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When practicing singing, I found myself naturally singing the number of the Key instead of the Solfege. So for example singing London Bridges Falling Down was

    5   6  5   4  3  4  5 . . .
    vs
    Sol La Sol Fa Mi Fa Sol

In this I show both the Solfege and the numbers to make it clear what I'm asking.

So, Is there a benefit to using the Solfege names vs just singing the numbers?

I didn't find anything on MT&P (Stack Exchange Music Theory & Practice), but did find this on Redit:

https://www.reddit.com/r/musictheory/comments/6kxflo/why_dont_i_just_sing_numbers_instead_of_solfege/

Several answers were given, the one I liked was:

For me, solfege syllables make it easier to hear/sing flats and sharps. E.g., "do - re - me" instead of "do - re - mi" for minor versus major third. If you're doing numbers you'd have to sing the same syllable for the major versus minor pitch and it's harder to make that association / differentiate between the two. Unless you're differentiating somehow?

I'm asking the question here since this is where I go for answers to music questions. :-)

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  • I think this is a duplicate from a couple of months ago. Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 4:42
  • 4
    @aparente001 - Then can you please flag this question as a duplicate, and link it to the other question? Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 4:51
  • See Note naming system with one unique name per note for some overlap, and the point toward the end of my answer: it doesn't matter what you call the pitches as long as it suits your needs. Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 22:16

5 Answers 5

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Regarding "Is there a benefit to using the Solfege names vs just singing the numbers?":

There is: the solfege note names are monosyllabic, while the numbers aren't always. If you need to respect flattened or sharpened scale degrees, the numbers definitely stop being monosyllabic. Try singing "seven" instead of "ti". Try singing "flat three" instead of "me".

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    I've heard "seven" shortened to "sev" but have never encountered an adaptation for chromatic alterations. (But ... for the linguistically inclined: use one language for raised notes, another language for lowered — with the added benefit of being able to count to seven [at least] in three [at least — e.g., double sharps] languages. Such immense practical value!)
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 6:41
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    @Aaron - 'sen' works better for longer notes, as 'n' is perhaps more sustainable as a note rather than a sound. Which to a degree puts 'five' 'six' in a bit of jeopardy! Thus solfege wins here.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 7:40
  • Something like -iss and -ess can probably be shoehorned in somehow. I created one like that before with unique vocals for each one but since I have already forgot it I think it was useless. (a,o,u,y,å,ä,ö,iss,ess?)
    – Emil
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 8:33
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    @Aaron There was (is still?) an infamous system at Indiana University that preceded the number with "sh-" for raised notes and "fl-" for lowered notes. Thus a raised four was "shour," a lowered six was "flix," etc. But this system brings up giggles every time it's mentioned, so I can't imagine it was very effective in class.
    – Richard
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 16:00
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    @Richard - probably kept the kids' attention better than 'boring ol' solfege'.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 16:08
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Solfege syllables are, in a sense, arbitrary. One can sing "do-ri-mi" or "1-2-3" or "a-b-c" or, really, anything else that helps one keep track of the musical information, be that note name (as in a "fixed" system) or note function (as in a "moveable" system). Some systems (specifically Curwen and Kodály [Wikipedia]) use hand signs. The Indian classical solfege system (Sargam) can also be adapted to Western scales.

Solfege why don't I just sing the numbers?

No reason. Go ahead and sing numbers, with the caveat that "do-re-mi" is more common, making it potentially easier to use in discussions with other musicians. On the other hand, anyone familiar with scale degrees will have no trouble with numbers.

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  • By reading your and others answers, I'm realizing that both Solfege and the numbers each have their place. If I'm practicing a diatonic pattern in different keys using the numbers helps me re-enforce the note I'm supposed to play. Perhaps with enough practice my mind would instantly translate "sol" to 5 and "fa" to 4. If I'm sight singing perhaps solfege is more appropriate.
    – PatS
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 16:43
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The solfege notename syllables are arbitrary gibberish. They have been chosen as notenames because they are singable, monosyllabic with a variation of leading consonants and different ending vowels.

Numbers don't have those qualities, and even the monosyllabic numbers tend to have end consonants and/or diphthongs that complicate articulation emulating instruments with a percussive note start and sustained pitched vowel.

You could design your own system with those qualities (singing exercises may cycle through da, me, ni, po, tu, la, be or something like that irrespective of pitch, for example) but why bother?

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    They actually are not. They're from a very old hymn.-1.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 17, 2022 at 16:09
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The name 'ut' stopped being used for a good reason - it was hardly a sustainable name to be sung for longer notes. (Although I guess it could have been sung 'uuuut'). Seems like one Giovanni Batista Doni in 17C felt 'ut' wasn't too singable. And that idea took off well.

Thus all the solfege names are now usable for those longer notes, which is an advantage over singing numbers.

Singing numbers will obviously work, but as a poor neighbour to the well-known way of representing notes - solfege.

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    I don't understand. Why can't "uuuuuuuuuut" be used for longer notes? Why is that inferior to "dooooooooooo"?
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 7:49
  • @Aaron - hadn't finished writing! But obviously the powers that be decided ut wasn't as suitable - otherwise we'd still be using it.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 7:51
  • I've never heard its disuse explained in the way you're claiming, though. Can you back that up?
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 8:04
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    Here's one that clarifies the idea further: it's the presence of an open vowel versus a closed one. trinityschoolnc.org/cf_news/view.cfm?newsid=420.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 8:34
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    @fraxinus - I was befuddled a few times when asked to provide 'si bemol' for the horns to tune to. 'C flat' as it sounded? What's that about..? Although I maybe should have twigged that would sound like 'say bemol', again not a lot of help. Two fingers held pointing down solved all that.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 11:34
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Numbers are fine. I use numbers when singing non-diatonic scales, because I don't know the solfege for them. One major advantage to solfege over numbers is the variety of monosyllabic vowel sounds.

Different vowels sound brighter or darker because they shape the second formant (i.e. your mouth). This can (and does) throw the ear; often we mistake brightness for sharpness and darkness for flatness. Even in experienced singers (though it may only affect the note to a few cents).

Solfege helps train us to sing notes on different vowel sounds so we don't make those mistakes.

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