Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sol-less music?

Lawrence Dillon criticizes Hammerstein for teaching all future generations that "Sol" is pronounced "sew." Suggested alternate lines: “Sol, the Bottom of My Shoe,” or “Sol, a Slice of Fish Filet.”

Nice snark aside, I can see why the 'l' was dropped. One benefit of movable Do solfège over scale degree numbers is the natural flow of one sound to the next, as (almost) all of the solfège syllables have a simple consonant-vowel combination, unlike numbers. Thus the shift from one syllable to the next is easy, allowing the singing of fast passages. But try to sing "one-three-five-three-one" or "five-six-five-six-five" really fast and the difficulty of shifting from the ending consonants to the following starting consonant becomes evident. While pronouncing "Sol Ti" is easier than "five sev," "So Ti" is even easier. And since most (all?) students don't make the connection between the scale degrees and the starting notes of each line of the thousand-year-old hymn, there isn't the need to keep the exact sound.


From The Podium said...

Having grown with Solfege in the "French" system of fixed doh - we always sayed "Sol" but also said "Si" instead of "Ti" - but in anglicized (or would that be, Hungarianized?) Sol-fa system of Kodaly and Bartok, they say "So" and "Ti", and use movable do (with no "h" I might add). Then again, it's different everywhere you go methinks.

However, you are right - post university, how many people actually make use of sol-fa outside of their Aural Skills classes anyway - unless you are the unfortunate grad student assigned to teach the bloody thing.

Anonymous said...


I was reading some past posts of your blog about solfege and it's clear that you are a proponent of movable Do. But how do you deal with modulations in this system?


Scott said...

Antonio, for most modulations the Do is shifted to the new tonic pitch, choosing a pivot spot just as one would in doing a harmonic analysis. Occasionally when shifting between relative major/minor keys it is easier to keep the Do fixed, essentially using a La-based minor, though most often I advocate a Do-based minor system.

Podium, I actually hope that my students do make connections between solfege and their other musical endeavors, including after university. This doesn't mean they should think every note in solfege, but that they should develop associations of tonal function with every pitch they hear or play, whether those associations are conscious or unconscious. I just don't expect them to know "Ut queant laxis."

ThumMeister said...

I have found tonic solfa (specifically moveable Do with a La-based minor) to be particularly useful when combined with isomorphic keyboards (Janko, Fokker, Bosanquet, Wicki, etc.) and electronic transposition.

It has long been known that isomorphic keyboards are transpositionally invariant, meaning that a given sequence or combination of intervals has the "same shape" in every key (and octave). But as described in a recent paper in the Computer Music Journal, on isomorphic keyboards, such sequences also have the "same shape" across a broad continuum of *tunings* which includes 12-et, the meantones, and many non-Western tunings.

Tonic solfa is at the right level of abstraction to describe the "relationships among intervals" that are constant even when individual pitches, and the widths of the intervals between them, change across the span of a given temperament's tonally-valid tuning range.

Everything old is new again. ;-)