Usually learning music starts with the piano white notes. XroSol (chromatic solfa ) offers a different route, starting with the black notes with their own names borrowed from the last five letters of the alphabet V W – X Y Z. Here’s a pentatonic play-along using the pictured instruments, first My Paddle’s Keen and Bright aka The Canoe Song followed by Over the Sea to Skye. The Canoe Song was originally written in 1918 by Margaret Embers McGee and people enjoy playing it with their own variations.
Here’s a beautiful sung version of the Canoe Song by RocknMusic lifted from YouTube and transposed up 1 guitar fret to match the black notes.
And here’s the first of the tunes in the above play-along Canoe Song in simple notation.
This special staff, like a foggy horizon, provides a background against which beginners can follow the contour and rhythm of the melody. If and when they come to read from a tradition staff the most important aspects will already be familiar.
The glockenspiel or xylophone is an ideal way to start playing music without any fingering complications. Instrument makers are needed to produce cheap black note sets to which matching white notes can be later added or fitted. Global suppliers who meet this demand will be automatically listed on this site.
Panpipe workshops can often produce “black note” versions on request. Traditionally the panpipers have low notes to the right, opposite to the layout of the piano. An option is to request pipes set in a straight line which can be played from either side.
XroSol is dialect made of two main components VW-XYZ and solfa (aka solfege). Solfa has special sounds with vowels and consonants that contrast beautifully with their neighbours within the range of 3 guitar frets. The black note names have vowels added that continue this contrast.
Ut is the original name for Do. It is useful to bring back to life to avoid conflict with the Transatlantic and Germanic note names, as in ABCD and AHCD. Ut gives us a distinctive initial U but is sung as Do. ABCDEFG are the older name proposed by Boethius around 550 having the disadvantage of similar vowels between 4 neighbours BCDE. Solfa, featuring contrasting vowels throughout was proposed by Guido of Arezzo around 1050. Seas, mountian ranges and political influences have all contributed to this note name boundary across Europe and carried beyond in the colonial era.
The last letter Si has already undergone some modification by the English music teacher Sarah Ann Glover around 1820 who chose to replace the Mediterranean Si with Ti so as to produce a disctinctive intial. She also made the innovation of using upper case to represent fixed notes (La=440Hz as is still used in the Mediterranean) and lower case for transposable as she demonstrates in the picture below. Italic is useful to avoid the ambiguity of the non-italic l which easily be confused with the number 1 (depending on the font in use). In XroSol Si and Ti are blended into Tsi which can sung as si, ti or tsi.
It looks like Sara Ann may have had suggestions for “black note” names, n and b, but they haven’t caught on. But her “Ti with jam and bread” has is written in celluloid in this iconic clip as Do Deer is sung with seven children, each representing a scale note.
How to pronounce Xe and Ze? The Scottish loch sound can be used for Xe, which was the ancient Greek pronunciation, while Ze can use the Castilian pronunciation (European Spanish) to be sung as the English word they, as in this demo.
Sharps and flats are a psychological reality (e.g the first two phrases of the song How High the Moon) but we can leave those issues to the listener, as we do with guitar/lute tablature and indeed when any music gets performed.
To explore the use of XroSol this site will feature coolections of music under different headings:
black note pentatonic tunes (as described above)
the chord sequences of tunes following the example of iReal Pro
the melharmonics of tunes, that looking at both melody and harmony using the same labels, here lower case solfa
piano pieces offering beginners easier note identification, bypassing key signatures and accidentals while retaining the general look of traditional piano music so that players and teachers move from one to the other.
The chord sequences of tunes: We can use the jazz standards to get acclimatised to XroSol. Most jazz musicians now have the app iReal Pro installed on their mobile phones or tablets. It gives the chords of thousands of tunes using the Transatlantic note names. It is also able to show the chords in terms of the tonic aka keynote using degrees of the major scale as roots, a form known as Nashville of Number Notation.
For example in the key of C major here are some typical chord sequences here is shown as Transatlantic, Nashville and italic XroSol
You will see that in Nashville the minor tonic gets to play second fiddle to the major whereas in XroSol it has equal status.
This demonstrated in Lionel Ritchie’s beautiful ballad Hello . La is the minor tonic.
Note that the la triad changes from minor to major before the song sets off on the journey round the cycle of 5ths – r- s u f z m. These are all triads and introducing the chromatic note z he avoids the weak sound of trf, the diminished triad. The z triad is major, a dramatic challenge to the tonic, know as the Neapolitan chord, whose initial swivels from N to Z by strange coincidence.
Another way to avoid the weakness of the diminished triad is to add a seventh – trfl , The seventh chords became popular in the early baroque period, around 1620, and it became common practice to go round the cycle of 5ths using 7th chords, clockwise in this diagram, starting anywhere. This is known as the tonal cycle of 5ths. The fifth down between f and t is a diminished 5th (only 6 guitar frets) which keeps the cycle within the familiar seven note scale.
Note there are three minor 7ths chords and two major 7th chords. Two chords are unique, our trfl chord, known as minor 7th b5 or half diminished, and the 7th, though m-7 is often altered to m7 if it is to act as a more typical dominant chord of l- .
There are many examples to be found in baroque composition and in popular song. One example is the song I will survive recorded by Gloria Gaynor.
The difference in meaning between lower and uppercase is shown in the jazz standard Yesterdays, given first with l- as the minor tonic playable in any key, followed by the same chords in the key most often used by instrumental players R- aka D minor. After establishing the tonic in the first four bars it begins a journey round the cycle of 5ths from x to w (x t m l r s u f z w).
There is beautiful song offers various way of writing chords in the minor key , that is Unbreak my Heart which I happened to hear on the car radio while making a recycling trip. Toni Braxton in T- (aka B minor) and the chorus moves to R- and guitar break is in F- , in all instances using similar slow moving chords. Toni’s is a most touching rendition and I wrote this harmonic analysis as soon as I got home.
Singers have a more limited range than most instrumentalists and there is a subtle change of quality across their range. Singers are more likely to change the key of piece to find their sweet spot. While iRealPro can provide the chords of the main part of the song in any it can not provide the introductory verse because of copyright difficulties and I often get asked to write out the verses by singers. I would be happy to write out any verse in movable XroSol then it can be tried in various keys. Let me know the title and if you have a favourite version in mind.
The Melharmonics of a tune. A pupil of mine became interesting in the tune Waltz for Debby by Bill Evens. It is a jazz standard that I have found puzzling so I thought it would be interesting to look at the melharmonics of it, here below. It is actually written on a chromatic stave with the white lines separated by 3 guitar frets but you can use it as a general guide to melodic shape.
The form of the tune is typical AABA but each A is different and the last A extended from 8 to 16 bars.
Waltz for Debby is the first copyright tune to be written melharmonically in XroSol. If the copyright owners object to melharmonics of a tune being discussed on this page it will be simply removed. However, the tunes appearance on this encourage readers to hear versions on YouTube or Spotify so it may be more profitable to leave it open for discussion.
Here are the melharmonics of a beautiful classical piece Saint Seans’ The Swan . This help us to understand the beauty of the relationship between the melody, its harmony and changes of key, which are hidden in traditional notation from most except for the very experienced.
Piano pieces. Here is a Minuet taken from the Notebook which uses a conventional stave.