Monday, January 7, 7991

Guido d'Arezzo (c. 991-1034)

[Guido d'Arrezzo and student]

Guido d'Arezzo - Micrologus (c. 1026)

Epistola de Ignoto Cantu

Ut Queant Laxis (Hymn to St. John) (c. 1030)

Guido of Arezzo or Guido Aretinus or Guido da Arezzo or Guido Monaco or Guido D'Arezzo (991/992–after 1033) was a music theorist of the Medieval era. He is regarded as the inventor of modern musical notation (staff notation) that replaced neumatic notation; his text, the Micrologus, was the second-most-widely distributed treatise on music in the middle ages (after the writings of Boethius).

Guido was a monk of the Benedictine order from the Italian city-state of Arezzo. Recent research has dated his Micrologus to 1025 or 1026; since Guido stated in a letter that he was thirty-four when he wrote it, his birthdate is presumed to be around 991 or 992.

His early career was spent at the monastery of Pomposa,

on the Adriatic coast near

Ferrara. While there, he noted the difficulty that singers had in remembering Gregorian chants. He came up with a method for teaching the singers to learn chants in a short time, and quickly became famous throughout north Italy. However, he attracted the hostility of the other monks at the abbey, prompting him to move to Arezzo, a town which had no abbey, but which did have a large group of singers needing training.

While at Arezzo, he developed new technologies for teaching, such as staff notation and solfeggio (the progenitor of the "do-re-mi" scale, whose syllables are taken from the initial syllables of each of the first six musical phrases of the first stanza of the hymn, Ut queant laxis). This may have been based on his earlier work at Pomposa, but the antiphoner that he wrote there is lost.

Guido is also credited (inaccurately) with the invention of the Guidonian hand, a widely used mnemonic system where note names are mapped to parts of the human hand.

The Micrologus, written at the cathedral at Arezzo, contains Guido's teaching method as it had developed by that time. Soon it had attracted the attention of Pope John XIX, who invited Guido to Rome. Most likely he went there in 1028, but he soon returned to Arezzo, due to his poor health. Nothing is known of him after this time, except that his lost antiphoner was probably completed in 1030.

Guido of Arezzo is also the namesake of GUIDO Music Notation, a format for computerized representation of musical scores.


In Medieval music, the Guidonian hand was a mnemonic device used to assist singers in learning to sight sing. Some form of the device may have been used by Guido of Arezzo, a medieval music theorist who wrote a number of treatises, including one instructing singers in sightreading. The hand occurs in some manuscripts before Guido's time as a tool to find the semitone, it does have the depicted form until the 12th century. Sigebertus Gemblacensis (c1105–10) did describe Guido using the joints of the hand to aid in teaching his hexachord. The Guidonian hand is closely linked with Guido's new ideas about how to learn music, including the use of hexachords, and the first known use of solfege.

The idea of the Guidonian hand is that each portion of the hand represents a specific note within the hexachord system, which spans nearly three octaves from "Γ ut" (that is, "Gamma ut") (the contraction of which is "gamut", which can refer to the entire span) to "E la" (in other words, from the G at the bottom of the modern bass clef to the E at the top of the treble clef). In teaching, an instructor would indicate a series of notes by pointing to them on their hand, and the students would sing them. This is similar to the system of hand signals sometimes used in conjunction with solfege.

There have been a number of variations in the position of the notes on the hand, and no one variation is definitive but, as in the example above, the notes of the gamut were mentally superimposed onto the joints and tips of the fingers of the left hand. Thus "gamma ut" (two Gs below middle C) was the tip of the thumb, A ("A re") was the inside of the thumb knuckle, B ("B mi") was the joint at the base of the thumb, C ("C fa ut") was the joint at the base of the index finger, and so on, spiraling around the hand counterclockwise past middle C ("C sol fa ut") until the D a ninth above middle C ("D la sol") (the middle joint of the middle finger) and the E above that ("E la") (the back of that joint, the only note on the back of the hand) were reached.
This device allowed people to visualize where the half steps of the gamut were, and to visualize the interlocking positions of the hexachords (the names of which — ut re mi fa sol la — were taken from the hymn Ut queant laxis). The Guidonian hand was reproduced in numerous medieval treatises.


In music, solfège (palso called solfeggio, sol-fa, or solfa) is a pedagogical solmizatin (sung-syllable) technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable, called a solfège syllable (or "sol-fa syllable"). The seven syllables normally used for this practice in English-speaking countries are: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti (with a chromatic scale of ascending di, ri, fi, si, li and descending te, le, se, me, ra).


The forms of solmization used throughout the world:

In the West, solfège.

In India, the origin of solmization was to be found in Vedic texts like the Upanishads, which discuss a musical system of seven notes, realized ultimately in what is known as sargam. In Indian classical music, the notes in order are: sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, and ni.

Byzantine music also uses syllables derived from a hymn to name notes: starting with A, the notes are pa, vu', ga, di, ke, zo, ni.

In Japan, Iroha, an ancient poem, is sometimes used as solfège (i, chi, yo, ra, ya, a, we).

