What Is Solfege?

Get to know the formal concept of the "Do, Re, Mi" system

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

Solfege 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 perhaps the best-known example of this method, Julie Andrews' Maria uses solfege in "The Sound of Music" to teach the von Trapp children how to carry a tune ("Doe, a deer, a female deer..."). 

When you first learn to read, you learn your ABC’s. The solfege syllables (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do) are the musical equivalent. 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 of being able to sight-sing.

Musical Scale of Solfege?

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

Solfege is not only easier to sing but simplifies music and works with complicated scores as well.

Why Learn Solfege?

With solfege, singers can learn songs quickly and well. It helps you sight-sing or learn music without hearing a tune played first.

Solmization (the practice of solfege) encourages 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.

Solfege takes the very complicated system of 12 major keys and combines it into one. Without solfege, you might sing 100 songs and still take hours to learn a new one. Solfege also improves your ability to sing particular intervals (the space between notes), which improves your overall pitch.

Hand Signs of Solfege

There are signs you can make with your hands associated with each solfège syllable. For some, it is an added complication, but for others, it helps you recall syllables quickly. If you lean towards a kinesthetic or visual learning style, it's probably going to be valuable to learn them.

Moveable-Do in Solfege

There are two solfege 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, etc. Solfege reveals that no matter what the 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.

If you sing a chromatic scale up, the syllables are Do-Di-Re-Ri-Mi-Fa-Fi-Sol-Si-La-Li-Ti-Do. In a scale where the notes are descending, the syllables change to Do-Ti-Te-La-Le-Sol-Se-Fa-Mi-Me-Re-Ra-Do. Understanding 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 to Learn Solfege

Start by using solfege syllables to sing these simple tunes, such as Jingle Bells. 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" until you get the hang of it.