Tonic Sol-Fa Tutorial

• Jul 5, 2012 - 17:06

I have attached two tutorials for reading tonic sol-fa notation.

This is in response to Wena Parry's queries here

The third file is a pdf with two sample melodies for you to test your skills on. See if you can identify them by sight without notating them.

Please help Wena with his project.

Here is the hymn I transcribed for him

and the scan of his source material

Post a reply if you find this useful and feel free to mention corrections and omissions.



You might indicate how you should encode the superscript and subscript numbers in ascii -- if you're going to want an ascii parser, it's important. Thanks.

In reply to by cuthbert

Do you envisage an input file that is then parsed and outputs XML? Wena was hoping it could be produced by OCR but I think there would be too many errors to proof first. The files Wena has are not very long as they are basically strophic hymns. The texts are not important and can be added later.

If you require a plain text file I suggest that if it's too complicated to work with a choral setting, each voice could be entered separately and either combined in your output or pasted together in MuseScore.

A header could include key and time signature as well as whether there is an upbeat bar, short bar at the end, and the total number of bars.

Could superscript be replaced by + and ++ after the note, and subscript by - and --?

In my tutorial I replaced the inverted comma with a semi-colon. A forward slash or apostrophe could represent the thin mid-bar line. I haven't tried retyping a line of Sol-fa but I don't think it would take long. I'm sure it would be quicker than actually transcribing into notation as you go along.

Shall I try sending you a sample?


In reply to by Myer

In my tutorial I replaced the inverted comma with a semi-colon. A forward slash or exclamation mark could represent the thin mid-bar line. I haven't tried retyping a line of Sol-fa but I don't think it would take long. I'm sure it would be quicker than actually transcribing into notation as you go along.

Shall I try sending you a sample? Do you require any other information about Sol-fa? I noticed in Wena's second file

that the second and third notes in the soprano part are half the value of the single note in the other parts. I would transcribe these as semiquavers and the two soprano notes as demisemiquavers but there is no symbol for an eighth of a beat. We could invent one, say an apostrophe, but it would probably be very rare.


In reply to by Myer

I've attached a sample txt file. Is it anything like what you could work with? I've separated each element with a single space. There are no carriage returns in the music part. I've replaced the double barline in bar 8 with a colon. I've ended the file with a closed curly bracket.

I've also attached a copy of Wena's original and my MuseScore transcription for reference and comparison.



Attachment Size
Achubwyd Fi.txt 472 bytes
39.png 657.15 KB
Blessedly Saved.mscz 10.34 KB

In reply to by Myer

Thanks again,
I am attempting to keep up with your tutorials, not just reading them but understanding them in a practical way. Although as a teenager I played a B flat base instrument I am a very poor musician. The learning curve in this project is a bite steep at percent.

The sample so-fa that you have just sent this would be a foundation for a plugin for MuseScore would it?

I have copied it and saved it as text in Notepad, so I can study it.

I am sure there will be many more questions Myer but let me get to understand and attempt to put this into practices.

Down the lain I have found that there is a "Chant" in A flat, written in So-fa!!! That is amazing to have come from The Salvation Army -- they seem to have a brand of their own.


In reply to by Wena D Parry

Yes, the .txt is an attempt at a computer readable format but you can use it for practice. The bars might not end at the end of a line in Notepad because of the way I have formatted it. I didn't create it in Notepad but I've just viewed it and it shows odd extra characters. I'll repost it using the Notepad format.

Interesting comment about your piece in A flat major. It's just as easy to read in Sol-fa as C major.

Just a thought. if you have the tutorials, why don't you try teaching it to your congregation, then you won't need the transcriptions!

All the best


Attachment Size
Achubwyd Fi.txt 473 bytes

In reply to by Nicolas

... one problem, as Myke pointed out, is subscript and superscript. The example you linked to uses a comma for subscript and an apostrophe for a superscript but the comma is a rhythm mark. Would that be a problem? And what about two octaves up or down? Also, the inverted comma for a triplet division is not even an ASCII symbol. I can't even find it In any more fancy fonts.

Why don't we discuss a format using standard ASCII? If anyone finds this thread from outside MuseScore they can also find a specification for the minimal alterations to Classical Sol-fa. Is my sample readable to humans and computers?


