Guido of Arezzo

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Statue of Guido in Arezzo
Guido of Arezzo and Tedald Guido and Tedald.jpg
Guido of Arezzo and Tedald
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Plaque of Guido Monaco, Arezzo.JPG
Guido of Arezzo's house with plaque at Via Andrea Cesalpino, 47

Guido of Arezzo (also Guido Aretinus, Guido Aretino, Guido da Arezzo, Guido Monaco, Guido d'Arezzo, or Guy of Arezzo also Guy d'Arezzo) (991/992 – after 1033) was an Italian music theorist of the Medieval era. He is regarded as the inventor of modern musical notation (staff notation) that replaced neumatic notation. His text, the Micrologus , was the second most widely distributed treatise on music in the Middle Ages (after the writings of Boethius).

Medieval music Western music written during the Middle Ages

Medieval music consists of songs, instrumental pieces, and liturgical music from about 500 A.D. to 1400. Medieval music was an era of Western music, including liturgical music used for the church, and secular music, non-religious music. Medieval music includes solely vocal music, such as Gregorian chant and choral music, solely instrumental music, and music that uses both voices and instruments. Gregorian chant was sung by monks during Catholic Mass. The Mass is a reenactment of Christ's Last Supper, intended to provide a spiritual connection between man and God. Part of this connection was established through music. This era begins with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century and ends sometime in the early fifteenth century. Establishing the end of the medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance music era is difficult, since the trends started at different times in different regions. The date range in this article is the one usually adopted by musicologists.

In Western musical notation, the staff (US) or stave (UK) is a set of five horizontal lines and four spaces that each represent a different musical pitch or, in the case of a percussion staff, different percussion instruments. Appropriate music symbols, depending on the intended effect, are placed on the staff according to their corresponding pitch or function. Musical notes are placed by pitch, percussion notes are placed by instrument, and rests and other symbols are placed by convention.

Neume system of medieval musical notation

A neume is the basic element of Western and Eastern systems of musical notation prior to the invention of five-line staff notation. The word entered the English language in the Middle English forms "newme", "nevme", "neme" in the 15th century, from the Middle French "neume", in turn from either medieval Latin "pneuma" or "neuma", the former either from ancient Greek πνεῦμα pneuma ("breath") or νεῦμα neuma ("sign"), or else directly from Greek as a corruption or an adaptation of the former.



Guido was a Benedictine monk from the Italian city-state of Arezzo. Recent research has dated his Micrologus to 1025 or 1026; since Guido stated in a letter that he was thirty-four when he wrote it, [1] his birthdate is presumed to be around 991 or 992. His early career was spent at the monastery of Pomposa, on the Adriatic coast near Ferrara. While there, he noted the difficulty that singers had in remembering Gregorian chants.

Monk religious occupation

A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decides to dedicate his life to serving all other living beings, or to be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live his or her life in prayer and contemplation. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy.

Arezzo Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Arezzo is a city and comune in Italy and the capital of the province of the same name located in Tuscany. Arezzo is about 80 kilometres southeast of Florence at an elevation of 296 metres (971 ft) above sea level. It is also 30 km west of Città di Castello. In 2013 the population was about 99,000.

Pomposa Abbey abbey

Pomposa Abbey is a Benedictine monastery in the comune of Codigoro near Ferrara, Italy. It was one of the most important in northern Italy, famous for the Carolingian manuscripts preserved in its rich library, one of the wealthiest of Carolingian repositories, and for the Romanesque buildings.

He came up with a method for teaching the singers to learn chants in a short time, and quickly became famous throughout north Italy. However, he attracted the hostility of the other monks at the abbey, prompting him to move to Arezzo, a town which had no abbey, but which did have a large group of cathedral singers, whose training Bishop Tedald invited him to conduct.

While at Arezzo, he developed new techniques for teaching, such as staff notation and the use of the "ut–re–mi–fa–so–la" (do–re–mi–fa–so–la) mnemonic (solmization). The ut–re–mi-fa-so-la syllables are taken from the initial syllables of each of the first six half-lines of the first stanza of the hymn Ut queant laxis , whose text is attributed to the Italian monk and scholar Paulus Diaconus (though the musical line either shares a common ancestor with the earlier setting of Horace's "Ode to Phyllis" ( Odes 4.11), recorded in the Montpellier manuscript H425, or may have been taken from it). [1] Giovanni Battista Doni is known for having changed the name of note "Ut" (C), renaming it "Do" (in the "Do Re Mi ..." sequence known as solfège). [2] A seventh note, "Si" (from the initials for "Sancte Iohannes," Latin for St. John the Baptist) was added shortly after to complete the diatonic scale. [3] In anglophone countries, "Si" was changed to "Ti" by Sarah Glover in the nineteenth century so that every syllable might begin with a different letter (this also freed up Si for later use as Sol-sharp). "Ti" is used in tonic sol-fa and in the song "Do-Re-Mi".

