What is Solfège?

Find Out More About Do-Re-Mi's and Solfeggio

Scale with solfège names starting with middle C as "do". "So" and "si" are also called "sol" and "ti". Maksim via Wikimedia CC license

Solfège is the ABC’s of music. It teaches pitch, to hear and sing harmonies, and how to write down music you create in your head. In other words, solfège transforms you into the next Mozart or singing diva.

What is Solfège?

Solfège describes the musical scale using one-vowel-sound syllables that sing easier than the traditional 8-note scale names: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C or scale numbers: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1. The solfège scale looks like this: Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do.

Solfège is not only easier to sing but simplifies music and works with complicated scores as well. For instance, I just described a C-Major scale, but solfège also describes minor and non-traditional scales, too.

Synonyms and Pronunciation

“Solfège” is a French term and sounds like the alternately spelled term “solfedge.” Spelled out in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), it reads sɔlfɛʒ. Other common pronunciations include the Italian term, “solfeggio,” which sounds like solfège only with an added “oh” at the end: sɔlfɛdʒio. “Solfeo,” “sol-fa,” and “solfa” are other synonyms. Solmization describes the act of singing something in solfège or any other system using syllables to describe a musical scale.

Why Learn Solfège?

With solfège you learn songs quickly and well. It helps you sight-sing or learn music without hearing a tune played first. Solmization increases sight-singing skills by revealing patterns in music.

Instead of seeing two random notes in a piece of music, you recognize those two notes as something you have sung before. Solfège basically takes the very complicated system of 12 major keys and combines it into one. Without solfège, you might sing 100 songs and still take hours to learn a new one. Solfège also improves your ability to sing particular intervals (the space between notes), which improves your overall pitch.

ABC’s of Music

When you first learn to read, you learn your ABC’s. The solfège syllables (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do) are just that. As you know if all you can do is recite your ABC’s, then you have not learned to read yet. To take the metaphor a bit further, reading a book is the equivalent to being able to sight-sing.

Hand Signs

There are signs you can make with your hands associated with each solfège syllable. For some, it is an added complication and for others, like me, it helps you recall syllables quickly. If you lean towards a kinesthetic or visual learning style, I highly recommend learning them.

Moveable-Do

There are two solfège practices: “moveable-do” and “fixed-do.” Moveable-do combines all 12 keys into one, and fixed-do does not. How? No matter what musical key you are in, “do” always starts on the first scale note. So, C is “do” in C-major, G is “do” in G-major, D is “do” in D-major, and etc. Solfège reveals that no matter what key all major scales are the same; the only difference is the pitch you start on. Most schools and universities in English-speaking countries teach moveable-do.

Is That It?

Nope! There are other syllables to learn and much more. If you sing a chromatic scale up, the syllables are: Do-Di-Re-Ri-Mi-Fa-Fi-Sol-Si-La-Li-Ti-Do.

Going down, the syllables change to: Do-Ti-Te-La-Le-Sol-Se-Fa-Mi-Me-Re-Ra-Do. The system is genius, but to understand why the syllables change going up and down is complex. As a beginner, you should just be aware there is more to it and start simple.

How Do I Start Learning?

I began a series of articles that lists common children’s songs by the intervals they teach. Start by using solfège syllables to sing these simple tunes. I suggest starting with the minor third interval. If the song goes down on the first pitch, then you start the song on “Sol-Mi.” If the first note goes up, as in the chorus of “Jingle Bells,” start the song on “Mi-Sol.” If you find it difficult to sing the entire tune using solfège syllables, just sing the first couple notes of every song using “Sol” and “Mi.” You will learn what a minor third interval is.