I've searched in SE for solfege and names of altered notes or tones. This point seems to be cleared. But I couldn't find any about hand-signs for solfege. What are the solfege hand-signs?

In our school system this was a practical method to introduce children in singing and music theory. It seems to me there is a lack of knowledge about this successful method that sadly also get unused in Switzerland.

I wonder what experience teachers all around the world have made with this method. (of course I know the answer as I have used it - otherwise I couldn't pretend that it fits.) One problem is that older kids think this is "childish", or even parents wanted to discuss, why we use this old DO RE MI, as we have today the modern ABC ...

  • [sorry for being a bit off-topic] but for those of us who had never encountered even the term 'solfege' until recently, it now takes me all the way back to Close Encounters of the Third Kind - which used it 35 years before I even knew it existed - ref scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/20564/…
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 18:34
  • 1
    The question of "what are the hand signs for solfege" is on-topic and a good one here. It might help to repeat it and amplify it a bit in the body of the question. It also seems like you know the hand signs, so you might go ahead and post an answer to your own question with that information. Some of the commentary on whether other countries use or know about the hand signs isn't totally appropriate, but as it's part of a good question, it's no big deal. The tag proposal should be removed from this question and asked separately on the meta. Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 18:49
  • 1
    Tetsujin was saying that his comment was off-topic, not that this question is off-topic. This question is fine, except as I mentioned the tag suggestion. Why Kodaly's method has not been widely adopted is something I've wondered. It might be that some have found it to not be effective. I've never used it nor seen it used, I've only read about it. Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 18:57
  • 1
    Yes, you should edit this question to remove the last paragraph about proposing the tag, and then separately go to the meta to propose the tag with a separate question there. Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 18:59
  • @ Todd:" ...and then separately go to the meta to propose the tag with a separate question there." Thank you, Todd. That's what I did. But the answer was that there is no interest for such a tag, as hardly some will ask about hand-signs when even only a few questions have been about solfège. That's why I became a little polemical there, because: How can someone ask about something he has never heard and never learnt to know? Even if it would be the most benefit for him and 50% of all the questions people wouldn't have if they had been taught on starting school by this useful hand-signs. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


The Wikipedia page for solfege has an image of the hand signals for each of the fixed-do diatonic notes:

Solfege hand signs

Obviously the syllable spellings are a little different from what we would use today. There is probably a more up-to-date resource for this out there.

  • 1
    'Firm', 'hopeful', 'weeping' - frightening really. It's on the way to Dm is the saddest key... Not your fault - don't shoot the messenger!
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 19:39
  • I guess the spelling is chosen, that pronouncing in English reaches an approximation of the desired Italian equivalent. So me producing mi and ray producing re seems to support that assumption.
    – guidot
    Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 10:40
  • 1
    @guidot The solfege syllables come from a Latin poem, with the original poem starting with “ut” and that being wisely replaced with “do” to make it easier to sing. If I recall correctly, the original Latin syllables in their original spellings are ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si. And that’s why those spellings are preferred today. Not sure where this image got its spellings. Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 14:04

What are the hand-signs in solfège?

The hand-signs are used as a help to show the pitch of the tones of a tune without sheet music (these signs are very useful for learning a melody or just for training intervals and scales). They are associated to the relative note-names (do re mi). Because of this strong connection the benefit of the hand-sign for music education of children and adults (self-training) can't be understood without the knowing the benefit of the doremi.

This method is also known as the tonica-do method of Zoltan Kodaly, a musician colleague of Bela Bartok.

The signs are shown in the answer of Todd and here, in this article about the input of Kodály’s child developmental approach to music pegagogy.<



Movable-do solfège

"The Kodály method uses a system of movable-do solfège syllables for sight-singing: scale degrees are sung using corresponding syllable names (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, and ti). The syllables show function within the key and the relationships between pitches, not absolute pitch. Kodály was first exposed to this technique while visiting England, where a movable-do system created by Sarah Glover and augmented by John Curwen was being used nationwide as a part of choral training. Kodály found movable-do solfège to be helpful in developing a sense of tonal function, thus improving students’ sight-singing abilities. Kodály felt that movable-do solfège should precede acquaintance with the staff, and developed a type of shorthand using solfège initials with simplified rhythmic notation."

1935, along with his colleague Jenő Ádám, Zoltan Kodaly embarked on a long-term project to reform music teaching in Hungary, creating a new curriculum and new teaching methods.

Kodály’s efforts finally bore fruit in 1945 when the new Hungarian government began to implement his ideas in the public schools.

Hand signs

Depiction of Curwen's Solfege hand signs. This version includes the tonal tendencies and interesting titles for each tone. Hand signs, also borrowed from the teachings of Curwen, are performed during singing exercises to provide a visual aid. This technique assigns to each scale degree a hand sign that shows its particular tonal function. For example, do, mi, and so are stable in appearance, whereas fa and ti point in the direction of mi and do, respectively. Likewise, the hand sign for re suggests motion to do, and that of la to so. Kodály added to Curwen’s hand signs upward/downward movement, allowing children to actually see the height or depth of the pitch. The signs are made in front of the body, with do falling about at waist level and la at eye level. Their distance in space corresponds with the size of the interval they represent. In 2016, computer scientists at Northwestern University invented an instrument which is controlled by the hand signs, facilitating their learning.

  • 1
    @Albrecht - if you have an edit for your question, please just edit the question - don't comment in an answer post. Also, currently this does not answer the question. You'll need to include a summary of content from those links to make it qualify as an answer.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 13:46
  • 1
    @Doctor Mayhem: This is here above is meant as an answer to my question: what are the hand-signs of the tonica-do system. I can see now that I misunderstood your intervention. Now it's clear to me: "You'll need to include a summary of content from those links to make it qualify as an answer." I'll try to make it better and adjust it! Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 15:25
  • Excellent - thanks Albrecht - sorry if I wasn't clear.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 16:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.