Soflege Use?

November 13, 2008 at 07:42 PM ·

Why do people use soflege? (sp?, do re me fa so la ti do) I have found out that the college I go to teaches using soflege. I did not learn this way and it is harder for me to use and to me it seems childish. I don't want to offend people who use it I just remember it being in the Sound of Music and stuff I guess. Sorry for rambling.

Replies (25)

November 13, 2008 at 08:02 PM ·

It is used for sight singing and ear training and in lots of educational materials for learning to read choral music. Go to any rack of choral music at the store and you might find choral "etude" style books using elements of solfege. If you are a musician and your voice is your instrument it makes a lot of sense versus humming or singing one sound don't you think? You are the instrument and hear your voice from the inside of your body instead of as something external. As string players the instrument is something outside of us that creates the sound.

It is useful too when you look at new sheets. You can know what they sound like before you play them. The do, re makes it clear what note you think you are singing and what everyone else thinks they are singing.

November 14, 2008 at 01:40 AM ·

You need to find out if they used moveable or fixed "do".  At CIM, we used fixed "do" and had to sight sing our way through many French sol-feg books using treble, bass, alto, tenor, and soprano clef.  We also sight sang in parts through many a Bach cantata.  The use of syllables goes WAY back.  It is not childish, but a way to develop your ear.   

November 14, 2008 at 03:10 AM ·

When my younger children started playing our teacher asked them to learn to solfège. The older of the two was extremely resistant and the younger one did it but he is tone deaf (just singing, he does correct pitch on the viola) so it wasn't fully effective.

There is another thread active on starting over. In addition to the point I made their I would add an earlier start on ear training.  Solfège is very valuable.  

November 17, 2008 at 04:33 PM ·

I guess that's an interesting point.

November 17, 2008 at 05:53 PM ·

 I think it's much better to use numbers and know what degree of the scale you are using. The number  equivalent of a movable do would be to to think note to note by interval. It's intervalic knowledge that is important at the end of the day.

I was rather annoyed at college when they were teaching us this as I'd learnt the numbers way. I would have to translate numbers into solfege which was just silly!

November 17, 2008 at 10:10 PM ·


I've taught solfege for 4 years at the college level, both first and second years. Why do we teach solfege, and why do I teach moveable do (instead of fixed do or numbers)?


Music students need to learn and internalize several key aspects of tonal music:

1. the concept of a central tone, and the functions of the different tones (dominant, leading tone, etc.)

2. the relationships of the half-steps and how they function to define a scale.

3. the differences between major and the various forms of minor.

We use solfege as a common language for students who play a wide variety of instruments, including percussion.


So why moveable do?

Numbers may be easier to learn in the short run, but they do not differentiate between the half steps in the way that solfege does. I believe it's more effective to use a la-ti on an ascending minor scale, and a le-te on the way down. Simply saying "7" doesn't differentiate between the two functions of a leading tone and a sub tonic--and they are very different functions. And saying "2-3" for both major and minor scales teaches the student nothing about the all-important difference a lowered third and a raised third.

Fixed-do has the inherent problem that the half-steps fall between different syllables in major and minor, which seems to immediately contradict the need to learn the functions of the tones. Minor in fixed- do is thus treated as a variation or subsidiary of major, which it is not. In other words, the first tone of minor acts harmonically like tonic, the fifth like dominant, and the leading tone like...well, a leading tone. And so it's just more consistent to call all tonics "do," all dominants "so" and all leading tones "ti."


Moveable do is also much easier for intervals. For example, Do-so is ALWAYS a perfect 5th, and fa-ti is ALWAYS a tritone in both major and minor. What about with numbers? It depends on which scale you're using, so the intervals change. And the same for fixed do.

I believe that both numbers and fixed-do are taught for one reason: they're easier to learn at the very beginning. However, after several years of experience teaching theory, and the knowledge that what needs to be learned is SCALE FUNCTION ABOVE ALL ELSE, that moveable do really is the best system because it is one system while fixed do and numbers are really 2 different systems that have to be learned. 



