Tonic Solfa is a system of using syllables to represent the different pitches of scale tones.
ANY major scale can be represented as: DO – RE – MI – FA – SOL – LA – TI – DO.
In some countries the exact pitch of DO is fixed, however, in other countries the note DO can be any pitch, but is always the first note of a major scale. This is known as “movable DO” and is of far greater use as it can be applied to any key. This is particularly relevant when teaching young children as they have a limited vocal range and the syllable can be sung in a pitch appropriate for the young child.
The use of syllables has its roots in the 11th century when the monk, Guido d’Arezzo, used the initial tones of a “Hymn to St. John” as a device to train singers. The syllables were designed using different joints of the fingers. DO is considered to be the keynote or tonal center in all Major Keys. LA is considered to be the keynote or tonal center in all minor keys. Tonic solfa is without equal as a way to train the musical ear, since it focuses the attention initially not on isolated pitches but on pitch relationships and pitch functions within a tonal system.
The Kodaly approach emphasizes the important of learning how to sing on pitch. In the 18th century, John Spencer Curwen drew upon an earlier music teaching system known as Norwich Sol-fa, which has been devised by Sarah Glover, and developed hand signs to accompany the solfege syllables.
Kodaly integrated these hand signs into his teaching methods. Hand signs are a way of giving a physical placement for a vocal pitch. The low DO begins at the midsection. Each pitch is then above the previous one. As a result the hand signs are ascending when the pitch moves up. The upper DO is at eye level. The hand “signing” also helps in tonal memory. Students learn quickly and are more secure.