I'm fluent in both fixed- and movable-do solfège, but I'm wondering how the "tonic sol–fa" system

  • overlaps with fixed- and movable-do solfège, and
  • offers something new that fixed- and movable-do solfège cannot.

I'd especially love an answer with a musical example that shows the difference between one of those two solfège systems and the "tonic sol–fa" system.

  • 1
    If you are familiar with other solfège systems, you might as well go to straight to the source: archive.org/details/cu31924021797547. It's only about 35 pages long. Or look at the original standard textbook for teaching it (10 times as long): archive.org/details/standardcourseof00curwuoft
    – user19146
    Jun 1, 2017 at 19:19
  • Isn't tonic sol-fa the same as movable-do solfege? As far as I am aware, tonic sol-fa uses the root note as do, as movable do solfege does, whereas fixed do, as common in France and others will only recognise C as do, and no other.
    – Tim
    Jun 1, 2017 at 19:43
  • 1
    Oh dear, it is not just movable do. It is a way of combining movable do first letters with rhythm using a full-ish notation system written without a staff. Ugh
    – Ben I.
    Jun 2, 2017 at 2:25

1 Answer 1


Since there are no answers and because alephzero's comment helped clarify everything for me, I'll take the liberty of writing my own. This information comes from the manual alephzero provided here. (I didn't even think to look here, so thanks!)


The tonic sol–fa system is really more a system of notation than it is a solfège system. So while the system uses solfège syllables (and abbreviations of them), tonic sol–fa functions as a notation system complete with rhythm and meter.

Comparisons with Fixed- and Movable-Do Solfège

Tonic sol–fa is a movable do system; tonic is always "doh," the dominant scale degree is always "sol," and so on. The syllable for the leading tone is "te" (pronounced "tee"). (Most systems I see write the leading tone as "ti," the third as "mi," but tonic sol–fa has chosen the "-e" ending.) With that said, these diatonic pitches are only notated by their first initial: "doh" is "d," "sol" is "s," etc. And since it is a movable system, the key is always given at the start.

Raised pitches end in this "-e" vowel, so scale-degrees 6–♯6–7 are "l–le–t" ("lah–lee–tee"). Lowered pitches end in "-a", so 3–♭3–2 is "m–ma–r." Note that we notate the full syllable for chromatic pitches.

In contrast to solfège, tonic sol–fa specifies register by using ' or , to the right of the pitches to move them an octave higher or lower.


But the real difference is in how this system notates metered music. In tonic sol–fa, a weak beat is preceded by a :, a medium accent is preceded by |, and the downbeat is preceded by nothing (but note that barlines are occasionally inserted), so a measure of 4/4 time would be:

    Key E
    d :r |m :ma

If you need a little test, this notation translates to:

E F♯ G♯ G♮

More specifics about metered notation can be found in Chapter III of the manual linked at the top of this answer.

Ultimately, tonic sol–fa notation produces notation such as

enter image description here

The decision of whether this is a worthwhile substitute for notation, or if it is worth the time to teach, is of course up to the individual teacher.

  • The lowered pitches (flat notes) are said to rhyme with 'aw'. It's an interesting concept, which didn't take off too well, due in part to Dr. J Hullah, the new gov't inspector of music at teacher training colleges, who had just brought the fixed do concept across from France, and unsurprisingly, he championed that from 1872.
    – Tim
    Jun 2, 2017 at 15:07
  • Can you notate pauses or non quarter notes?
    – Francesco
    Apr 7, 2019 at 4:09
  • 1
    @Francesco Apparently so. The explanation is a bit too much for a comment, and I'm not currently in a good position to write it out as an edit to my question, so I'll refer you to pages 6–10 of the PDF linked at the beginning of my answer.
    – Richard
    Apr 7, 2019 at 4:17
  • 1
    China has something similar called jianpu - 1-7 for notes of the major key (minor starts on 6), dots above and below for octaves, and the standard sharp and flat signs for chromatic notes.
    – Max Xiong
    Mar 13 at 1:27

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