Solfege – an Introduction to Shape Note Singing

Solfege, Solfeggio, Sol-fa, Fasola, Shape Note Singing and sight singing are all terms used to describe a system that was developed to provide the singer with a visual clue for which note to sing. This is achieved either with hand signals or sheet music which uses notes that instead of being oval in shape, are designated with shapes like triangle, square, diamond, etc., or a combination of both hand signals and written music. The system is generally accredited to Guido d’ Arezzo (associated symbols ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la and the term “Guidonian Hand”) who created this method of allocating shapes to notes on the scale in an effort to help his monks learn chants and melodies for the mass.

Shape note singing has undergone many changes with each adoptive country adapting symbols and systems to suit their preferred methods of teaching and vocal styles. It is said that the English style originally had only four syllables (fa-so-la-mi) which is also popular among the ‘Sacred Harp’ singing hobbyists in the US and abroad, the French changed Guido d’ Arezzo’s tonic note from Ut, to Do and added Ti for the last note in the scale, and the Italians used seven syllables (do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do).


Although the skill can be demanding and requires the singer to pay attention to the conductor or sheet music, it’s simplicity means that anyone can pick it up and start singing simple songs with little or no prior musical knowledge or experience. This has made Solfege popular with community groups and singing teachers, many of whom use the associated Kodaly method to instruct students, whilst the film musical ‘The Sound of Music’ introduced its use to the general public with the song “Do-Re-Me” originally performed by Julia Andrews as Maria.

Solfege is also an excellent way to identify relationships between notes and chords in a theoretical and musical way, without actually identifying note names. Singers use this method to help develop relative pitch, improve aural recognition (ear training), learn to feel / hear chords, rhythms and harmonic progressions.

Solfege Books & Exercises

These are just a small example of the extensive links to books, audio books and vocal repertoire we have available in the Solfege Books section

Solfege, Ear Training, Rhythm, Dictation, and Music Theory:
A Comprehensive Course
by Marta Arkossy Ghezzo Mel Powell – Univ of Alabama Pr (Txt)
consists of 51 lessons, starting from basic topics in theory and solfege, and gradually advancing to modern music. In each lesson, a different aspect of ear training, rhythmic reading, and theory is discussed
Solfege at Amazon UK
Solfege at Amazon USA

Do Re Mi Fa Fun – Solfege Songs and Activities (Resource)
By Paul Jennings and Teresa Jennings. (Teacher Ed).
Price $19.95
Music First Express. Size 8.5×11 inches. 96 pages. Published by Hal Leonard. (44204019) 2+ pricing available.

The core of this valuable resource is a set of 12 sequenced songs for grades 2-6 to help students learn solfege syllables in an enjoyable way. Includes folk songs, rounds, canons and masterworks, in addition to a very helpful Teacher’s Guide with lesson plans, supplemental music suggestions and performance options. Available: Teacher’s Manual, Unis/2pt. Singer’s Edition, Performance/Accompaniment CD and Reproducible Pak (warm-ups, workouts and activities). For Gr. 2-6.

Contents: Amazing Grace, Angels We Have Heard On High, Fly Away, Frog Went A-Courtin’, Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring, Practice Makes Perfect, Simple Gifts, Minuet (Royal Fireworks), Do Re Mi Fa Fun, I Saw A Dodo, Mr. Caruso, You’re My Friend
Do Re Mi Fa Fun at SheetMusicPlus

The Kodaly Method 1
Comprehensive Music Education
by Lois Choksy
Price: £80.99
Kodaly Method 1 at Amazon UK
Kodaly Method 1 at Amazon USA