• Tim Braithwaite

Andreas Ornithoparcus (1516) on Solmisation:

Updated: Jun 6


The Rules of Solfaing

  1. When solfaing, the singer must be aware of the mode of the piece, since this will tell them what sort of scale to use (i.e. the hard or the soft hexachord in combination with the natural.)

  2. All modes use the hard hexachord, along with the natural, by default, except for the fifth and sixth modes (Lydian and Hypolydian) which use a Bb.

  3. When a piece uses the hard hexachord you must sing mi for the note B♮ and when it uses the soft you must sing fa for Bb.

  4. When a piece uses the hard hexachord, the lowest syllable for each note is to be sung, but if it uses the soft, then one must sing the highest syllable (for example A la mi re should use the lower syllable re in the hard hexachord, but the higher mi in the soft.)

  5. Every singer must check to see if the piece has been transposed, since if it has been transposed it has implications for the mode.

  6. Every piece which ends on the final of its mode is untransposed.

  7. Whenever a piece ascends from D to A and then one step further you must sing Bb until it returns to D, whatever the mode. However, this is not the case if the line does not return to F such as in the hymn Ave Maris Stella.

  8. You must not sing diminished or augmented octaves on B♮ or Bb.

  9. If a flat sign is found anywhere other than on the note B, it indicates mutation (to a ficta hexachord.)

  10. When the nature of the scale varies (i.e. mixing Bb and B♮) the singer should adjust their mutations accordingly.

  11. Whenever a flat or a sharp sign occurs in a position other than on B, the singer should remain in the appropriate (ficta) hexachord for as long as the sign occurs.

  12. Octaves must be solmised using the same syllables.

Rules for Mutations

  1. One must mutate if the musical line uses more than six notes.

  2. One can only mutate on a pitch with more than one syllable.

  3. On pitches with two syllables there are two possible mutations. The first is from the lower to the upper hexachord and the second from the upper to the lower. Pitches with two syllables but without a hexachord above them cannot mutate into the upper hexachord such as C (cc sol fa) and D (dd la sol) above middle C.

  4. A pitch with three syllables can have six possible mutations, although in order to perform all six you will need to vary the scale between Bb and B♮.

  5. Do not mutate unless you have to.

  6. Notes with a flat sign cannot be changed to notes with a sharp sign (permutation.)

  7. Syllables without any accidentals can be made into a mi or a fa, the exceptions being that mi cannot become sol and re cannot become fa.

  8. When a melodic line falls you should change from ut, re, or mi, the lower notes of the old hexachord, into fa, sol, or la, the higher notes of the new hexachord, and visa versa when it rises.

  9. On a pitch with only one syllable it is possible to have as many mutations as there are at its octave since they are considered to be the same.

  10. You should make a mental as opposed to a vocal mutation (i.e. when changing hexachord you should not say both syllables) unless more than one note occurs at the pitch which has the mutation.


(Dowland translation)

Rules for Solfaing

  1. Thee First, He that will Solfa any Song, must aboue all things haue an eye to the Tone. For the knowledge of the Tone is the inuention of the Scale, vnder which it runnes.

  2. The Second, All the Tones runne vnder the Scale of ♮ Dure, excepting the fift and the sixt.

  3. The Third, To haue a Song runne vnder ♮ Dure, is nothing else, but to sing Mi in b fami, and fa in a flat Scale.

  4. The Fourth, When a Song runnes vnder a Scale ♮ Dure, the lowermost Notes of that kinde are to be sung; but vnder a Scale b Moll, the vppermost Notes.

  5. The Fift, Euery Solfaer must needs looke, whether the Song be regular, or no; for the transposition of a Song is oft times an occasion of changing the Scale.

  6. The Sixt, Euery Song ending in the Finals, is regular, and not transposed, saith Saint Bernard in his Dialogue.

  7. The Seuenth, Whensoeuer a Song ascends from D sol re to A la mi re by a fift, mediately or immediately, and further onely to a second, you must sing fa in b fami in euery Tone, till the song do againe touch D sol re, whe∣ther it be marked or no. But this Rule failes, when a song doth not straight∣wayes fall to F faut, as in the Hymne, Aue maris stella, you may see.

  8. The Eight, In b fami, and his eights, you may not sing mi for fa, nor contrariwise; because they are discording and repugnant voyces, saith Franchinus lib. 1. pract. cap. 4.

