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Do re mi fa sol la ti do: From Ancient Greece to Modern America

<ancient music score of 'Ut queant laxis'>
<ancient music score of 'Ut queant laxis'>

As musicians, we all know the solfege system - the seven musical syllables used to represent the pitches of the major scale: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Ti. However, not everyone knows where these syllables came from, and how they became the standard method of teaching music theory and sight-singing around the world. This article explores the origins of the do re mi fa sol la ti do system and how it has evolved over time.

A Brief History of the Origins of Solfege

The roots of the solfege system can be traced back to ancient Greece, where musicians used a system of vocalization known as "embolima" to learn and memorize melodies. This system involved using a set of syllables to represent each note of the melody, which could be sung in any key. However, the syllables used in this system were not the same as the do re mi syllables we use today.

It wasn't until the medieval period in Europe that the solfege system as we know it began to take shape. Guido d'Arezzo, a Benedictine monk and music theorist, is credited with inventing the modern solfege system in the 11th century. He used the first syllables of each line of the Latin hymn "Ut queant laxis" to represent the notes of the hexachord, a six-note scale that was commonly used at the time. The syllables he used were Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, and La. The syllable "Si" was added later to complete the diatonic scale.

  • Ut queant laxis

  • Resonare fibris

  • Mira gestorum

  • Famuli tuorum,

  • Solve polluti

  • Labii reatum

  • Sancte Iohannes. s+i = si (ti, to distinguish it from ‘c’)

The Spread of the Solfege System

Over time, the solfege system spread throughout Europe and became the standard method of teaching music theory and sight-singing. In the 19th century, the Italian music educator Giovanni Battista Martini developed the system of solfege known as "fixed do," where the syllables are always tied to a specific pitch. This system is still used in many European countries today.

In the United States, a different system of solfege known as "movable do" became popular in the early 20th century. This system, developed by music educators John Curwen and Sarah Glover, uses the same do re mi syllables, but the starting pitch (or "do") can be moved to any note of the scale. This allows students to learn to recognize and sing intervals and chord progressions, rather than just individual notes.

Myths About Solfege

Despite its many benefits, solfege is often misunderstood and misrepresented. Here are some common myths about solfege:

Myth 1: Solfege is only for classical musicians. In fact, solfege is used by musicians of all genres, from jazz and pop to rock and hip-hop.

Myth 2: Solfege is only for singers. While solfege is often associated with singing, it is also used by instrumentalists for ear training and improvisation.

Myth 3: Solfege is a rigid system that limits creativity. In fact, solfege provides a framework for understanding music theory and can actually enhance creativity by giving musicians a deeper understanding of harmony and melody.


The solfege system has a rich and fascinating history that spans centuries and continents. From its origins in ancient Greece to its modern-day use in American classrooms and beyond, solfege has become an essential tool for musicians of all genres and skill levels. Understanding the origins and evolution of the do re mi fa sol la ti do system can help musicians better appreciate its power and versatility as a teaching and learning tool


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