November 17, 2008 at 10:35 PM ·

to which I agree completely.

November 18, 2008 at 04:15 AM ·

Solfege is for developing an understanding of pitch relationships.  If you use movable do, as someone mentioned, it will also help you immensely with transposition (when you take your conducting fundamentals, you won't necessarily have to sit there and painstakingly count intervals) -- not as crucial to strings as to the brass, but still a useful thing.

Personally I find it somewhat obsolete in my own use; but then, I am not boasting when I say I can sing you anything right now, on pitch, including pieces that were hardly written for the voice and that I haven't thought about in years.  I would not hesitate to recommend solfege, or to use it to teach someone.

November 18, 2008 at 07:03 AM ·

It seems the international standard is fixed Do, (used in Europe, Asia, Juilliard, etc). 

How would you solfege 1st movt of Franck sonata with moveable-Do?  The key changes are so frequent? 


November 18, 2008 at 07:56 AM ·

"Please go to my personal website- using Internet Explorer - ..."

How would you feel if you bought sheet music and the publisher's license strictly forbade the use of the score unless you perform it on an instrument of a particular maker/supplier?! Wouldn't that be annoying?!

Just as there is no reason to impose such silly license terms, there is also no technical reason why any website should be coded for any particular browser. To the contrary, it is far more cost efficient and less troublesome to code to W3C recommendations, which is the undisputed and well established international standard for web coding.

It may be a surprise for some, but there are computer platforms and operating systems for which Internet Explorer is not even available. Some people choose those platforms for practical reasons, some other people avoid Microsoft products consciously because they don't want their hard earned money to end up on the coffers of an organisation which has been found in violation of US antitrust laws by a US court and further found in continuous breach of settlement terms imposed by the court. To understand this choice, one has to think about how one would feel buying items at a store which everybody knows is run by the local mafia. Some may not care, others may feel strongly about it. The least we should do is not punish the latter group for their choice.

November 18, 2008 at 01:31 PM ·

In some countries the notes are named do-re- mi rather than abc.The do is a c.This was the original way of naming the notes of a scale.The movable do was introduced by Curwen as a way of simplifying choral singing in non music readers and has since been developed by Kodaly and others as a useful tool in ear training.In Italy we use a fixed do and it would be inconcievable to use a movable do as there is no substitute for the names of the notes.In this case using numbers as an alternative could be a solution but as far as I know it is not used.

November 18, 2008 at 01:50 PM ·

 I understand what you are saying Scott but I found that my knowledge of intervals was good enough that I understood the relations note to note and within the scale. The points you mentioned were grasped well enough by using intervals. If you know intervals well then you don't count up the scale and you can quickly label it as major 3rd, minor 7th etc., you just don't need to say it out loud! I come from more of a jazz background where using degrees of the scale/chord seem more common. I never heard anyone using solfege in jazz and my jazz ear-training was much more vigorous than my classical ear-training.

I just think that solfege is not for everybody. I say that because I had a system that worked and then was forced to do solfege which I had no use for and was a hindrance in my case. I understand that if you are teaching a group of people that you need some system however, I think solfege without knowing intervals really well isn't so good.

November 18, 2008 at 04:18 PM ·

So now I kind of see the soflege point. I've never heard of "the number" system. I just don't think that the soflege system is for me. I do perfectly fine with "the letters". I actually dread having to learn soflege.

November 18, 2008 at 06:41 PM ·

 In french conservatories solfege  is for everybody .Pupils  must study it for at least one year (sometimes two years) before starting instrument.and its sudy last during the whole  instrumental period of learning  (about 6 years).

Solfege include

Reading of notes using the different clefswith respect to tempo and rythm

Singing the note using rythms and can be compared to a song whose words would be  the name of the note (do re mi fa sol la si)

Musical theory .

Solfege is especially valuable  when a specific instrumental difficulty  occurs

November 18, 2008 at 08:33 PM ·

Today my lunch companion pointed out that I still had some salad stuck to my chin. Very glad he did before I returned to work.

