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Learning music without notation in the 21st century ‘an eyesore or an apology’? – Part 2


Guido then took the tune, and fit it to the word of a hymn that everyone knew. The hymn went like this:
Ur queantlaxis
Mira gestorum
Solve pollution

Guido used the first syllables of each phrase to help the singer learn his/her notes:
‘’C’’ became Ut
“D’’ became Re
“E’’ became Mi
“F’’ became Fa
“G’’ became Sol
“A’’ became La

Centuries later, when a seventh note was required, the letters “S” and “I” were taken from the hymn’s last line- “SancteIoannes”- to form the syllable Si, which was then used as the name for the note “B”.  At the same time, the syllable Ut was changed to Do.

Guido inventions were such a success, the Vatican made their use mandatory. Solfege was so universally used, for so many centuries (it’s still in use today). It’s syllables – do, re, mi, fa, so, la and si- eventually replaced the note-names “C”, “D”, “E”, “F”, “G”,  “A”,  and B”. Today, in most Latin countries – as well as in other countries, which adopted the Latin system – the names of the notes in music aren’t C, D, E, F, G, A and B,  but do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and si.

Besides furnishing the names of the musical notes in Latin countries, solfege is also still used as a sight-singing method, chiefly in Europe.

Fixed Do
Because solfege’s do is always the note “C”, the system used in solfege is sometime called “fixed do” – meaning that do is “fixed”, remaining “C” all the time.
Tonic Sol-fa

Meanwhile, in mid-19th century England, an entirely different approach to sight-singing developed, called tonic sol-fa (sometimes abbreviated to simply “sol-fa”). It borrowed Guido’s syllables, but Anglicised their spelling, so that do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si became doh, ray, me, fan, son, lay, te. (Note that si was changed to te.) Apart from that similarity, the new system worked entirely differently:

In tonic sol-fa, the syllables do NOT signify the names of the musical notes.  Instead the syllables are the names given to the steps – or, degrees – of the “major scale”:
The first note of the major scale is called doh,
The second note of the major scale is called ray,
The third note of the major scale is called me,
The fourth note is called fah,
The fifth is called soh,
The sixth is called lah,
The seventh is called te.

A scale is a special collection of notes. Most often used as the “building material” for a piece of music.  There are many different kinds of scales, the major scale being one kind that’s very widely used. The major scale is used in the song “Doh, a deer.

Here are the notes in the C major scale, along with the tonic sol-fa syllables used for each note:
C major scale:       C        D       E        F       G     A      B      C
Tonic sol-fa syllables:  doh    ray    me      fah     soh   lah    te     doh

Now here are the notes in the E major scale, along with the tonic solfa syllables used for each note:
E major scale:   E       F#      G#     A     B       C#     D#    E
Tonic sol-fa syllables:   doh    ray     me     fah   soh    lah    te      doh

Note that the tonic sol-fa syllables remain constant, even though the note -names change:
C major scale:  C       D       E       F       G      A     B     C
Tonic sol-fa syllables:    doh   ray     me     fah    soh   la     te     doh
E major scale: E        F#      G#     A     B        C#    D#      E
Tonic sol-fa scale:         doh     ray     me     fah   soh     la      te       doh

Doh is always the first note of the major scale, regardless of which major scale is used. Ray is always the second note, me is always the third note, and so on.
Advantages of tonic sol-fa

Since most music is made using scales, tonic sol-fa has obvious advantages. The student of tonic sol-fa learns how to hear (and then, of course, sing) the relationships between the notes of the scale. And these are the same relationships that build our melodies, chords and counterpoint. Tonic sol-fa trains the ear and mind in the actual ways of music.

In this article:
Dr. Albert Alfred Gelles
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