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  • Huai-Jan Yeh

Yehnian Solfège / 葉氏唱名 / Solfeggio Yehniano


introduction video:

1. Introduction

The Yehnian Solfège is an intuitive, easily adoptable, and professionally capable quartertonal solfège system I built. It's originally made for semitones and later extended for quartertones, technically speaking it is a 24EDO (24 Equal Division of the Octave) solfège, and currently the only one, so I named it after myself. I'm neither a professional theorist nor a pedagogist, so I probably won't publish it as a paper, I merely want to share it and I hope it may help you who just need a simple and powerful solfège for yourselves.

2. The origin

Short story. I was already 27 years old when I started professional music training, so improving myself as fast as humanly possible was my only life goal at the time. I was taught to do solfège only in the traditional Italian method, by the way, I know in most English-speaking countries Ti is used instead of Si and some even cut the L from Sol, I respect that tradition. Several years later I felt that it does not fit me well, I felt constrained by it as if it were limiting my learning speed.

Therefore, I tried to build my own solfège system based on my own practical needs as a saxophonist, and I've already used it for a couple of years now. The funny part is that after I had the thought, I then found out there were already several existing systems. However, after close inspections I had concerns about these existing ones, perhaps that's why they're not widely used yet. So, I continued my work.

3. My concerns about existing solfège systems for instrumental usage

  1. Traditional Italian solfeggio parlato (solfège without pitch) Either no difference at all for the accidentals, or just too much like a tongue-twister to keep it in rhythm. Especially when doing it in Italian with all the flutter tonguing and multisyllabic "diesis" and "bemolle" (sharp and flat).

  2. Traditional Italian solfeggio cantato (solfège with pitch) 5 different pitches share the same syllable, so readers have to think about the pitches separately. This sometimes cause students, even students with higher technique level, to think about the wrong note while playing even though the fingering is correct. For example, some saxophone students always memorize A♭ as G♯, D♯ as E♭, even though composers wrote A♭ and D♯ for good reasons, thus misunderstandings of a piece are born. Obviously, the traditional method can be improved, and I guess that's why other systems exist.

  3. The 5 sharps 5 flats system [syllables] A movable do system mostly used for choir training in English speaking countries, but for instrumental usage it just lacks several half tones and all double accidentals.

  4. The Shearer fixed Do system [syllables] derived from the 5 sharps 5 flats system 1. Mi sharp is [mai] and Ti sharp is [tai], and there are no Mi and Ti double sharps, I know they are rarely used, but still; Re flat is [ra]. It breaks its own rule that "[i] on sharp, [ai] on double sharp, [e] on flat." 2. Exceptions create complication and confusion, like this passage Di Ri Mi Fi Si Li Ti Di you hear all the [i] vowel but there are actually two nature notes. 3. Because it cuts the L from Sol, it cannot be directly used in countries that use Si not Ti.

  5. Other systems Either too many consonants are used, or not being consistent on the rules, or the original Italian names are modified. See Wikipedia English - Solfège chromatic variants.

4. Objectives when I design my own solfège system

  • Keep the original Italian note names, pay respect to the music history.

  • Can be used as movable Do or fixed Do solfège since I play transposed instruments.

  • Syllables must be as simple as possible and somehow relatable to their pitches, and they should have the prefixes of the correspondent Italian notes.

  • While being heard, syllables must be easily identifiable.

  • Usable in all countries no matter Si or Ti is used for the 7th note of the diatonic scale.

5. The Yehnian Solfège – chromatic syllables

The syllables I choose are inspired by the phonetic elements of the Italian language and its dialects, the Taiwanese Zhuyin phonetic system for Mandarin Chinese, and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For all accidentals only their vowels are modified, as shown in the table:

  • Double sharp: IPA Vowel close front rounded vowel [y] / "ü" in German / 「ㄩ」 in Zhuyin.

