How should one describe that some solfege notes rhyme or perhaps share the same role?

The two examples are do and so (I and V) and mi and ti (III and VII).

C D E F G A B (I) (II) (III) (IV) (V) (VI) (VII) do re mi fa so la ti

The V is harmonically closest to the I, so it almost sounds like a resolving scale if one plays C,D,E,F,G.

Is the role of III and VII similar in that they are harmonically the 'middle' notes between I and V and V and the following I?

In other words the III and VII are harmonically the next closest notes to the I (or the V).

Is this why they have rhyming names? Is it to demonstrate the (diatonic) hierarchy of harmony?

Not directly. Solfege syllables can be modified (in moveable Do) to show chromaticism. For instances, if you raise "fa" by a half-step, it becomes "fi," or if you lower "mi" it becomes "me" (sounds like "may"). Syllables with a [ay] ending are flattened to [ah], so "re" becomes "ra."

The system works because it shows that you can't raise "mi" or "ti" because those notes are already "fa" and "do" respectively.

So there are definitely some parallels between a scale degree's function and it's solfege syllable, but I wouldn't say that the function determines why certain syllables are used.

The names of the solfege notes are derived from the hymn "Ut Queant Laxis", and as such, have no connection with their function whatsoever. The first name, "ut", has now been replaced by "do", and "ti" didn't exist in the original hexachord (six tone) solfege system.

  • Why did I get a downvote? It would be helpful to know, thanks. – Scott Wallace Nov 8 at 20:19
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    Because stack exchange has a significant anal population which demands clarify to the Nth degree for questions and statements they would completely understand in person. I upvote every reply ... people take valuable time on my behalf, why not be grateful. – Randy Zeitman Nov 8 at 23:45

In terms of function FA and TI are harmonically related rather than MI and TI.

Harmonically FA and TI are respectively the chord tones 7th and 3rd of the V7 dominant seventh chord.

And functionally, as tendency tones, FA and TI resolve by half-step (in major keys) FA going down to MI and TI going up to DO giving us the progression V7 to I.

There is an interesting review of the FA-MI & TI-DO relationships in Music in the Galant Style, by Gjerdingen. While it isn't about the actual solfege syllable names (which is sort of the heart of your question) it does give a nice historic review of solfege concepts and the tonal role of the scale tones.

It is kind of interesting that DO and SOL and FA and LA verbally rhyme and are paired together in the I and IV chords, but that is just a coincidence.

  • While it seems hard to believe it's a coincidence I have no evidence otherwise and Scott Wallace's reference offers an explanation for the names. And I see I'm incorrect that III and VII are the next harmonically removed from I and V ... the next removed pair is II and VI... 1-5-2-6-3-7-4 being the note positions of the circle of harmony. – Randy Zeitman Nov 8 at 18:37
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    @RandyZeitman, make sure you read Scott Wallace's answer and the Gjerdingen chapter. The original DO was UT... that doesn't rhyme with SOL. Also, there is the "fixed do" system, and other systems from the past, that didn't use the same syllables of today's familiar fixed DO. The point is don't attribute too much to the syllables themselves as they have changed a lot over time. – Michael Curtis Nov 8 at 18:54
  • I agree that "fa" and "ti" are more closely related than "mi" and "ti." There is also a close relationship between "fi" and "ti" - in that "fi" often acts as a leading tone to "sol," but again, I think that's mostly a coincidence. – Peter Nov 8 at 19:46
  • "The point is don't attribute too much to the syllables themselves as they have changed a lot over time." (Yes, perhaps because they didn't demonstrate harmony.) – Randy Zeitman Nov 8 at 23:47

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