In reply to by Wena D Parry

I assume all standard characters would be readable by a computer program. As I mentioned before, a substitute for the subscript and superscript 1 and 2 needs to be found because these are not standard ASCII. My proposal is - and + (or -- and ++).

Also, barlines and mid-bar lines. I used | for a barlne and ! for mid-bar.

I don't know why the first notes in each phrase in the Chant are written in full and in upper case. Maybe it's like an illuminated Capital letter in a manuscript. I would type then as one letter in lower case as in the chorus.

The only other symbol I know of that isn't on the keyboard is the inverted comma used for triplet divisions. This isn't even on a standard typewriter. Easy to do with moveable type though. I propose the semi-colon.

Why not start typing some hymns but wouldn't you be better off practising doing your own transcriptions until we know whether a conversion program is successful. Or teach your congregation to read Sol-fa!

Best wishes


In reply to by Myer

I will do as you suggest Myer to learn how to do own transcriptions, but that will be very hard going to one who is hardly a musician.
I have no authority to teach so-fa to my fellow members of our Church.

As for the Chant I will have to get to know the Key of "A flat".

Thank you again.


In reply to by Wena D Parry

Yes you should, but of course you could transcribe in in C major and use the transpose up menu item under Notes to change it to A flat.

Doh or d = c
Ray or r = d
Me or m = e
Fah or f = f
Fe = f sharp
Soh or s = g
Lah or l = a
Ti or t = b
Doh' or d' = top c

Good luck.


In reply to by Wena D Parry

If you want to transpose a short section you have to select the bars. If you want to transpose the whole score click Notes, Transpose and Yes.

Choose Up and A flat major and there you are.

Try it on my scale of C major.

What Operating System and MuseScore version are you using?


Attachment Size
Scale of C.mscz 1.52 KB

In reply to by Wena D Parry

Myer are we sticking to your So fa typing system or had lasconic suggestion got any merit?

Our Church organist was thrilled at you transcript, when I told him I was getting tutorial from may be the USA (from you) he just could not take it in. When I told him that I was making an attempt at So-fa they he liked the idea.


In reply to by Wena D Parry

Hi Wena

Why do you think I'm from the USA? I'm from London and now Guildford for the last 30 years. Just a visitor really.

I'm waiting to hear from Myke on this thread about his Music21 project.

I've only just learned about a format called ABC which is like a modern form of Sol-fa. I've contacted the writer of a program called EasyABC which Lasconic recommended to another member awhile ago. This might be adapted to take Sol-fa and output it to ABC which you can then import in to MuseScore using Lasconic's plugin or convert to XML using:

I haven't heard from him yet.

I have not found a standard format for typing Sol-fa using computers and so I think we can consider creating our own Standard Sol-fa 1.0. I suggest you use my adaptations for now. I still think you should spend the time learning to transcribe the sol-fa yourself though. Have you had a go yet? Is the transcribing into standard notation the drawback for you? Perhaps learning to transcribe it to ABC would be easier for you. You use letter and symbol input and it creates the notation for you.

I don't think ABC supports multiple voices yet so you could save each line and cut and paste into MuseScore.

Download EasyABC and have a look. I'll help you with any conversions from Sol-fa to ABC. You can even transpose within EasyABC so you could use my suggestion of entering the music in C and transposing it afterwards.

Here's the link to the software:

and a tutorial:

I've also attached an ABC version of the first part of Achubwyd Fi

Good luck and best wishes


Attachment Size
Achubyd Fi.abc_.txt 350 bytes

In reply to by Myer

ABC definitely supports multiple voices; has for several years now. For more info on the current features of ABC, see

I am a big fan of ABC. It's a pretty amazing format. It's quite easy to learn and to read and write, and there are programs out there that can produce very professional-looking notation from ABC source. I had been primarily using such software for my own music before for several months finding MuseScore. But more significantly, I also used ABC to communicate with a blind student in my theory class a couple of years ago. I created all my teaching materials in ABC, using the aforementioned programs to convert to standard notation for my sighted students, and my blind student had her computer read the ABC to her. She also used ABC to complete all her assignments, take all her tests, and create her own arrangements in standard notation for others to in accompanying her performances. It was the first time in her life she had ever read or written music.

