Solfege For Minor Scales

solfege for minor scales

Are you lost in how to handle singing in minor keys?

Do you feel out of the loop when other music teachers argue about Do-based or La-based minor?

At the beginning of my teaching career, I didn’t spend much time thinking about minor scale singing. 

But as my students and I improved, I quickly discovered I needed to know how to handle solfege for minor scales. 

Solfege for minor scales either starts on Do or La. When based on Do, there are more altered solfege pitches. For those who begin on La, there are fewer. 

Read ahead for more details on the solfege minor scale. 

How Do Minor Scales Work?

Minor scales are considered the opposite of Major scales. 

Major scales are built from 7 different pitches in the following interval pattern. 

1 – W* – 2 – W – 3 – H – 4 – W – 5 – W – 6 – W – 7 – H – 8**

*The “W” stands for a whole step. The “H” stands for a half step. 

**The 8th scale degree is the same as the 1st, just up an octave. 

Minor scales are different. 

It’s as if the intervals have shifted to the left.

1 – W – 2 – H – 3 – W – 4 – W – 5 – H – 6 – W – 7 – W – 8

Relative Minor 

Minor scales start on what would be the 6th scale degree of the related minor. 

Take the major scale of C. 

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

Now, let’s look at the relative minor of C, which is A. 

A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A

The relative minor of every Major key is always the 6th degree. 

To go back from minor to major, you look at the minor key’s 3rd scale degree. 

We call these minor scales natural minors. 

Natural Minor

Natural minor scales are unaltered. 

They just start on the pitch and move with the natural order of the relative major. 

The intervals are the same as we listed before. 

1 – W – 2 – H – 3 – W – 4 – W – 5 – H – 6 – W – 7 – W – 8

Melodic Minor 

In actual music, natural minor doesn’t sound as “natural” as you’d think. 

By altering pitches depending on the motion of the melody (thus, melodic minor), composers get a feeling of completion. 

This was also born out of the need to alter pitches to better fit in chords and harmonic progressions. 

Without getting into too much detail on the “whys,” let’s look at how it works. 

On the way down or descending, the melodic minor scale is precisely the same as the natural minor scale. 

On the way up, the 6th and 7th scale degrees are raised a half step. 

This gives it a complete feeling with the “standard” 6-7-8. 

Harmonic Minor

Harmonic minor is based on modal tendencies. 

This minor scale is the least common of the three and has a unique sound. 

In basic terms, this is a natural minor scale with a raised 7th scale degree. 

The most significant difference is in the extra-large gap from the 6th to the 7th. 

It’s a step and a half apart! 

Solfege To Notes

This is a whole other article (which I’ve written! Click to learn about changing solfege to notes.). 

In brief, if you want to switch the notes to solfege or the other way, you need to figure out what the scale degrees are in letter names and then use the tables below to convert back and forth. 

Or, if you feel lazy, check out the article above where I did all the hard work for you! 

Solfege For Minor Scale

Solfege for minor scales is different based on whether or not you used Do-based or La-based minor. 

Both work well, but in my opinion, La-based is better. 

La-based minor emphasizes the relationship between Major and Minor keys in the first place (how they use the same notes but start on different pitches). 

It also ends up with fewer chromatic solfege notes. 

In this section, I’ll go over the solfege for both Do and La-based methods in the three main minor scales.  

Solfege Natural Minor Scale

Refer to the above section for more details on how the scale works. 

Here is the table for the scale degrees and what we say in Do and La-based minor. 

Scale DegreesDo-based MinorLa-based Minor
1DoLa
2ReTi
3MeDo
4Fa Re
5SolMi
6LeFa
7TaSol
8DoLa

Solfege Melodic Minor Scale

Refer to the above section for more details on how the scale works. 

Here is the table for the scale degrees and what we say in Do and La-based minor. 

Remember, going down is the same as natural minor, so reference that one for going down. 

Scale DegreesDo-based MinorLa-based Minor
1DoLa
2ReTi
3MeDo
4Fa Re
5SolMi
6LaFi
7TiSi
8DoLa

Solfege Harmonic Minor Scale

Refer to the above section for more details on how the scale works. 

Here is the table for the scale degrees and what we say in Do and La-based minor. 

Scale DegreesDo-based MinorLa-based Minor
1DoLa
2ReTi
3MeDo
4Fa Re
5SolMi
6LeFa
7TiSi
8DoLa

Final Thoughts

I hope this guide on solfege for minor scales helps you when singing these challenging but fun melodies. 

As a teacher for over 10 years and a musician for over 20, I’ve used La-based minor solfege with the most success, but I know many people swear by Do-based minor. 

In all reality, it likely makes little difference which you use as long as you’re consistent. 

Remember the order of intervals (halves and wholes), and you’ll be just fine. 

Like reading about solfege syllables? 

Check out more on solfege syllables through time.

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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