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SOL-FA NOTATION

The sol-fa notation can be used to explain the staff notation for singers to some extent. Sol-fa notation was derived from the staff notation in order for singing students to easily understand the techniques in the staff notation especially for choristers and not instrumentalists; because instrumentalists can understand the staff notation without any reference to the sol-fa notation. First, before we continue let us dive into a brief history of the inventor of Sol-fa notation called John Curwen.

John Curwen
Born Nov. 14, 1816, Heckmondwike, Yorkshire, Eng.
Died May 26, 1880, Manchester
British music educator and founder of the tonic sol-fa system of musical notation, which concentrates the student’s attention on the relating of sounds to notation in a systematic way.

John is the son of a Congregational minister, he was himself a minister from 1838 until 1864, when he began to devote himself to propagating his new method of musical nomenclature. Curwen adapted his system from that of Sarah Ann Glover (1786–1867), whose Manual of the Norwich Sol-fa System (1845) used the syllables of the system of notation of Guido of Arezzo (q.v.), and he also adapted from the system of Aimé Paris (1798–1866) terms for the notation of rhythm. Curwen’s method of teaching was founded on the attraction of notes to the tonic and, in modulation, to the principle of a shifting tonic (“the movable doh”).

In 1853 he founded the Tonic Sol-fa Association (later the English Schools Music Association), and from then on his method was widely adopted in schools and choral societies. In 1863, he established a publishing house for music (Curwen & Sons, Ltd.) and three years later became lecturer at Anderson’s College, Glasgow. In 1879, the Tonic Sol-fa College (later the Curwen Memorial College) was opened. His son, John Spencer Curwen (1847–1916), succeeded him as director of the publishing firm and founded in England the competition festival movement for amateur musicians. His system, or variants of it, has remained continuously in use in music schools of Europe and the United States. Some scholars think music as a whole was not complete until the invention of the tonic solfa.

In Curwen’s system, the notes of the diatonic major scale are named by syllables (doh, ray, mee, fah, soh, lah, tee, Accidentals: {dee, ree, fee, see[zi], lee–raw, maw, baw, law, taw}) to simplify singing by sight.

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