I do think it would be very straightforward to convert the sol-fa notation to ABC, and then from there, there are programs that can convert to MusicXML, which can be imported into MuseScore. But just having the music in ABC format is worth something in itself.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

ABC officially supports multi voices since december 2010 only as of ABC 2.0. All the other multivoices implementation were addons. ABC 2.0 is supported only by a few software. Currently abc2xml does not support ABC 2.0 and so doesn't support multi voices. I would love to add this support but that would involve a big rewrite of ABC4J or relying on Music21 (it can also import ABC, not sure which version) or EasyABC. Both of them are in python while the current backend is in Java. As you know, I'm quite busy with MuseScore 2.0, and our mobile players currently, so that may not happen soon...

If anyone wants to setup a webservice doing ABC to MusicXML, I could help though. Abc2xml has converted 12894 abc tunes to MusicXML as of today, for free.

In reply to by Nicolas

Myer, Sorry it seems as if forums overwhelmed by people from the USA, I was wrong.

I am still overwhelmed by the change in this forum, two years ago when I first bought up this subject getting a response was hard going. It may be that So-fa wasn't the subject to fire up the imagination.

EasyABC sounds as if there could be a solution to my problems, amidst all the work I have on I will have to look at it. At 73 years old computer technology, coping with this language (English) and other every day life and stresses is some times to much for me.

My redeeming factor is I love a challenge!

Transposing from so-fa to normal music is one I cannot ignore. I will have to do it mechanically, that is the "s" in So-fa goes on the G line in the key of C. The octive is by the superscript or subscript symbol. The the length of the note is partly by whether it is a 4/4 bar and other notes to go into it. So it could be a quaver, semiquaver or demysemiquaver and so on.


In reply to by Wena D Parry

Unless you have a good reason not to I suggest you transcribe pieces with 2, 3 or 4 beats in a bar as 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4. If it says quick two somewhere you might use 2/2 but for your purposes I don't think it's necessary.

The : or mid bar line | denotes the start of crotchet beats. Notes longer than the beat have :- or |-. The . is the start of a half beat or quaver; the , is the second or fourth semiquaver in the beat. Triplets are marked by the elusive inverted comma. Dotted quaver-semiquaver rhythms are written d .,d.

If there are 6, 9, or 12 beats in a bar I would use 6/8, 9/8 or 12/8.

The : or every beat 4, (7 or 10) mid bar line | is a quaver and the . is a semiquaver.

However, it wouldn't be a disaster to use 6/4, 9/4 or 12/4 and keep the note values the same.

To Marc and Lasconic: How hard would it be to write a plugin to convert a whole piece from one time signature to another. 6/4 to 6/8 in this case but maybe a parameter to convert any comparable time signature to any other? Maybe that can be my first plugin.

Wena, why don't you post a sample of what you've done or send it to me by email and I'll comment on it and correct it if necessary?

BW Myer

In reply to by Nicolas

All good information and links.

Marc, I'm sure a Sol-fa to ABC program would be straightforward if I was a programmer. I haven't written any code since Basic days. I've dabbled in Forth, C, Pascal and a bit of HTML but for this job I wouldn't know where to start. Maybe I should try to learn this summer.

Any suggestions what language to use? Books to read or websites to study? I am a Mac OSX Lion user but I have access to Windows XP as well.

How does Abc2xml work. I've tried it, it's great. Lasconic, did you write it? Could it run on a user's machine instead of on the web? Would I understand it if I read the source code and how hard would it be to substitute sol-fa names for the ABC equivalents? Ideally Sol-fa rhythms as well but maybe that's harder.

Guys, thank you for your input and interest. I don't need any of this myself but I'm delighted to help Wena and anyone else who might not understand sol-fa or might not have the musical skills to transcribe it quickly and accurately into the program we are all passionate about. I'm sure a Sol-fa to ABC or preferably straight to XML or mscz program would be useful to many people.

Best wishes


In reply to by Nicolas

Actually, mulitple voices were introduced in 1.7, back in 2000. Even though the standard was never officially ratified - ABC is a very loose thing with no real standards body - it still has been pretty universally accepted. But it is true that a lot of older tools have not been updated, and that many newer tools only partially implement ABC. But the main programs for converting ABC to notation and for MIDI playback have worked ith multiple voices about that long.

