Scales: Number System or Solfege?

The Number System and Solfege are two widely-used conventions for ascribing harmonic functional names to notes in tonal music. Both systems are applied to analyzing musical pattern such as scales, melodies, and chords progressions.

Let’s compare both systems by using them to name the notes in the C Major Scale…

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-numbers-or-solfege-c-major-numbers-notation

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-numbers-or-solfege-c-major-numbers-keyboard

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-numbers-or-solfege-c-major-solfege-notation

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-numbers-or-solfege-c-major-solfege-keyboard

As you can see, the Number System and Solfege are both valid naming conventions for describing the very same musical stuff. Do=1, Re=2, Mi=3, Fa=4, So=5, La =6, and Ti =7. Both conventions will be used throughout the Piano-ology website as appropriate, but here are some thoughts about the usage of each.

  • Any and every system for naming things is an abstract and arbitrary left-brain construct.
  • The choice of major scale as the conventional reference point does not imply that there is something special about the major scale. The choice of major scale is arbitrary.
  • Do not let numbers suggest that going up a scale is somehow more important than going down a scale.
  • Do not let numbers suggest that a scale is a linear construct.
  • Numbers wrongly suggest that a “3” must exist before a “b3” can exist.  This is not true.
  • Solfege avoids the above mis-implications of using numbers.
  • It is easier to sing a single solfege syllable (“Te”, for example) than three syllables “flat seven”. This may facilitate sight-singing and ear training.
  • The number system is more amenable to describing chord structure independent of tonality.
  • Learn both systems because both are widely-used.
  • The ultimate goal is to abandon names altogether. Think of letter names, numbers, and solfege as left-brain training wheels that you will abandon as you deepen your right-brain understanding of music based on sound and the visio-spatial patterns of your instrument.

LEARN MORE… Solfege and the Notion of Keys

About Frank J Peter

A uniquely burdened and blessed citizen of the world thinking and acting out loud!
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