Remember in The Sound of Music that Do, A Deer song that used to absolutely drive you crazy? Yeah, that one.

That was a song that introduces the musical alphabet called "solfege". I have no idea where the word came from, but it uses arbitrary syllables to name notes.

As I learned it, here are the syllables and their corresponding letters for a C Major scale:

  • C: Do
  • D: Re
  • E: Mi
  • F: Fa
  • G: So
  • A: La
  • B: Ti

I've heard that solfege is a relative naming convention; that is, if you were playing an F Sharp Major scale, F Sharp would be "Do", etc.

In any case, solfege may seem rather dopey, but it has a few advantages. First of all, it's not language-specific (the Japanese vocalist for our band annotates her lyrics using solfege in katakana). Secondly, it's a useful teaching tool for young children because it's unique. Try getting a 4 year old to believe that "A" no longer means " the letter A", but rather refers to a 440 Hz tone. Yaright.

For this reason, the Yamaha Music School's piano system, and probably the Suzuki Violin Method both use Solfege for the first several years of a child's (vital, in my opinion) musical education. I feel as though the use of solfege may be more prevalent outside of the United States.

Solfege is actually the center of a lot of controvercy in music education circles. Some teachers believe that the time it takes to memorize the nonsense syllables is wasted: it could be spent on actual ear training and rehearsal. This is why many music classes, conservatories and vocal coaches use the numerical sight-singing system instead. The down-side to this is that solfeggio is more accurate: it provides distinct monosyllables for the entire chromatic scale:
ascending
______________________do
_____________________ti
___________________la
_________________si
______________sol
_____________fi
___________fa
________mi
_______ri
_____re
___di
do
and decending
do
__ti
___ te
_____la
______ le
________so
_________ se
___________ fa
_____________ mi
_______________ me
_________________re
__________________ra
____________________do

Each syllable is a half-step higher or lower than the one before: "me" is half a step lower than "mi", for example. The names are based around the major scale: The notes do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do do not change based on direction, but the half-steps in between do. If you are progressing up the scale, the name of a note will be the major-scale note below it, modified to end in an "i" (for example, "fa" ---> "fi" If you are decending the scale, the name will be the note above, modified to an "e" or "a" ("so" ------> "se", but "re" -----"ra" since it *already* ends in an "e".

Pronunciation Note In this, an ending "o" is a long o sound like in "dough", an ending "i" is a long e sound, as in "tree", an ending "e" is a long a sound, as in "ray", and an endind "a" is an ah sound, as in "far"


"so" and "sol" are equivalent, the ending "l" is a matter of preference. I've included one of each. "ti" is sometimes called "si", as well, but this version leads to less confusion with "so"

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