What is Solfeggio? Music Theory Lessons

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Solfeggio, sometimes called sight-singing, is the ability to read and sing music at sight. This is an incredibly important skill for all musicians. So how do you develop these skills?

There are a couple of different systems and each one has different values. I’m going to explore these and you can decide what the best course of action is for you.

I grew up with a method called “movable do solfege”. You’ve probably heard it before: “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do”. “Do” is the tonic, the first note of the major scale, and you simply progress up through the scale degrees. In movable do solfege, no matter what major key you are in, the tonic of that key is always do. For example, if you are in C major, C is “do”. This is important to remember because this is not the case when it comes to “fixed do” solfege.

In “fixed do” solfege C is always “do” (and “re” is d and so on). The notes never change syllables.

While these two methods are completely different, they are both important in their own ways.

The strength of “fixed do” comes from naming notes. No matter what iteration the note takes it will always correlate to the particular syllable in the “fixed do” system. C will always be “do”, D will always be “re” and so on. This can be incredibly useful – especially if you’re a conductor – because you will be able to determine the absolute pitch of each of the notes. Scores are transposed and there are different clefs so being able to determine the absolute pitch is a very powerful tool.

So why would you want to use movable do? Why should you constantly be changing the pitch of “do” and why would you want it in different places? The value is that you can hear music in the context of the key, so you can figure out the notes you are hearing. In other words, if you hear a pattern of notes (for example: do, mi, so ) you can determine that it’s a major triad chord; no matter what the key. This makes it possible to quantify the pitches relative to one another and determine these patterns of notes much easier. This can really help for people who don’t have perfect pitch – it’s a much easier way to know the notes you are hearing.

But what about the relative minor? There are actually two schools of thought for this. The way I was trained is that the key signature determines where “do” is, so the relative minor begins on “la”. This makes perfect sense and is still easy to grasp even if the piece switches between major and minor. This works out the same for all of the modes which share key signatures with major and minor scales but start on different scale degrees (like all the white keys from D-D would be a D dorian mode which shares the key signature of C major which has no sharps or flats).

The last thing we need to address is how to deal with accidentals (sharps, flats, and naturals). These are simply ignored in fixed do solfege but in movable do we add extra syllables to account for these accidentals.

An ascending chromatic scale would be:


Descending chromatic scale is:

Do-Ti-Te-La-Le-So-Se-Fa-Mi-Me-Re-Ra- Do

Movable do solfege is how I grew up with music and it’s how I hear music. I use it for every aspect of music, whether it’s reading music or even performing. All music is essentially playing by ear so even if you read it’s important to have a system in place that allows you to understand what you are hearing.

Thanks for joining me Robert Estrin Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729