Ever wonder who came up with those funny words Do, Re, Mi? It’s an interesting story that brings us back to a time long before “The Sound of Music.”
Where Did It Come From?
About a thousand years ago, there was an Italian monk named Guido who had a serious problem. He was in charge of the choir at his abbey, and was having a hard time helping the other monks learn new chants. Back then, music wasn’t written down like it is today, and the only thing Guido could do was sing a new melody over and over until the other monks got it.
Guido wanted a faster way to teach new chants, so he decided to name the notes of the scale. He used a chant that began each line one note higher than the line before, and took the first syllable of each line, Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, So, and La. When he wanted to teach his choir a new chant, they would learn the notes using these syllables. It worked so well that Guido and his method became famous all over Italy.
Over the centuries, Guido’s system of naming the tones of the scale evolved to the familiar Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti that Rogers and Hammerstein celebrated in “The Sound of Music.” This system of naming tones, called solfège, helps musicians develop a sense of the relationships between notes in a scale.
How Does It Work?
In the United States and many other countries, we commonly use Solfège with a movable Do, just as Guido did a thousand years ago. That means that Do is always the first note of the scale, the “home base” note, no matter what the key signature. In the key of C, Do means C. In the key of G, Do means G. It sounds a little confusing, but it actually makes transposing songs very easy. Once you know the solfège for a melody, you can set any note as Do and reproduce the same melody in whatever key you want.
Fixed Do Versus Movable Do
In some countries, a fixed Do system is used, where Do always means C. However, I find it most helpful as a teacher to teach using both a fixed system (ABCDEFG) and a movable system (Do, Re, Mi, etc). Some kind of fixed system is essential to provide structure and certainty. D is always a D on the piano or on any instrument. However, a movable system is best for helping students easily hear and recognize the function of each note in a scale and relationships between each note in a melody, no matter what key the music is in. So, I try to give my students the best of both worlds by actively using letter names as a fixed system and solfège as a movable system.
Part of the Language of Music
Solfège is a great tool for learning music, for sight-reading, and for understanding music theory. It’s been part of the language of music for many centuries. To tap into the power of solfège, have your child sing the solfège syllables to the songs they’re working on as part of their daily music practice. If you want to learn or review solfège, check out Lesson 14.