Chromatic solfège syllables and sequentials

Chromatically raised pitches

In a major key, mi and ti form a semitone with the pitches above them in the scale. As a result, they are not usually chromatically raised. The other scale degrees—d, re, fa, sol, and la—can all be raised by semitone without reproducing another tone in the scale. In each case, the vowel of the solfège syllable is changed to “i” to reflect the higher pitch. Do becomes di, re becomes ri, and so on.

Following is an ascending chromatic scale, using these raised syllables for chromatically altered tones. Diatonic scale steps are in bold.

do di re ri mi fa fi sol si la li ti do

In a minor key, start with the natural-minor syllables for diatonic pitches. Use the major-key syllables for raised scale degrees that belong to the major scale. For anything left, use the raised pitches for major. Thus, an ascending chromatic scale built within a minor-key context would look and sound like the following:

do di re me mi fa fi sol le la te ti do

(Note the use of me not ri, le not si, and te not li in a minor-key context.)

Chromatically lowered pitches

All scale steps besides do and fa can be lowered chromatically, and these lowered tones replace the vowel of their solfège syllable with “e” or “a.” (Lower pitches take more open mouth formations—ah, eh—while higher pitches take smaller, more closed mouth formations—i.)

Following is a descending chromatic scale, using the lowered syllables for chromatically altered tones. Note that for scale-degrees 3, 6, and 7, these are simply the natural-minor-scale syllables.

do ti te la le sol se fa mi me re ra do

(Note that, while lowered-scale-degree 5 is technically se, functionally that pitch is usually a secondary leading-tone of V. Thus, we almost always sing fi in melodies, even when descending.)

Because ti and la belong to minor, and because fa is rarely ever chromatically lowered in a tonal context, the descending chromatic syllables in minor are the same as in major.

Exercises to build fluency

Like the melodic sequentials for diatonic solfège syllables, some basic exercises can help build fluidity with chromatic syllables.

1) Complete lower neighbors

Sing a chromatic complete-lower-neighbor figure on each step of an ascending and then descending scale.

ascending major:
do ti do | re di re | mi ri mi | . . . | ti li ti | do

descending major:
do ti do | ti li ti | la si la | . . . | re di re | do

ascending (natural) minor:
do ti do | re di re | me re me | . . . | te la te | do

descending (natural) minor:
do ti do | te la te | le so le | . . . | re di re | do

2) Complete upper neighbors

Sing a chromatic complete-upper-neighbor figure on each step of an ascending and then descending scale.

ascending major:
do ra do | re me re | mi fa mi | . . . | ti do ti | do

descending major:
do ra do | ti do ti | la te la | . . . | re me re | do

ascending (natural) minor:
do ra do | re me re | me mi me | . . . | te ti te | do

descending (natural) minor:
do ra do | te ti te | le la le | . . . | re me re | do

3) Incomplete lower neighbors

For each scale degree, sing tonic then the lower neighbor to the scale degree followed by its resolution up by semitone. Practice both with the low tonic at the beginning of each bar and the high tonic at the beginning of each bar. (For an increased challenge, and even greater fluency, try these with scale degrees other than do at the beginning of each bar.)

ascending major:
do ti do | do di re | do ri mi | do mi fa | do fi sol | do si la | do li ti | do ti do |

descending major:
do ti do | do li ti | do si la | do fi sol | do mi fa | do ri mi | do di re | do ti do |

ascending minor:
do ti do | do di re | do re me | do mi fa | do fi sol | do sol le | do la te | do ti do |

descending minor:
do ti do | do la te | do sol le | do fi sol | do mi fa | do re me | do di re | do ti do |

4) Incomplete upper neighbors

For each scale degree, sing tonic then the upper neighbor to the scale degree followed by its resolution down by semitone. Practice both with the low tonic at the beginning of each bar and the high tonic at the beginning of each bar. (For an increased challenge, and even greater fluency, try these with scale degrees other than do at the beginning of each bar.)

ascending major:
do ra do | do me re | do fa mi | do fi fa | do le sol | do te la | do do ti | do ra do |

descending major:
do ra do | do do ti | do te la | do le sol | do fi fa | do fa mi | do me re | do ra do |

ascending major:
do ra do | do me re | do mi me | do fi fa | do le sol | do la le | do ti te | do ra do |

descending major:
do ra do | do ti te | do la le | do le sol | do fi fa | do mi me | do me re | do ra do |