The programs for converting to and from MuiscXML have lagged, unfortunately. But recently there has been renewed effort on these. I hawn't done a thorough investigation, the following tool appears to be the state of the art in converting ABC to MusicXML:

And the reverse:

Both tools support multiple voices. They are both written in python, so to my understanding, what would be required to make use of these in the exisiting ABC import plugin would be to set up a web service? I did create something sort of similar to run abcm2ps as a web service, although I needed to get someone else to host it for me. I could probably adapt it to do whatever is needed here. Could we host it here?

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Mayer, I will do a peace reading directly from my photocopies now that I am getting to understand it a little better. Then when I have got the hang of it I will get into our bases of typing the So-fa in the hope that I get to understand the ABC.

I also need to get to understand MuseScore better. This version is better than one I had some time ago.

All this talk about mulitple voices is doing my head in!! This project is for congregational singing, at present anyway.

Thank you, all.


In reply to by Wena D Parry

Multiple voices in this case means pretty much literally what it says. Your congregagtion isn't a single person, nor does the music call for all voices to sing the same thing. The example posted calls for the congregation to be split into sopranos, alto, tenors, and basses. That requires multiple voices, at least in the sense we mean that here. The way it was actually transcribe uses four separate staves with a single voice per staff as opposed to combining soprano and alto voices into one staff and tenors and basses into another, as is most commonly done with hymns. But either way, it is multiple voices in the sense of what is required here.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I didn't know these scripts. I moved forward and contacted the author. According to him, the abc2musicxml script is alpha release for the moment. I quickly setup a webservice at on google app engine.

It's far from ready for prime time so I will wait for a couple of days to make a dedicated forum post. Contact me or the original author via email for the first bug reports. I'm also looking into a plugin for 2.0. How to spend a national holiday :)

In reply to by Nicolas

I hope you're having better weather than England.

Thank you for your continued interest. Even an ABC interpreter that took solfege instead of a, b ,c would be useful for Wena. I think EasyABC might have that soon.

Marc and Lasconic, thanks for your information on multiple voices. In fact, EasyABC interprets voices, it's just not in the documentation as far as I can see.

Marc, thanks for pointing out that hymns are usually printed in short score. I've sung more choral works than hymns in my time and I always preferred to have the text underneath the music. I did ask Wena which format he preferred but he didn't reply. Is it impossible to write a plugin that takes two different choral voices including different rhythms and combines them on one stave in two voices?

Best wishes


In reply to by Myer

I thought I had replied Myer, it is the normal hymn format of music I would prefer. By the way I am not as you say "he didn't reply". I am a 73 year old "LADY" other than when I am in a temper, then I am as a Lioness.

I have had a go at EasyABC but no able do date to get anything out of it. BUT I WILL PERSIST, i need results.

So it sounds is if we are going to get results, I am great-full that it seems as if some one else is working on my behalf.


In reply to by Myer

Thank you Myer, I hadn't realized you had don another peace. I am so grateful to you there could be another Welsh person on this forum that might like it!

I don't think the welsh "Biddwn Wrol" was an the score,

So whey do you say, "You probably didn't recognise my name either.?


In reply to by Wena D Parry

2 beats in each bar but what time signature would you use?

How many | (bold barline)

: and

| (short barline)

are there before the next | (bold barline)?

C major, but what note will you start on and which line or space will you use?

In reply to by Myer

I don't know, there is the words "lively" in the heading, would that be the "time signature"? I am guessing that that it would be 4/4 and that it would be a marching tune.

But please, if the information is there, tell me how you figure these these out!!

Or have I missed them in your tutorials?

The peace has one half bar line (short one) to the bar. From what I have learn't from you, that a “d with a superscript” indicates an upper octave and any notes that have that.


In reply to by Wena D Parry

This is the tempo or character of the music and not the time signature.

Counting from one barline but not including the next barline there are four colons and one short mid bar line. This means 6 beats in a bar. Dau guriad means two beats to the (bar) which confirms that the six beats are counted quickly as two groups. This is 6/8 time and the beats are quavers.

