Tool # 16: Letters Into Music

Some composers have names that correspond with musical letters.  Take B-A-C-H (B is Bb in German, and H is B natural in German), C-A-G-E, or the infamous initials of Dmitri Shostakovich: D-S-C-H (D-Eb-C-B in German).  The idea that one can take letters from names, initials, words, or anything else that is verbally organized is a very old concept, but one that can yield new results because of the myriad of words out there.

Here are some common ways to organize letters into musical notes:

1.) Make a table.  Assign certain letters to each of the seven primary muscial letters, or for a more chromatic approach, each of the twelve pitch classes.

For example:

PC A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#
Letter A B C D E F G H I J K L

2.) Go directly from letter to pitch class (in other words letter =  pitch class).  This is good for words like CAGE, DEAD, and FADE that don’t have letters deep into the English alphabet.

3.) Use solfege or solmization syllables.  These correspond to scale degrees.

Scale Degree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
SolfegeSyllable Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti
Scale Degree 1 2 3 4 5 6
Solmization Syllable Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La

Use the vowels of the notes above whenever they show up in a text.  For example, in Solfege the phrase “Take me out to the ball game” can mean: Fa or La, Re, Re, Do/Sol, Do/Sol, Re, Fa/La.  In Solmization Syllables it’s Fa/La, Re, Re, Sol, Ut, Sol, Re, Fa/La.

As always, experiment with different ways of customizing this to your needs, and remember that it doesn’t have to be a straightjacket; feel free to bend the rules!

Thanks for reading!


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