Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is Solfeggio?

Learn about solfeggio and how it can help you improve your music knowledge

In this video, Robert talks about Solfeggio. What is it? Why is it so important?

Released on March 18, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello, and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin, your host, with a great question today: what is solfeggio?

Solfeggio, sometimes called sight-singing, is the ability to read at sight music and sing it. Wow, what a great thing to be able to do. Why is this important? There's a myriad reasons why this is important to instrumentalists, singers, and yes, pianists. It's important to be able to hear the music you play just by looking at it.

How do you develop such a thing? Well, there are different systems, and each one has different values. So I'm going to explore them with you today so you can decide to yourself what's in it for you.

I grew up with what is called the movable do solfege. Now, solfeggio comes with the Latin syllables, [singing] do re me fa so la ti do. That is essentially what a solfege is, are those Latin syllables, where do is the tonic, the first note of the scale, going on up through the scale degrees. And there are also ways of accounting for the accidentals.

Movable do solfege, whatever key you are in, the tonic of that key, of that major key, is do. So if you're in C major, C is do. If you're in D major, D is do.

Now why would you want to do that? Because there's another type of solfege called fixed do solfeggio. Fixed do, C is always do, and re is D, and so on, and they never change. Well, there are benefits to each one. Let's explore this. I'm going to start with fixed do, and why that is important.

Fixed do is simply naming notes. Because if you see a C, or a C-sharp, or a C-flat, or a C-double sharp, it's always going to be do, no matter what key your piece is in.

Now, why is this useful? Well, it's incredibly important for conductors reading a score to be able to know the absolute pitch of all the notes that they see on that score. Because after all, the scores are transposed. There are different clefs. And being able to instantly know what the actual concert pitch of each note in the score, to communicate with the orchestra and understand themselves, is imperative.

So conductors, by and large, embrace fixed do solfege. So they have a sense of what they're looking at.

What is movable do good for, then? Why would you want to change the pitch of do? Why should it be in different places? Shouldn't it always be the same?

Well, not necessarily. The value of movable do solfege is that you get to hear music in the context of the key, thereby being able to know the notes you're hearing, once you know what key you are in. In other words, if you hear a pattern of notes, like [singing] do mi so, you know you've got a I chord, a major triad, whether it's in [playing piano] F major [playing piano] it's always the same do mi so. And so on with other patterns. It makes it possible to hear music and to quantify the pitches relative to one another. For people without perfect pitch, this is a great way to be able to transcribe music, to be able to understand the notes you are hearing.

Of course, you have to know what key you're in to know the absolute pitch. But, it's also a great aid in transposition. Because if you can put the syllables to what you're hearing in your head, then you can put it into any key quite easily.

Movable do solfege is what I grew up with, and it's how I hear music. And in fact, I not only use it for hearing when I'm listening to music, and to know what pitches and harmonies and chords, but I use it even when performing. Because, all music is essentially playing by ear, even if you take it off the score to begin with. And to be able to hear the music and to know where those pitches are going is tremendous help.

And what about the relative minor? How do you account for that? Well, there're two schools of thought on that.

The way I was trained is that the key signature determines where do is. So the relative minor, then begins on la. And this makes perfect sense, particularly with pieces that go back and forth between the major and the relative minor.

For example, a piece with no sharps or flats, that's in C major, and then goes to a minor, back and forth. It could become extremely confusing trying to put the minor on do, particularly when the key signature doesn't change.

More than that, modes. That is, a key signature where you might start in C major, with no sharps or flats. Maybe you'd have D dorian, no sharps or flats, with all the white keys. It's much easier just to call D re in that case, since there's no sharps or flats.

Others like to change the tonic and put do on each tonic of the modes, which is a very difficult thing. If any of you out there have mastered that, I'd love to hear from you.

The last thing that we haven't talked about is how to account for accidentals. As I mentioned earlier, in fixed do solfeggio, accidentals are not accounted for. Do, whether it's a C has got a sharp or a double sharp or a flat, it's just do.

But in movable do solfege, you account for the syllables in the following manner: [singing] do di re ri mi fa fi so si la li ti do ti te la le so se fa mi me re ra do. That's the way it works. And so all the pitches are quantified with precision this way.

Now, sometimes if you're sight-singing atonal music, fixed do makes a heck of a lot more sense, because, you know, how do you account for accidentals that are double sharps when there is no tonic? So there are definitely times when fixed do is the correct choice, and there is also tremendous value in movable do solfege.

And there are other systems that use numbers and set type notation. These are things we can explore in future videos for you.

Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Paul on February 7, 2018 @6:56 am PST
There's another system, the which in my experience is the one most often used in this country, and that is simply using the ABC letter names of the notes. All accidentals are already accounted for in the note name, C#, Ebb, or whatever. It's a form of fixed do system. True, if you're singing a fast passage it can be difficult to spit out the double sharps in time. But all in all it's more practical for speakers of languages that use letter names for the notes instead of do re mi. Of course, that's for fixed do. To get the benefits of moveable do, I think you're always going to need do re mi.
Robert Estrin - host, on February 7, 2018 @5:55 pm PST
Yes, the purpose of syllables is making singing pitches possible in passagework. However, there are other systems of sight-singing that are quite useful for some music. For example, in atonal music, it can be extremely valuable to refer to clusters of notes utilizing set-type notation. This is a system of naming half-steps using numbers. So, there are many valuable systems of sight-singing available for musicians.
Mary on June 2, 2015 @9:21 pm PST
I have the sheet music with copyright 1908. It is of any value except enjoyment? It is in very good condition. Copyright renvewed in 1939 to G. Schirmer. thanks
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on June 3, 2015 @8:45 am PST
Hi Mary and thank you for your comment. May I ask you what piece are you referring to? I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you again.
Marge * VSM MEMBER * on March 30, 2015 @10:39 am PST
I'm so glad we have this column with this great musician. I'm up in my years and after reading these articles everything comes back in a sensible manner. thanks
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on March 19, 2015 @5:57 pm PST
Quite interesting. I can sight-sing much faster than I can sight-play. But this creates a little habit with me. I end up singing the new piece while I try to learn to play it. Then I have a hard time not singing it after I have learnt to play it. It becomes a habit hard to get rid of!
Robert - host, on March 20, 2015 @11:03 am PST
Singing your music can be incredibly helpful in understanding the score. But sometimes you have to control your habits as I describe in this video:

Good luck with putting the Jeannie back in the box!
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