  9. The Ninth, b in places, where he is marked contrary to his nature, doth note Mutation.

  10. The Tenth, The Scale being varied, the Mutations are also with it varied, both in the whole and in part. In the whole, as in transposed Songs; in part, as in conioyned Songs.

  11. The eleuenth, As often as fa or mi is marked contrary to their nature, the Solfaer must follow the marke so long as it lasts.

  12. The twelfe, Seeing there is one and the selfesame iudgement of eights, the same Solfaing of Voyces must be.

Rules for Mutations

  1. First, As often as the Progression of sixe Musicall Voyces wants, there must necessarily be Mutation.

  2. No Mutation can be in a Key which hath but one Voyce, because there one Voyce is not changed into it selfe, although it may well be repeated.

  3. In Keyes which haue two Voyces, there be two Mutations, the first is from the lower to the vpper; the second contrarily. From this Rule are excepted Keyes which haue Voyces of one kinde, as cc solfa, and dd la sol.

  4. A Key hauing three Voyces, admitteth sixe Mutations, although therein you must needs varie the Scale.

  5. Let there be no Mutation, vnlesse necessitie force you to it.

  6. The b moll Voyces cannot be changed into ♮ square, nor contrarily: because they are discords.

  7. Naturall Voyces are changed both into ♮ Dures, and into b mols, because they are doubtfull: excepting miand sol, re and fa, which are not changed one into another; because they are neuer found dwelling in one Key.

  8. In the falling of a Song, let the lower be changed into the higher, in the rising contrarily.

  9. In a Key which hath one Voyce, there may be so many Mutations, as there may be in his eight, because of them there is the same iudgement.

  10. You must make a mentall, not a vocall Mutation, vnlesse two or three Notes be put in the same place that receiues Mutation.



De Solfizatione regule

  1. Prima. Solfizans cantum aliquem, pre omnibus tonum respiciat, necesse est. Toni enim cognitio, est schale: sub qua cantus decurrit, inuentio.

  2. Secunda. Omnes toni decurrunt sub schala ♮ durali, preter quintum et sextum.

  3. Tertia. Cantum sub schala ♮ durali decurrere, est nihil aliud, quam in b fa ♮ mi mi canere, Sub schala autem b molli, fa.

  4. Quarta, Cantu currente sub schala ♮ durali, cantande sunt voces infime, clauium sui generis. Sub schala vero b molli supreme.

  5. Quinta. Omni solfizanti videre erit necessarium, an cantus regularis existat, nec ne. Cantus enim transpositio, mutationis schale plerumque est occasio.

  6. Sexta. Omnis cantus in finalibus terminatus, est regularis et non transpositus, inquit diuus Bernhardus in dyalogo suo.

  7. Septima. Quoties cantus ascendit ex Dsolre ad alamire per quintam mediate vel immediate, et vltra tantum ad secundam, cantandum est fa in b fa ♮ mi in omni tono, quo ad cantus iterum dsolre tetigerit, siue signetur siue non Cassatur autem hec regula quotiens cantus ad ffaut mox non reciderit vt in hymno Aue maris stella licet videre.

  8. Octaua. In b fa ♮ mi et octauis eius, non licet canere mi pro fa, nec econtra, quia sunt voces dissone et repugnantes, Inquit Franchinus libro primo practice capitulo quarto.

  9. Nona. b in locis: vbi preter naturam signatur: respectus est mutationis

  10. Decima. Uariata schala, variantur et mutationes cum ea, et in toto et in parte. In toto, vt in tranpositis canticis, In parte vt in coniunctosis.

  11. Undecima. Quoties signatur fa vel mi, preter naturam, oportet solfizantem signaturam sequi, quo ad durauerit.

  12. Duodecima, Cum de octauis idem sit iudicium: quare in eis eadem fiat solfizatio vocum.

Regule Mutationum

  1. Prima. Quoties defecerit sex musicalium vocum progressio, necessario fit mutatio.

  2. Secunda. In claue vnam vocem habente: mutatio nulla fieri potest. quia vnica vox ibi in seipsam non mutatur, licet bene repetatur.

  3. Tertia. In clauibus duas voces habentibus, due mutationes fiunt, prima de inferiore in superiorem, secunda ediuerso. Ab hac regula excipiuntur claues, vnius generis voces habentes. vt ccsolfa, et ddlasol.