In C major treble clef, d is middle C. The first note is G on line two.

I've attached a file to get you started.

Best wishes


Attachment Size
Example.mscz 1.45 KB

In reply to by Myer

You did tell me to e-mail you but I find no e-mail address on the forum.
I have attempted 1 top line and a to line in the base.
It has taken me almost all day just to get that far!
I must admit I have enjoyed it so far but I hope to speed up.
There are some things in the score that I haven’t seen or anyone mentioned them.
There is a “G.t” with a superscript below it in the 6th bar. I have attempted to mark the script for your download.
One other problem I am facing is the signal note at the start of each line of the so-fa script.
How did you get the text under the score in “Byddwch yn Wrol?”…

Sorry to ask you for help – I am most grateful.


In reply to by Wena D Parry

Dear Wena

Good questions.

1. The G. t. means the key changes to the key of G. The t. means that the 7th note in the new key is not in the old key. t in G major is F sharp. F in C major is natural. It s called the "distinguishing tone". The superscript d below it means that doh in C major is now fah in g major.

2. f. C. means the key changes to C major. The f. means that the 4th note in C major is not in the old key. f in C major is F natural. the F in G major is F sharp. In both cases the uppercase letter is the new key. The lowercase letter is the the distinguishing tone. Modulations to a sharper key have the distinguishing tone written after the new key note. Modulations to a flatter key have the distinguishing tone written before the key note.

3. The first note of the hymn is before the first barline. This is called an upbeat or anacrusis. The last bar of the first line only has 5 beats in it. The sixth beat is the first note on line two. This is your "signal note". If it can be fitted into the line it is common to break a bar so that a new line of a hymn begins on a new line of the music. In addition it is common to place a double barline (two thin lines) inside a normal bar to indicate the end of the phrase. This is not a "real" barline. We can achieve this in MuseScore by selecting Measure Properties and changing the actual duration to 5 beats. Add the double barline at the end of this bar. Change the next bar to 1 beat and, if you are using bar numbers, change the second bar to irregular so it is not counted as a bar number.

Repeat barlines can also be inside real bars. The above description can also be used in instrumental music, especially where repeats or new sections are concerned.

4. To add lyrics select the note then click CTRL-L. Read this page for more information.

Best wishes


In reply to by Wena D Parry

Note lengths.
I have had some help to start this peace off and as can be seen i have been able to add some lyrics. The Chant peace was easy, it was a matter of cut and past.
However, it is obvious to me that the note lengths are not correct in the Chorus; (Cytgan).

Although the peace is in the key of A I am working on it in C. and then I will be turning into the correct key.

I have attached the original So-fa file in my privies post but now with this post I am attaching my update in the hope of some help.


Attachment Size
Yn y Bore Chant.mscz 1.85 KB

In reply to by Wena D Parry

I have been thinking as to my Request above, asking if anyone could tell me the necessary settings for the So-fa fragment that I have attached.

That would be very useful, however, it would be even greater if you can tell me how you came to that conclusion.

After all that is what I am attempting to do, indeed that is slowly where I am getting to with all the help I have had from Myer.

By the way the forum system did not allow me to edit and insert this peace into my post above.

Wena D. Parry

In reply to by Wena D Parry

This piece is in 4/4 with a one beat anacrusis. If you're puzzled by the third bar (don't count the anacrusis) there is a faint bar line after four beats following the "yn" syllable. " rho " is on the first beat of bar four. The .s on the syllable "o" of "rhodio" is a misprint and should be :s . Without seeing the rest of the scan it's not clear whether the double bar line is at the end of the bar or after beat 3. If the next bar has four beats then bar four ends with a crotchet rest otherwise the notes after the double bar line are on beat 4. No note or rhythm sign indicates a rest.


In reply to by Wena D Parry

The anacrusis is 1 beat.

s, means sol below the basic doh. In C this is G below the treble stave. In G this is D below the stave.
. means continue the first note through the half beat.
, means the second note is on the last semiquaver of the beat and the first note is a dotted quaver.

(see bar 12 in my rhythm tutorial).

Beats with no pitch sign are rests. This piece is full of them.

Beat 4 of bars 4, 11, 13, 15, 17, 21, and beat 3 of bar 6.

