Do Re Mi is a phrase well-known in music circles. I suspect it is better known by some from when Maria sings it in “The Sound of Music.” In the film, she describes Do-Re-Mi as being like a musical alphabet. That is, they start at the beginning of a sequence.
Do Re Mi is the opening three syllables representing the first pitches or notes of a scale. That is any scale. ABC, of course, starts the English alphabet. They are representative of the sound made by each letter both in speaking and listening.
So what is the difference when we consider ABC vs Do Re Mi? Let’s find out by delving a little deeper…
Who Uses What?
That will depend to a certain extent on the country where you learn your music. Some countries will use the Do Re Mi system. Other countries will use ABC. OK, I hear you say, that is all well and good. But which is best? We will take a look and decide.
Doe a Deer, a Female Deer, And All That
The official musical name given to these notes is “solfege.” A new word for your vocabulary, perhaps. And maybe now you are wondering, “what does solfege mean?”
Solfege, or as it is sometimes known, “Solmization,” has its basis in the seven notes of the Diatonic scale. They are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. As we know, there are two types of the diatonic scale, major and minor.
The solfege notes come from the Diatonic major scale. Solfege is a French word from the Italian Solfeggio; as far as we know, it was first used around 1903. It is a system where the notes of a scale are given their own symbols.
Every time you sing a particular note, you use that symbol assigned to it. As there are seven notes in the scale, there are seven syllables: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti. This is shown below using a scale of C major. The Solfege system is still used today in recognized music schools and colleges.
The ABC System
This is referred to as musical notation. In Western music, there are twelve pitches, as shown here:
A, A# or Bb, B, C, C# or Db, D# or Eb, E, F, F# or Gb, G, G# or Ab, and back to A.
Each of the 12 pitches is given a letter. This is based on the frequency of the pitch. You will find the ABC system used more in teaching programs related to instruments and performing.
Let’s Complicate It a Little
If there is one thing you learn very quickly in your music studies, it is this. Music Theory likes to make rules and then complicate them with alternatives. This is the rule, but there are exceptions.
Not every country that uses the Do-Re-Mi system teaches it the same way. Some have what is known as a “Moveable Do.” Others use the “Fixed Do” system. So, what is the difference?
The “Moveable Do”
Using this system involves assigning the ‘Do’ depending on what key you are in. For example, if you are in the key of C, then the ‘Do’ will be the pitch or note of ‘C.’ If you are in G, then the ‘Do’ will be the note of G, and so on.
Just to reiterate, the ‘Do’ will commence on the root note of the scale you are in. The other solfege syllables will follow in the standard order.
The “Fixed Do”
This is a system where the ‘Do’ does not change as the name implies. The pitch of the ‘Do’ is always the note or pitch of C, whichever key you are in. To demonstrate:
- C = Do
- D = Ray
- E = Mi
- F = Fah
- G =Soh
- A = La
- B = Ti
- C = Do
No one way of doing things is necessarily better than the other. It is often more a case of what you have been taught from a very young age. However, one system does play a more important role in the early stages.
Also known as “Kinesthetic Learning,” it aims to get you to use more of your senses. It does this by giving each syllable a corresponding hand sign.
You will come across choirmasters and group vocal teachers who are experts at making these signs. When used efficiently, they help students find the correct notes and pitches quickly.
Whether you use this system or not, it is worth learning how it works. It will give you a wider comprehension of music as a whole. Also, it will help you appreciate what others are doing who may have been taught using this system. Anything that can improve your musicianship is always worth taking on board.
ABC vs Do Re Mi
So let battle commence. Having looked briefly at both systems, and learned a little more about both ways of doing things, let’s compare them.
Do-Re-Mi (the Solfege system)
The real benefit of using the Do Re Mi Solfege system is how it develops your listening skills. Some people have perfect pitch, but the vast majority don’t. There are a lot of people who cannot pick up a piece of music and just sing it. The Do Re Mi Solfege system will improve those skills and help to improve your “sight-singing” notation.
Better With the Vocal Aspects
I have to say that is where it pays real dividends. Helping you know how the pitches, notes, relate to one another is important.
Is There A Downside?
When it comes to the technical aspects of playing your instrument, the ABC system probably has a bit more to offer.
The ABC Notation System
This is a system that pays its real dividends working with instruments. It will help you to understand where notes are, which will unlock the door to playing more complicated pieces. Therefore, it becomes an important tool for those playing instruments.
Would It Benefit Singers Like the Do Re Mi Solfege system?
The Do Re Mi system is more important to the singer, but this system has its benefits and shouldn’t be ignored. It will help them use the correct keys and the ranges within the pieces they sing.
Is There A Downside?
If all you learn is the ABC system, then it can be limiting. Understanding and hearing the relationships between notes, or true pitch, is very important, and the ABC system doesn’t really achieve that.
It is also negative for the younger musician. They haven’t acquired the technical skills on their instruments to reap the benefits. And they won’t have the “ear-training,” understanding, and pitch appreciation that the Do Re Mi system will give them.
So, Who Wins?
When talking about education, you should not consider a winner and a loser. I think there needs to be a consideration of where the student is in their development.
It is more an appreciation of where the student is in terms of their studies. The Do Re Mi system is not necessarily “better” than the ABC system and vice versa. But, it might be more applicable at certain stages of their development.
The Younger Student
The Do Re Mi Solfege system is the system that should be applied at this age. This might be the elementary students up to about age 11. And, I might add, this system is to be taught almost exclusively. It is vital to their development that they develop what music teachers refer to as “aural awareness.”
Some countries, like the US, rarely use the Do Re Mi system and focus on the ABC system. If that is how the music education system is structured, then the younger students are missing out on “aural awareness.”
As The Student gets Older
As instruments begin to play a more important role as the student gets older, then a slight shift of emphasis is required. ABC notation can be introduced slowly, beginning when the young player starts to progress on their instrument. The emphasis should still be on the Do Re Mi system with ABC used to supplement the knowledge.
Another Change of Emphasis
If the student has been playing for several years, then they will be familiar with their instrument. And they should have reached a reasonable standard. It is at this stage that there may be a change of emphasis.
For solo musicians requiring plenty of technical skills, then the ABC system will take over. Solfege may take a back seat at this stage, but it is not a good idea to drop it altogether.
For those students still studying choral music, the emphasis will still be on the Do Re Mi system, but once again, with ABC to supplement the knowledge. Here are some helpful guides:
- Playing the Piano, Do Re Mi for Beginners
- Do Re Mi: A B C, 1 2 3, Red Blue Green
- Music Theory Essentials
Want to Learn More About Music?
We can help. Take a look at our detailed articles on Diatonic Scales, A Complete Guide To Major Scales, Types Of Bebop Scales, A Guide To The Chromatic Scale, The Scale Degree Names Explained, What Is Negative Harmony, and What Is a Major Chord for more useful musical information.
Also, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Cheap Keyboard Piano, the Best Digital Grand Piano, the Best 88-Key Keyboards, the Best Tenor Saxophones, the Best Alto Saxophones, and the Best Flute you can buy in 2023.
ABC vs Do Re Mi – Final Thoughts
These, of course, are all just opinions. Others will view it differently. Both the Do-Re-Mi and the ABC system have their place, and both are important.
But the basis of it all is in the Do-Re-Mi system. Without the basic grounding and appreciation of how pitches relate to each other, your knowledge will not be complete.
Until next time, let your music play.