# What is the solfa method to learn intervals?

I am working on recognizing intervals. I am reading online material to determine which technique would be the most efficient.

The second method is “solfa”. This is the “do re mi” approach made famous by the childrens song in The Sound of Music. But don’t let that fool you. Solfa (also called “solfege”) is probably the most powerful and versatile framework there is for learning relative pitch. There’s a bit of a learning curve but if you’re truly dedicated to developing your musicianship solfa is a great choice.

I do not know what this method is. I looked online, and found the song.

However, I do not understand what method of learning this is. Can anyone explain?

• Does this answer your question? What exactly is the "tonic sol–fa" system, and how is it different from solfège? Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 8:50
• Hello, no because the other link answers in the context of notation, whereas I am asking about the ear training method. They are two different things (though probably related). Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 8:52
• The method is explained a bit more on this page which you can reach by clicking the do-re-mi image (not very obvious, IMHO).
– Jos
Commented Jun 20, 2022 at 12:25
• @aparente001 I was educated in the US, but I have the impression that the numeric system is less common than movable do. Numbers are inconvenient since one of them has more than one syllable. How do you express chromatic alterations? Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 8:44
• @phoog - Once you are comfortable enough with sightsinging to need a lot of chromatics, you'll have internalized the numbers and their interrelationships, and you won't need to explicitly sing numbers any more. However, in the transition, one could add "sharp" or "flat" if the note is long enough, but just think it, if not. But please take that with a grain of salt because (a) I studied sightsinging such a long time ago, and (b) I never taught it. It is certainly fair for the chart of advantages and disadvantages to have "accidentals could be a challenge" on the line for the number system. Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 19:21

The solfege idea is that each note in a major scale has its own name - it could just as easily have a number, but here it has a name.

It uses the movable do system, whereby do is always regarded as the root note. So do = 1 or C (in key C), re = 2 or D, mi = 3 or E, fa = 4 or F, sol = G or 5, la = 6 or A, and ti (sometimes si) = B or 7. Each name is designated to a particular number note, whatever the key is.

We then learn to sing each letter name using do as the base point, and the intervals become apparent as we learn what each note sounds like against it. Thus, for example, do re mi do, do re mi do would be the solfege equivalent of Frere Jacques.

In France, it's commonplace to sing in such a way, except that it's complicated (or not!) by the fact that there, fixed do is used. Thus any key other than C will have sharps or flats involved with the notes - although that system doesn't lend itself to interval training much at all - only in key C!

Listening to Doe a Deer, later in the song, the solfege names are sung as a sort of counterpoint to the tune.

So, yes, it can be part of interval learning, but in somewhat a roundabout way, maybe not the easiest, as it doesn't acually teach intervals per se. Unless you go to the trouble of working out each name against its particular partner's for that interval - like mi>sol = m3, sol>do = P5.

• "In France, it's commonplace to sing in such a way": indeed, it's the primary way to name pitches in every context, so symphonies and the like aren't in D major or B minor but in ré majeur and si mineur. But (strictly speaking) it's not "fixed do" because they still use "ut" instead of "do" :-) Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 8:50
• @phoog - not in my experience - never heard 'ut' in several years - always 'do'. Fixed ut? (Ut fixe)?
– Tim
Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 9:17
• Well truth be told I don't know what they traditionally use for solfege; maybe it is actually "do." To my surprise, "do" is also used to denote keys, but Google's N-gram viewer suggests that "ut" was more common until very recently indeed: books.google.com/ngrams/… Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 10:59
• @phoog - just spoken to head of a school of music: ut for instruments and symphonies, etc., do is easier to sing, therefore do wins there. Keys and notes definitely called do.
– Tim
Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 11:26
• How is a key different from a symphony? Are you saying that a French theorist would report the key of Bizet's "symphonie en ut majeur" as "do majeur"? If you are, you would be in agreement with French Wikipedia. How bizarre. Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 20:19

Tim's answer is great. Just to fill in the "why" of moveable-do: it doesn't teach intervals in the abstract (M3, P4), but it does teach "tonicity." It teaches the dominant feel of scale degree 5, the leading tone of ^7, etc. IMO this is even more useful for the end goal of "singing in tune" then being able to string together a series of decontextualized intervals. To compare it to someone navigating a course, you hold the tonic and dominant in your head and orient other pitches in relation to them, like someone navigating with a compass, instead of someone whose directions are "turn 45 degrees left, turn 18 degrees right," and have no fixed reference against which to check their accuracy.

Also, a bit of trivia: Where do these nonsense syllables come from? Ultimately, from the lyrics to a song: a song used, much like "Do a Deer", as a mnemonic to remember scalar steps. A medieval choir director took a song in which each line started one note higher, and used the first syllable of the Latin word that started each line as a mnemonic for that note of the scale.

• "it doesn't teach intervals in the abstract": mi-sol is always going to be a minor third, isn't it? Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 19:18
• @phoog True, but it gets a different "label" than re-fa. If we pay attention to the intervals along the way we wind up "incidentally" learning them (and, IMO, getting a better contextual understanding on which to "hang" them), but it's not a system for "learning a minor third," decontextualized, in the abstract. And IMO it's better than such a thing. Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 20:43
• I see what you mean, and I agree. (Of course, re-fa and mi-sol are likely to differ by a syntonic comma.) Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 23:48