Daniel, the word is solfege not soflege. I wouldn't point it out....But we're all friends here.

November 18, 2008 at 09:41 PM ·


"It seems the international standard is fixed Do, (used in Europe, Asia, Juilliard, etc). 

How would you solfege 1st movt of Franck sonata with moveable-Do?  The key changes are so frequent? " 



Just because something is an international standard doesn't make it right. In many disciplines, ideas and methods continue just out of institutional intertia. For instance, at one college interview, I asked the department chair why they used a number system for singing, and he replied "well, that's the way we've always done it." Not a very thoughtful or inspired answer. It's also an international standard to drive an internal-combustion vehicle, though it's not such a great idea for the environment.

Another very good example is the way that so many theory courses the world over teach a cadential 6-4 chord as being labeled a "I 6/4", which is utterly wrong. Unfortunately, most theory students call it the wrong thing. Why? Who knows? It's easily proven wrong.

If a piece of music is tonal--that is, uses major/minor tonality--then it really doesn't matter how often it modulates, and movable do is perfectly valid. One simply has to find the point of modulation (often there may be more than one interpretation) and change the solfege syllables into the new key. And that right there is the beauty of the movable system--that one thinks in terms of scale degree function, and not actual letter names of the notes, which is really irrelevant. The only time the solfege system breaks down is with non-tonal music, with such systems as a pan-diatonic scale (Shostakovich), or octatonic (Stravinsky) or other modern systems. The Franck Sonata is perfectly tonal, and solfege works perfectly. It just means more practice to sing correctly.



November 18, 2008 at 09:52 PM ·

 "I understand what you are saying Scott but I found that my knowledge of intervals was good enough that I understood the relations note to note and within the scale."


Yes, YOUR knowledge of intervals is, like most string and keyboard players, very good. These people rarely have problems in class. However, many other freshman musicians have a terrible time with intervals, and solfege helps them. That's why, as I said, movable do is simply better: the same syllables reinforce the idea of the same intervals. People who have no tactile sense of intervals need something solid to relate to, and changing the meaning of the syllables from major to minor is counter-productive.

I know I'm sounding very rigid about how I teach it, but what I'm hearing is that most people feel the other systems are better simply because "that's the way we do it." At Peabody I had to learn fixed-do, and it was only later with much teaching experience did I begin to see that fixed-do only seems easier.

What if, for chord analysis, we used "I" to represent tonic in major, but used "vi" to represent tonic in minor. Now all the roman numerals will have to change meaning, won't they? A dominant chord in minor will now be iii. Would that make sense? But we don't, because it would just be more confusing. I is tonic, period. V is dominant, period. vi is sub-mediant. Period.

Regardless of mode.

The situation is exactly the same for the syllables.

November 19, 2008 at 03:48 AM ·

So with moveable Do, how do you name 'pivot chord' notes?  What if the key is ambiguous in a certain passage of a tonal piece?  I'd imgine sight-singing would be quite tricky then unless you could see the accompaniment.  Or you did a full harmonic analysis before singing. 

I can certainly see the advantage of moveable-Do but I also see the advantages of fixed-Do.  The Juilliard method of training uses Dandelot (French solfege book) which covers all 7 clefs.  That's challenging enough for many people. 

The fact that different conservatories within the US have different solfege systems can be confusing for students and I wish it was more standardized.

November 19, 2008 at 05:31 AM ·

Hi Daniel,

I was taught solfege using Danhauser and Lemoine books from the Paris Conservatory and that study was very much the backbone of my music education. The german note names are very useful and should be learned. C,Cis and Ces can be said or sung in one syllable instead of C,Csharp,Cflat which is very cumbersome.The key signatures should also be learned in german besides your native language.


November 19, 2008 at 07:27 AM ·

"So with moveable Do, how do you name 'pivot chord' notes?  What if the key is ambiguous in a certain passage of a tonal piece?"



Yes, you have to figure out which note you think is the pivot note (if the modulation is that type).