  4. Quarta. Clauis tres habens voces, mutationes sex admittit, licet ibi schalam variari necesse sit.

  5. Quinta. Nulla fiat mutatio, nisi necessitas ad eam nos impellat.

  6. Sexta. Uoces b molles in ♮ durales mutari non possunt, nec econtra, quia dissonant.

  7. Septima. Uoces naturales, et in ♮ durales, et in b molles mutantur, quia ancipites sunt, preter mi et sol, re et fa, que inter se non mutantur, quia in eadem claue habitare non inveniuntur.

  8. Octaua. In cantus descensu inferior in superiorem vertatur, in ascensu autem ediuerso.

  9. Nona. In claue vnam vocem habente, mutationes tot fieri possunt, quot in eius octaua, quoniam de hijs idem est iuditium.

  10. Decima, Mentalis, non vocalis mutatio facienda est, nisi due vel tres note ponantur in eodem loco mutabili.



Andreas Ornithoparcus, Musicae Activae Micrologus (Leipzig, 1517). Translation from John Dowland, Andreas Ornithoparcus His Micrologus, or Introduction, Containing the Art of Singing (London, 1609). Summary made for ease of use.

Pietro Aaron, Libri Tres de Institutione Harmonica (Benedicti Hectoris, 1516). Translation from Matthew Joseph Bester, “Pietro Aaron on Musica Plana: A Translation and Commentary on Book I of the Libri Tres de Institutione Harmonica (1516)” (Dissertation, 2013).

Martin Agricola, Musica Choralis Deudsch. (Wittenberg: Georg Rhau, 1533).

This is a very different approach to mutation than the essentially simplified system which became fashionable towards the end of the first half of the sixteenth century (see for example Martin Agricola, Musica Choralis Deudsch), but one which has its roots firmly in fourteenth and fifteenth-century traditions of solmisation.

While there is of course variation between theorists, the essential overarching features of this earlier approach are as follows:

  • There are 14 different points of the Gamut at which one can mutate. These are all the notes which contain more than one syllable except for b fa ♮ mi.

  • One should mutate as late and as little as possible.

  • Mutating between the soft and hard hexachords is both possible and indeed required in the repertoire.

  • When confronted with notes outside of the Gamut (i.e. musica ficta,) the singer should make use of a ficta hexachord in order to keep the semitone placement between mi and fa. For example, if one wants to sing G#, one must sing in a hexachord in which E is ut, in order that G(#) can be sung as mi and A can be sung as fa. At the end of the fifteenth century, Ramos de Pareia suggests the possibility of singing notes outside of the Gamut by simply 'perceiving/understanding' the semitone (semitonus subintellectus.)

  • The rule known as fa super la, in which the single note above la can be simply sung as fa without mutating, is unknown until the sixteenth century. However, the instinct to sing Bb in comparable melodic situations exists far earlier, especially in the first and second modes. This should, however, require a mutation (see Tinctoris’ examples below which are explicit in this matter.)

  • Mutation between b fa and ♮mi is possible through permutation, in which both the pitch and the syllable of the note change, but is to be avoided.

An interesting comment on didactics is supplied by Pietro Aaron in his Libri Tres de Institutione Harmonica, who says the following, disagreeing with Ornithoparcus’ final point on the subject of mutation, at least for preliminary stages of pedagogy:

‘Consider, if you will have desired to change the fa that is on C fa ut into ut, you will be bound to pronounce that first as fa, then to sing ut under the same sound. The same thing will have to be observed in the remaining similar places. Now, this has been established for this reason, in order that the path to singing might become easier for the untrained and the inexperienced, for whom the apprehension of the syllable otherwise would be difficult.’

‘Puta si fa quod est in C fa ut/ mutare volveris in ut/ debebis illud fa prius quidem pronunciare/ deinde sub eodem sono ut canere. Idem in caeteris similibus locis servandum erit. Hoc autem ideo institutum est ut facilior rudibus/ ac inexpertis fieret ad canendum via/ quibus alioquin difficilis esset vocis apprehensio.’

From experience applying this technique in practice, one often doesn’t have the time to pronounce both syllables in rapidly descending or ascending passages, and it seems logical therefore that this initial pedagogical step might be quickly discarded.

Below can be found my transcription of Johannes Tinctoris’ examples of the fourteen different points of mutation. The first version shows the examples with only the originally indicated points of mutation provided, whereas the second shows my own reconstruction of the solmisation. A copy of the manuscript can be found here:


And a translation of the entire expositio manus can be found here:


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