The D.C. and S are a puzzle. D.C. means go back to beginning but that doesn't make sense. It makes musical sense to go back to the S and the second time leave out bars 5, 6 and 7. Does that make the words flow properly?

Please translate " Y tro cyntif" and "Yr ail dro".

Best wishes


In reply to by Myer

I was going to give to 2 Welsh peace the human translation, yes, they are correct. Myer, you thought that part of the lyrics where nor contestant, but they are if I have understood the repeat correctly. The word "chlwyfo" is in the second line of bar 2.

Thanks for all your help.

Wen D. Parry

Hi again
I don’t understand these instructions and what do they apply to in this peace?

" . means continue the first note through the half beat.
, means the second note is on the last semiquaver of the beat and the first note is a dotted quaver. "

I am attaching the peace that I have don up to date for comments whether they be good or bad, but helpful.


Attachment Size
Llef Pechadur Clwyfedig 2.mscz 1.93 KB

In reply to by Wena D Parry

The D.C. abbreviation is used incorrectly. As you know, it means go to the beginning. The correct abbreviation should be D.S. because the musical line and the lyrics tell us to go back to bar 2 where the S is.

In the attached file i have used repeat signs and voltas to make the musical sense clearer. If you prefer to use the S sign remove the repeat signs, replace the D.C. with D.S. but keep the volta lines. Remove the numbers by right-clicking the voltas, choose Volta Properties and remove the numbers. I don't think it will play correctly though.

The instructions explain why the anacrusis is one beat and not one-and-a-half beats.

The full stop tells you where the half beat comes. (see bars 3 to 7 in the tutorial). There is no note on the half beat so the first note is continued.

The comma tells you where the second or fourth quarter of the beat comes. (see bars 8 to 13 in the tutorial). In this case the comma is after the half beat telling us that the second note is on the last quarter of the beat. The anacrusis is the same as beat one of bar 12 in the tutorial.

The ": |" indicates a rest because there is no pitch sign and no "-" to indicate continuing the previous note over the beat .

I hope that helps.


Attachment Size
Llef Pechadur Clwyfedig 2.mscz 3.01 KB

Wow it's nice to see you Myer, on hear. I have done so 400 Welsh hymns by now in staves. 3 or 4 in Tonic Sol - fa, I have had Sally from this forum doing others for me. I have some So-fa tunes left, but I got the bug for it now.

The last one I did our organist played it and found just 2 problem bars in the transportation to staves,

I will look on my cloud and have some there that Sally and I didn't finish. All the books I have want to teach me how to sing not how to understand the So-fa.

I have produced for myself a tool of the different Keys so that if it asked for an F flat for example I have been working in that key.

It has taken me several hours to do JUST ONE.

I find some problems with them, where there are no indications as to e.g whether a note is an upper of lower key.


Let me know if you prefer PM or on this forum. the latter might be best in the hope of creating interest in the subject.

Wena D. Parry.
South Wales, U.K.

In reply to by Wena Parry

Hy, Mayr. Below is a link of 2 address is for one peace. One is the So-fa. The other I found with it’s English words, both in the same key.

I had hoped to have got the rest of the peace from the So-Fa, to fill in the staves of the Alto. trebl and Base, it didn’t work.……

I have bought the new book “Basic Tonic Solfa Concept”, I have it in digital form on my computer. However it dose not explain many of the things that I need to know. Such as dots comas. In the So-fa version above and the second bar, there is a slur in the Alto part, I suspect it to be TRIPLETS. In the book triplet is written eg, t,.t,.t, …. So which is right?

Now the 15th bar in the Cytgan (Chorus), there is a whole note covering the whole bar, and a pause (is that what the book calls a pull) in the bar just before the Chorus as shown in the Staves version.

And this is the MuseScore I have done.…

This the address of my cloud where I have put a peaces of So Fa music and the mscz. I have converted it to Staves in MuseScore, on lessening to it by a good musician I am tolled that the So fa sheet has errors in it. So I am not a musician and cannot correct my score.

The peace is a Folk Music for Children but I can get a full score in Staves.

Is there any one who will be able to do the job of converting and correcting it to Staves in MuseScore, at a fee!

Wena Parry

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