And sometimes, yes, it might be ambiguous. 

However, once a student reaches sight-singing music of that difficulty --later in the second year--he or she should also have the theory chops to analyze the music. 


While you say that highly chromatic music would be "quite tricky" to sing, I'd suggest that it's supposed to be. No one ever said gaining advanced musical skills like singing late tonal music would--or should--be easy. That's the #1 problem encountered by music faculty: music students think music should be easier than it is. 


November 19, 2008 at 12:05 PM ·

  The way that so many theory courses the world over teach a cadential 6-4 chord as being labeled a "I 6/4", which is utterly wrong. Unfortunately, most theory students call it the wrong thing. Why? Who knows? It's easily proven wrong.

I have to disagree :both notations are valid. Harmonic  theories  are based on two differents historical concept more or less mixed up

1-Harmony is an "upgraded counterpoint " with so   many voice leading rules and exceptions which is a continuation of figured bass  . The Melody prevails over the harmony .This is the base of the French school

2-Harmony is based on physical law of resonance for which degree and function theories have bee evolved.Although this theory stem from the French Rameau's theory this approach was developped by the German school (Stuffen theory,Riemman adn so on)  .The harmony is the base of the melody .

So { GCE} may equally be considered as V 46 (figured bass) or second inversion of CM (in CM of course)  it may be also analyzed as appogiatura of V.

There is also a difference in the degrees scale balance between the french and german school.

1°) The french system ,with a melodic logic, based upon  Two degrees:

-The tonic enclosed by the subtonic (or leading tone)  and supertonic

-The  dominant framed with  the subdominant and superdominant (VI th  degree)

The pivot beeing the mediant


2°) The german systemwith an harmonic approach  based on 3 degrees

-the tonic that is the pivot surrounded with the  supertonic and the  subtonic or leading tone

-Sub dominant a fifth lower divided by the submediant

-Dominant a fifth upper divided by the mediant

November 19, 2008 at 06:34 PM ·


Calling a cadential 6/4 a second-inversion is simply inconsistent with any modern chord analysis, regardless of history, or French or German systems. Here are the reasons:

1. a I chord is the goal of harmonic motion, and a cadential 6/4 is not functioning in the least as a tonic chord. A cadential 6/4 simply looks like a I chord in second inversion--it is not, and does not function that way. 

2. A cadential 6/4 is a suspension, and a suspension in any other circumstances is NOT analyzed using the suspended notes. The suspended notes are actually non-chord tones--they are NOT part of the chord. Instead, like any other suspension, the chord should be analyzed at with the chord of resolution.

3. If the tones 6 and 4 above the bass don't result from a suspension, then they are accented passing tones, and still should not be analyzed as being part of the chord--you still have to wait till they resolve, just like any accented passing tones.

In order to be consistent with how we analyze tonal harmony, cadential 6/4 chords should be treated like what they are: suspensions. Just look at any Bach choral: no one would consider analyzing the suspended chords in terms of the suspended notes until they resolve on the weak beat. If you try to, you get either no answer, or wrong answers, just like the I 6/4. 

It's like saying "4+4=7" just because you don't feel like doing the math, and that's what everyone has taught.



November 20, 2008 at 08:11 AM ·

Hi ,scott


Sorry to partly disagree once more.

Your arguments are true as long as you are refering to "tonal music" which is a small part of music with not clearly defined limits. Futhermore, as you say it with a modern way of analyze that may lead to a misconception of interpretation especially with Bach music which is not fully  tonal.

November 20, 2008 at 08:40 AM ·

 Bach is not fully tonal?!! Can you elaborate?

November 20, 2008 at 10:07 AM ·

Bach period  is a transition between  modal music and tonal music .That explains ,for example,some key signature anomalies (eg music in Eb major with only two flats) because the sixth degree is moveable  according to the melodic slope ,even in major  or some cross relation due melodic accidental especially  the seventh degree.(mi-fa hexacordum rule)

Futhermore ,in  JS Bach 's case, he was said "Old fashioned" by his sons

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