  • Sharp: IPA Vowel close back rounded vowel [u] / "u" of "su (up)" in Italian / "u" of "tuna" in English / 「ㄨ」 in Zhuyin.

  • Natural: Original Italian names are kept.

  • Flat: IPA Vowel mid central vowel [ə] / exists in Italian dialects / "a" of "tuna" in English / 「ㄜ」 in Zhuyin. The IPA character is called "schwa".

  • Double flat: IPA Vowel r-colored mid central vowel [ɚ] / "er" of "brother" in English / 「ㄦ」 in Zhuyin. The IPA character is called "schwa with hook".

Vertical relationship of semitones

6. The benefits

So, here are several benefits according to my own experiences.

  1. Italian names are preserved so you don't need to change your habits, and their vowels are not used by any accidental syllables.

  2. It can easily be used in all Si and Ti countries. All syllables are composed by just one vowel and one consonant except the Sol line, however if you use Ti instead of Si, you could of course ditch all the L of the Sol line to make it easier to pronounce, since you do not need to worry about the duplication of the S prefix between Sol and Si.

  3. Because it's based on Italian note names, it can definitely be used as or completely replace the current movable Do solfège. As fixed Do solfège it's also much easier than then the CDEFGAB solfège.

  4. Selected vowels are related to tongue and lips position. In the same note, higher the accidental, more front and closed the pronunciation. The selected vowels can be easily pronounced by most people in the world, others just need several minutes of practice. And since solfège is an oral activity, you don't really have to worry about how to type the relatively rare characters. It's actually quite easy for beginners who have no interference from old memories. If you have learned only traditional method, or you want to switch from other systems to this one, you would need a short period of time to get used to the vowels and soon it will become intuitive enough that you won't even bother to pronounce "sharp" "double sharp" "flat" "double flat" "diesis" "doppio diesis" "bemolle" "doppio bemolle" anymore.

  5. What you see is what you get. The rules are clear and consistent, and there are no exceptions. For example, every time when you see a ♭♭, you always pronounce the syllable with vowel "ɚ" with the respective Italian prefix. Also, because different pitches are not represented by the same syllable anymore, if you're an instrument player who really hates to use your vocal folds, you can just abandon the solfeggio cantato, although I personally don't recommend so. Singing correctly can always help your musicality development.

  6. What you hear is what you get. In a conversation or teaching session if you hear an [u] vowel, it's definitely a sharp. No complications like those mentioned in the Shearer system.

  7. Because of its simplicity, the syllables are easily relatable to the fingerings of musical instruments. Other than improve your sight reading, this method even makes memorizing sheet music easier.

  8. Communication about intervals and chord structures cannot be easier, saving time and breath in the classroom.

7. Quartertonal extension

The chromatic syllables are enough for my personal usage, and I believe it can handle 99% situations. That being said, sometimes I have to deal with the quartertones, so here you go.

I'm running out of simple vowels, so I took the "k" voice from "un quarto (one fourth in Italian)" and the "t" from "tre quarti (three fourth in Italian)" then put them as suffix after sharps and flats.

We can easily identify if a quartertonal syllable is sharp or flat judging by its vowel. [u] means sharp and [ə] means flat, suffix "k" means one quartertone and "t" means three quartertones.

Vertical relationships of quartertones

8. Conclusion

Now, reading quartertonal sheet music is significantly easier, but I have no intension to further extend it to fit even smaller, or other EDO systems because I think they're more about experimenting new temperaments, digital playback, let alone many of them already got their own solfège. See Xenharmonic.

Finally, for those who learn music performing, remember you'll eventually have to relate the sight reading directly to your sense of pitch, executive techniques, muscle memory and interpretation, solfège is just one of many approaches to sheet music. You could become a great musician with traditional methods, and I just hope mine can bring you more efficiency, precision, and fun along t

he path. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. If you want to support me, please subscribe on YouTube or Patreon. See you next time!

2021.FEB.12 Reno Yeh

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