Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Numeric Solfege - Another Way of Naming the Notes in a Scale

What is easier to grasp musically?  The notion of "three, five, one" or "mi, sol, re"?

Numbers seem more innate than the do re mi solfege syllables, especially when trying to recite the do ti, la backwards or remember the one-syllable solfege terms for the five accidental notes that - when added to the major scale - make up the chromatic scale.  Some type of numeric solfege could make the names of the 12 potential notes in a scale more easily understood.

The nice thing about solfege is that it consists one-syllable sounds that roll off the tongue for singing and ear training.  Numbers may not be quite as singable, but all numbers between 1 and 8 are also one syllable except for seven, but you can drop the second syllable and make that number “sev” to keep with the one syllable consistency.  But, what names do you use for the five accidental notes  Obviously, flattened-third and flat-five won't do.
Try this.  All accidentals in the major scale can be thought of as flattened notes.  The word “diminished” is kind of another word for “flat”.  So, to keep the one syllable numeric theme, instead of saying flattened-third (b3) or flat-five (b5), you can simply say “dee” for flat-third (diminished three) and “dive” for flat-five (diminished five).  There is no “D” sound in any of the numbers between one and sev, so by adding a “D” sound to the name of the flattened note it makes it clear that it is a flattened version of the number it rhymes with.

By that logic, the whole chromatic numeric scale looks like this:
one, doo, two, dee, three, four, dive, five, dix, six, dev, sev, eight*

*Or one again instead of eight, if you prefer.  
The "one" would always be the note that you've identified as the root/tonal center.

If you were to start with C as your one, it would look like this:
One
C
Doo
C#
Two
D
Dee
Eb
Three
E
Four
F
Dive
F#
Five
G
Dix
G#
Six
A
Dev
A#
Sev
B
Eight
C

This numeric system is built around the major scale, but because it provides a recognizable name for any possible note in relation to the “one”, you can use it for any scale.  For example, the minor pentatonic scale is 1, b3, 4, 5, b7, 1.  

If you use solfege, you might think of the minor pentatonic scale as la, do, re, mi, sol, la (and , actually, there are benefits to this way of thinking).  But, based on the system described above, the minor pentatonic scale would be considered one, dee, four, five, dev.  Using one-syllable numbers does not seem as abstract as other alternatives.  

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