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"Do-Re-Mi" is a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. Within the story, it is used by Maria to teach the notes of the major musical scale to the Von Trapp children who learn to sing for the first time, even though their father has disallowed frivolity after their mother's death. The song is notable in that each syllable of the musical solfege system appears in its lyrics, sung on the pitch it names.

In the stage version, Maria sings this song in the living room of Captain von Trapp's house, shortly after she introduces herself to the children. However, when Ernest Lehman adapted the stage script into a screenplay for the 1965 film adaptation, he moved the song to later on in the story. In the film, Maria and the children sing this song over a montage as they wander and frolic over Salzburgmarker.

The song soon became popular in its own right. It is often sung in day care centers. It is also often one of the first songs that children will learn to play on simple children's instruments that have only the eight notes of one octave of the major C to C scale. It was originally written in this key in the sheet music and is sung this way in the original stage version of The Sound of Music. However, in the film version it was transposed from C to B flat, to minimise the transition from speech to song.

Word meanings

(For the actual origins of the solfege, refer to Solfege.)

The lyrics teach the solfege syllables by linking them with English homophones (or near-homophones):

  • Do refers to Doe, defined as the female of a deer or related animal, "a deer, a female deer."
  • Re refers to Ray, defined as a thin line or narrow beam of light or other radiant energy, "a drop of golden sun."
  • Mi refers to Me, the objective pronoun referring to the speaker, "a name I call myself."
  • Fa refers to Far, defined as to or at the most distant or remote point, "a long long way to run".
  • So refers to Sew, to work with a needle and thread or with a sewing machine, "a needle pulling thread." (Note that the actual corresponding syllable in the solfege system is sol.)
  • La lacks a satisfactory homophone (see below), so it is simply "a note to follow so"
  • Ti refers to Tea, a popular hot beverage made by steeping tea leaves in boiling water, "a drink with jam and bread."

As the song concludes, "Now you can sing these in any order and once you know the notes you can "sing most any thing"".

Author Douglas Adams noted in his article "Unfinished Business of the Century" that, while each line of the lyric takes the name of a note from the sol-fa scale, and gives its meaning, "La, a note to follow So..." doesn't fit that pattern and should be considered a placeholder. Adams imagined, in key of humour, that Oscar Hammerstein just bunged in "A note to follow So" and thought he'd have another look at it later, but he couldn't come up with anything better.

See also

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