam, before you touch the instrument,
To learn the order of my fingering,
I must begin with rudiments of art;
To teach you gamut in a briefer sort,
More pleasant, pithy and effectual,
Than hath been taught by any of my trade:
And there it is in writing, fairly drawn. 

BIANCA
Why, I am past my gamut long ago.

HORTENSIO

Yet read the gamut of Hortensio.

BIANCA

[Reads] ''Gamut' I am, the ground of all accord, 'A re,' to Plead Hortensio's passion;
'B mi,' Bianca, take him for thy lord,
'C fa ut,' that loves with all affection:

'D sol re,' one clef, two notes have I:
'E la mi,' show pity, or I die.'
Call you this gamut? tut, I like it not:
Old fashions please me best; I am not so nice, To change true rules for old inventions.

 

Enter a Servant

Servant

Mistress, your father prays you leave your books And help to dress your sister's chamber up:
You know to-morrow is the wedding-day. 

BIANCA

Farewell, sweet masters both; I must be gone.

Exeunt BIANCA and Servant

LUCENTIO

Faith, mistress, then I have no cause to stay.

Exit

HORTENSIO

But I have cause to pry into this pedant: Methinks he looks as though he were in love: Yet if thy thoughts, Bianca, be so humble
To cast thy wandering eyes on every stale, Seize thee that list: if once I find thee ranging, Hortensio will be quit with thee by changing. Exit