The Hexachordal System

Whatever the truth about Guido’s role, the association of ut re etc. with the pitches C–A soon gained hold, and the system acquired its chief pedagogical principle: that mi–fa is always a semitone. The placing of the same syllables on the pitches G–A–B–C–D–E, in which the semitone, now B–C, again appears between mi and fa, seems also to have been attributed to Guido in the Liber argumentorum (c1100), a commentary on the Micrologus. The association of the syllables with the pitches F–G–A–B♭–C–D was perhaps established a little later. The system inherited by subsequent centuries, then, was that of six syllables spanning a hexachord on C, G or F. Its illustration by means of the Guidonian hand, on which each syllable is allotted to a finger-joint or -tip, also postdates Guido, although the use of such hands for showing calendar computations, tetrachords and the position of semitones is known before Guido.

The exact location of the syllables on the hand varies from source to source, and although some arrangements seem to be more common than others, it is unwise to suppose that there is one correct or even one favoured arrangement until all versions have been compared. 1

A common arrangement is shown in the figure below.

Guidonian hand. Colors indicate the three modes of hexachord: durum (hard, equivalent to G major), naturale (natural, equivalent to C major), and molle (soft, equivalent to F major.

So the ancient system of solmization includes three base hexachords for each major key.


In order to get a feel for this type of solmization, lets sing the following exercise:


Switching between hexachord is called mutation.

  1. Hughes, A., & Gerson-Kiwi, E.  (2001). Solmization. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 1 Sep. 2020, from 
  2. Remeš, Derek. 2020. “THOROUGHBASS, CHORALE, AND FUGUE: TEACHING THE CRAFT OF COMPOSITION IN J. S. BACH’S CIRCLE”. PHD, Hochschule für Musik Freiburg im Breisgau.
  3. Ibid.

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