In Scotland, Canntaireachd was used as a means of communicating bagpipe music vocally.

Other systems invented for teaching sight-singing are:

Tonic sol-fa

Kodály method with Curwen hand signs

Shape note


Traditionally, solfège is taught in a series of exercises of gradually increasing difficulty, each of which is also known as a "solfège". By extension, the word "solfège" may be used of an instrumental étude.

French "solfège" and Italian "solfeggio" ultimately derive from the names of two of the syllables used: so[l] and fa. The English equivalent of this expression, "sol-fa", is also used, especially as a verb("to sol-fa" a passage is to sing it in solfège).

The word "solmization" derives from the Medieval Latin "solmisatiō", ultimately from the names of the syllables sol and mi. "Solmization" is often used synonymously with "solfège", but is technically a more generic term[1]; i.e., solfège is one type of solmization (albeit a nearly universal one in Europe and the Americas).

The use of a seven-note diatonic musical scale is ancient, though originally it was played in descending order.

The scale created by Guido of Arezzo went as follows: ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si. The notes were taken from the first verse of a Latin hymn below (where the sounds fell on the scale), and later "ut" and "sol" were changed to flow with the other notes, while "si" was changed to "ti" to avoid confusion with "so[l]."

Ut queant laxis resonāre fibris
Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes.

The text of the hymn (Hymn of St. John) was written by Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon -- c. 720 – 13 April probably 799), also known as Warnefred and Cassinensis, i.e. "of Monte Cassino," a Benedictine monk and historian of the Lombards) in the 8th century. It translates as:

So that these your servants can, with all their voice, to sing your wonderful feats, clean the blemish of our spotted lips. O Saint John!

French scholars Laborde and Villoteau suggest that Guido of Arezzo was himself influenced by Muslim musical notation.[

In Romance countries, these seven syllables have come to be used to name the notes of the scale, instead of the letters C, D, E, F, G, A and B. (For example, they would say, "Beethoven's ninth symphony is in Re minor".) In Germanic countries, the letters are used for this purpose, and the solfège syllables are encountered only for their use in sight-singing and ear training. (They would say, "Beethoven's ninth symphony is in D minor".)

In Anglo-Saxon countries, "sol" is often changed to "so", and "si" was changed to "ti" by Sarah Glover in the nineteenth century so that every syllable might begin with a different letter. "So" and "ti" are used in tonic sol-fa and in the song Richard Rodgers song "Do-Re-Mi."

There are two main types of solfège:

Fixed do, in which each syllable corresponds to a note-name. This is analogous to the Romance system naming pitches after the solfège syllables, and is used in Romance and Slavic countries, among others.

Movable do, or solfa, in which each syllable corresponds to a scale degree. This is analogous to the Guidonian practice of giving each degree of the hexachord a solfège name, and is mostly used in Germanic countries.

Fixed do solfège is employed in Iran, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Latin American countries, among others. In this system, each solfège syllable corresponds exactly to the name of a note, so that, e.g., any written "C" is sung as "Do," etc. Since these syllables are, in these countries, the names of the notes for which they are used, this system would be analogous to an English-speaker singing a tune on "A, B, C" etc.

Movable do is frequently employed in Australia, Ireland, the UK, the USA and English-speaking Canada (although many American conservatories use French-style fixed do). Originally it was used throughout continental Europe as well, but in the mid-nineteenth century was phased out by fixed do.

In this system, each solfège syllable corresponds not to a pitch, but to a degree of the scale: The first scale degree of a (major) scale is always sung as do, the second scale degree as re, etc. (For minor keys, see below.) In movable do, a given tune is therefore always sol-faed on the same syllables, no matter what key it is in.

The names used for movable do differ slightly from those used for fixed do, because chromatically altered syllables are usually included, and the English names of the syllables are usually used:

If, at a certain point, the key of a piece modulates, then it is necessary to change the solfège names at that point as well.

One particularly important variant of movable do, but differing in some respects from the system here described, was invented in the nineteenth century by John Curwen, and is known as tonic sol-fa.


Do-Re-Mi is a song featured in the musical The Sound of Music. Within the story, Maria uses the song to teach the notes of the major musical scale to the Von Trapp children, by identifying six of the solfège syllables, Do Re Mi Fa So and Ti with the English words "doe", "ray", "me", "far", "sew" and "tea"; La is called "a note to follow So." Each syllable of the diatonic scale appears as solfège in its lyrics, sung on the pitch it names.

Meredith Willson's The Music Man used solfège in its music, particularly in the piano lesson scene and Shipoopi.

The Curwen hand signals are used in the climactic scene of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind when François Truffaut's character communicates with the alien being.

The American jazz clarinettist Irving Fazola (1912-1949) took his last name from "fa", "so," and "la". Born Irving Prestopnik, he was given the nickname "Fazola" as a child because of his musical abilities.

The sung libretto to Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach is entirely in numbers and fixed do solfege syllables.

[8000 Navajo / 7991 Guido / 7981 India Trumpets]