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How are the names for music notes used in French?

I understand that C=do, D=ré, etc.

But there are two things that remain unclear:

  1. The usage of do vs. ut and si vs. ti.

  2. The usage of alternative vowels for semitones, e.g. di for C-sharp instead of do.

To what extent are the different versions used and what text would be expected of me if I am asked to sing a melody from a sheet to prove my note-reading skills?

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To be noted: "Note" is feminine "Une note", whereas notes are masculine: "Donne moi un la". –  Alexis Wilke Dec 22 '12 at 21:09

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

So, as Joubarc said the names are do, , mi, fa, sol, la and si.

We modulate them with double bémol 𝄫, bémol ♭, bécarre ♮, dièse ♯ and double dièse 𝄪.

Ut is nowadays only used in rare expressions like clef d’ut (musical C clef) 𝄡   or concerto en ut majeur or contre-ut (a high-pitched C in the soprano register).

di or ti are not used at least in France. Maybe in Canada, Switzerland or Belgium it exists, but that is not standard.

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Et tu dis "mi double bemol"? –  Phira Aug 18 '11 at 11:36
3  
@thei: oui, mi double bémol. –  Benoit Aug 18 '11 at 11:37
2  
I'm no musician, but as far as I know, di and ti are not used in Canada. –  Kareen Jul 14 '12 at 13:32
    
ti is actually used in English when using do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do... to name (and sing) the degrees, regardless of their real values. –  François Jul 14 '12 at 22:07

The notes are as follow:

do (C), (D), mi (E), fa (F), sol (G), la (A), si (B).

ut is a synonym for do but it's not used that much as far as I know.

I've never heard of "ti" and I'm pretty much sure it doesn't exist.

"Sharp" is dièse and is used after the note, so a C sharp would be a do dièse. Similary, "Flat" is bémol, so a C flat would be… a B… bad example. A E flat is a mi bémol.

See also Note de musique and Désignation des notes de musique suivant la langue on Wikipédia.

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"ti" is used in English, not in French. You can also mention "bécard". –  ℝaphink Aug 18 '11 at 11:27
    
I refuse to even admit I understand bécarre. It's like you would have a spécial "unshift" key to type lowercase letters when your caps lock is on. That said, Benoit mentionned it already. –  Joubarc Aug 18 '11 at 11:36
    
@Joubarc: It is reasonable to say that sharps in musical notation have a limited caps-lock feature. The point is that I have indeed followed conversations in French of the type "You have to sing an F, not an F." –  Phira Aug 18 '11 at 11:39
    
@Joubard: thanks for fixing my typo ;-) Bécarres are very useful though :-) –  ℝaphink Aug 18 '11 at 11:39
    
Sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I was serious? Of course it's useful. For musicians. Which I'm not, and that's why I had even forgotten it existed. –  Joubarc Aug 18 '11 at 11:43

Ut is the old name used for do and only found in a few musical expressions such as clef d'ut (C major).

The origin of French/Latin musical notes is quite interesting actually. They are famously taken from the first syllables of a poem in Latin:

Ut queant laxis

Re.sonare fibris

Mi.ra gestorum

Fa.muli tuorum

Sol.ve polluti

La.bii reatum

S.ancte I.ohannes

Ut was eventually replaced for practical reasons (hard to enunciate when reading a partition aloud) by a Giovanni Battista Doni, who used his own name as an inspiration for the new name.

I have never heard of such a thing as di for do dièse...

Ti was once suggested (dixit Wikipedia En) as a replacement for si (in order to have all notes starting with a different letter), but never widely adopted as far as I know.

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ti is actually used in English when using do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do... to name (and sing) the degrees, regardless of their real values. –  François Jul 14 '12 at 22:07
    
@François: Thanks for your input, but do you have a source for this? I have very rarely heard the French/Latin names used in English (always 'A', 'B', 'C' etc)... –  Dave Jul 15 '12 at 1:17
    
my wife has been doing quite a bit of sight-singing here in the US and that's what they used. You can also look in wikipedia for movable do in Solfège and also Solmization –  François Jul 15 '12 at 1:47
    
by the way you have a mention of this in the last paragraph at the end of your wiki reference. –  François Jul 23 '12 at 18:24
    
@François: thanks for the precisions. –  Dave Jul 24 '12 at 4:48

Both answers by Benoit and Dave are correct. They are only missing on the ti explanation.

ti is actually used in English when using do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do... to name (and sing) the degrees of the key, regardless of their real values. It's called Movable Do.

For instance in D (Ré majeur) the scale would be

  • do: D (ré)
  • re: E (mi)
  • mi: F#(fa dièse)
  • fa: G (sol)
  • sol: A (la)
  • la: B (si)
  • ti: C#(do dièse)
  • do: D (ré)
  • ...
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