Hexachords, solmization, and musica ficta

Table of Contents

    Foreword: Why learn hexachords?
  1. The basic hexachord system and its origins

    1. Hucbald and the six-stringed lyre
    2. Guido's solmization syllables: Ut queant laxis
    3. The three standard hexachords: Musica recta
    4. Negotiating the gamut: Hexachord mutation
    5. Mapping the gamut: The Guidonian hand
    6. Signatures as gamut transpositions
    7. Inflections: Written and unwritten

  2. Expanding the gamut: Musica ficta and "invented" hexachords

    1. What is musica ficta?: Two definitions
    2. Closest approach: A motivation for musica ficta
    3. New hexachords: Mi-signs and fa-signs
    4. Artistic choices and partial signatures
    5. Possible melodic factors

  3. Renaissance and Manneristic approaches

    1. Ramos: Musica ficta and "understood" semitones
    2. Aaron: Of roads and signposts
    3. Accidentalism in practice: The tablatures
    4. Shortcuts: Fa supra la
    5. The later Renaissance / Manneristic era

  4. Alternative solmizations: Ramos, Lippius, and beyond

    1. Ramos and the new hand (1482)
    2. Lippius and Belgic bocedization (1610, 1612)
    3. Variants on solmization: From do-re-mi to fa-so-la



The hexachord system, introduced and developed by Guido d'Arezzo and his colleagues in the 11th century, was a central element of musical practice and culture in medieval Europe, and continued to influence Renaissance and Manneristic practice through the early 17th century.

While rightly acclaimed as a very successful method for teaching the art of sight-reading, Guido's hexachord system more generally serves as a familiar framework from which to approach many issues of medieval and Renaissance composition and performance.

This FAQ article will first present the basic hexachord system and its origins; then medieval and Renaissance extensions of the system to permit a fuller set of accidentals; and finally some alternative systems proposed by Bartolomé Ramos (1482) and Johannes Lippius (1610, 1612) based on octaves rather than hexachords.

To Foreword - Why learn hexachords?

To Section 1 - The basic hexachord system and its origins.

To Early Music FAQ.

Margo Schulter
Sacramento, CA
2 March 2000