Scales: Scale Structure: The Solfege System

If you can sing Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do up the major scale, you have the talent required to master Solfege, a skill that will take your musicianship to a whole new level.

The Solfege system works like this: The note that acts as the tonal center is named Do, always. In other words, Do is the key that you are in. Once a tonal center Do is established, each of the other possible pitches has a unique “sound-feeling” with respect to this tonal center. Each of these pitches is assigned a unique Solfege syllable, as you will see in the examples below.  The ultimate goal is to be able to recognize these sound-feelings and to associate them with their corresponding letter names and Solfege syllables. Doing so does not require any special talent. We can all learn to recognize them with a little bit of knowledge and the right kind of practice.

The Payoffs. Your investment of time and energy required to learn Solfege will pay enormous dividends: in musical comprehension when you sight read, in aural comprehension when you play by ear, in “memorization” when you learn a new piece, in your ability to transpose like a pro, and in your fluency in improvisation..

Some Examples. Here are the Solfege syllables for the C Major Scale, C Natural Minor Scale, and C Chromatic Scale. Don’t worry about memorizing these right now and don’t worry if you are not yet able to name all of the notes or to hear all of the relationships. You are not expected to at this point. For now it is enough to understand the general concept of Solfege system.  Opportunities to study-practice Solfege are embedded in the lessons on scales, chords, chord progressions, improvisation, and transposition.


Solfege Syllables for the C Major Scale

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-solfege-system-c-major-notation

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-solfege-system-c-major-keyboard

Play and sing the above out loud… and be receptive to the unique sound-feeling of each Solfege syllable with respect to Do.


Solfege Syllables for the C Natural Minor Scale

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-solfege-system-c-natural-minor-notation

Pronunciation Hint: Me, Le, and Te sound like “May”, “Lay”, and “Tay”.

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-solfege-system-c-natural-minor-keyboard

Play and sing the above out loud… and be receptive to the unique sound-feeling of each Solfege syllable with respect to Do.


Solfege Syllables for the C Chromatic Scale

Here is the complete set of Solfege syllables in the key of C. There are twelve physical keys in the chromatic scale, but the theoretical letter names and Solfege syllables for the chromatic notes depend on whether you are going up or down. Don’t worry about why for now. It is a subtle theoretical point that will be covered in context when you study scales, chords, chord progressions, and real music.

Syllables Going Up the C Chromatic Scale…

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-solfege-system-c-chromatic-ascending-notation

Pronunciation Hint: Di Ri, Fi, Si, and Li sound like “Dee”, “Ree”, “Fee”, “See”, and “Lee”.

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-solfege-system-c-chromatic-ascending-keyboard


Solfege Syllables Going Down the C Chromatic Scale…

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-solfege-system-c-chromatic-descending-notation

Pronunciation Hint: Me, Se, Le, and Te sound like “May”, “Say”, “Lay”, and “Tay”.

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-solfege-system-c-chromatic-descending-keyboard


Special Note: Naming notes (including Solfege names) is not a necessary performance skill. In fact, the ultimate goal is to abandon the use of names altogether. Names are just a temporary and convenient way for us to communicate with each other while learning the concepts and training our ears. The ultimate goal is to go straight from music notation to sound (sight singing), from sound to notation (dictation), or from sound to physical execution at the keyboard (playing by ear).

LEARN MORE… Number System or Solfege?

About Frank J Peter

A uniquely burdened and blessed citizen of the world thinking and acting out loud!
This entry was posted in Scales and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Scales: Scale Structure: The Solfege System

  1. Mun Haerin says:

    I already studied solfeggio with a music theory book, but it was a dense read and some of the concepts escaped me. This cleared a lot of things up. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a bunch for taking the time and energy to comment, Mun. The positive feedback is greatly appreciated… as I aspire to be as clear and concise as I can. That said, please do not hesitate to let me know if something is incorrect or unclear. All the best to you in life and music!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mun Haerin says:

        You’re certainly welcome. It’s a good blog you have, with plenty of information. My only complaint for now is that you post so frequently that when I scroll through my WordPress Reader, I often don’t know which post to click on first.

        And please call me Haerin. Mun Haerin is a Korean name, so the surname comes first.

        Liked by 1 person

      • : ) Thanks so much, Haerin! It’s nice to meet you!

        Liked by 1 person

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