Why do we say Do-Re-Mi in music?

The classic movie, The Sound of Music made the names of the notes Do Re Mi in the musical scale famous the world over, but have you ever wondered why a note would be called “do”, “re” or “mi”? What are the origins of do re mi , otherwise known as the solfege scale?

To unravel the mystery of do-re-mi we need to go back to the 990s AD, Italy, where a monk called Guido d’Arezzo lived. Part of Guido’s monastic work involved directing the church choir in their hymns. But Guido’s work was tricky because the notes of the songs had no names. When someone sang off-key, he had no way of giving a name to the note they needed to hit to help guide them. This meant that teaching a piece of music to the choir sometimes was an arduous process.

So Guido, being an innovative fellow, began thinking about how he could give the various sounds a name. He thought and thought, and rifled through the hymn music for ideas when inspiration struck! He pulled out a Latin hymn by Paolo Diacono that was dedicated to John the Baptist and began setting it’s words to a tune that went up the scale one note at a time. Next, he wrote the lyrics with a line for each new note. It looked something like this:

“Ut queant laxis,
Resonāre fibris,
Mira gestorum,
Famuli tuorum,
Solve polluti,
Labii reatum,
Sancte Iohannes.”

From then on, whenever he taught the choir, every time he wanted to refer to a certain note, Guido made reference to this hymn, and instead of quoting the whole line from the song, he began calling the notes Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, So and La. Later a seventh note, Si, was added from the initials for Sancte Iohannes.

Many years later in Italy, Ut was changed to an easier-to-sing Do, and thus do-re-mi was born.

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