In music, solfège or solfeggio, also called sol-fa, solfa, solfeo, among many names, is a music education method used to teach pitch and sight singing of Western music. Solfège is a form of solmization, and though the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, the systems used in other music cultures such as swara, durar mufaṣṣalāt and Jianpu are discussed in their respective articles.

Mnemonic learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval in human memory

A mnemonicdevice, or memory device, is any learning technique that aids information retention or retrieval (remembering) in the human memory. Mnemonics make use of elaborative encoding, retrieval cues, and imagery as specific tools to encode any given information in a way that allows for efficient storage and retrieval. Mnemonics aid original information in becoming associated with something more accessible or meaningful—which, in turn, provides better retention of the information. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often used for lists and in auditory form, such as short poems, acronyms, or memorable phrases, but mnemonics can also be used for other types of information and in visual or kinesthetic forms. Their use is based on the observation that the human mind more easily remembers spatial, personal, surprising, physical, sexual, humorous, or otherwise "relatable" information, rather than more abstract or impersonal forms of information.


Solmization is a system of attributing a distinct syllable to each note in a musical scale. Various forms of solmization are in use and have been used throughout the world, but solfège is the most common convention in Europe and North America.

The Micrologus, written at the cathedral at Arezzo and dedicated to Tedald, contains Guido's teaching method as it had developed by that time. Soon it had attracted the attention of Pope John XIX, who invited Guido to Rome. Most likely he went there in 1028, but he soon returned to Arezzo, due to his poor health. It was then that he announced in a letter to Michael of Pomposa ("Epistola de ignoto cantu") his discovery of the "ut–re–mi" musical mnemonic. Little is known of him after this time.

Pope John XIX pope

Pope John XIX was Pope from May 1024 to his death in 1032.

The Guidonian hand

Guido is credited with the invention of the Guidonian hand, [4] [5] a widely used mnemonic system where note names are mapped to parts of the human hand. However, only a rudimentary form of the Guidonian hand is actually described by Guido, and the fully elaborated system of natural, hard, and soft hexachords cannot be securely attributed to him. [6]

Guidonian hand

In Medieval music, the Guidonian hand was a mnemonic device used to assist singers in learning to sight-sing. Some form of the device may have been used by Guido of Arezzo, a medieval music theorist who wrote a number of treatises, including one instructing singers in sightreading. The hand occurs in some manuscripts before Guido's time as a tool to find the semitone; it does not have the depicted form until the 12th century. Sigebertus Gemblacensis in c. 1105–10 did describe Guido using the joints of the hand to aid in teaching his hexachord. The Guidonian hand is closely linked with Guido's new ideas about how to learn music, including the use of hexachords, and the first known Western use of solfege.

In music, a hexachord is a six-note series, as exhibited in a scale or tone row. The term was adopted in this sense during the Middle Ages and adapted in the 20th century in Milton Babbitt's serial theory. The word is taken from the Greek: ἑξάχορδος, compounded from ἕξ and χορδή, and was also the term used in music theory up to the 18th century for the interval of a sixth.

In the 12th century, a development in teaching and learning music in a more efficient manner had arisen. Guido of Arezzo's alleged development of the Guidonian hand, more than a hundred years after his death, allowed for musicians to label a specific joint or fingertip with the gamut (also referred to as the hexachord in the modern era).[ citation needed ] Using specific joints of the hand and fingertips transformed the way one would learn and memorize solmization syllables. Not only did the Guidonian hand become a standard use in preparing music in the 12th century, its popularity grew more widespread well into the 17th and 18th century. [7] The knowledge and use of the Guidonian hand would allow a musician to simply transpose, identify intervals, and aid in use of notation and the creation of new music. Musicians were able to sing and memorize longer sections of music and counterpoint during performances and the amount of time spent diminished dramatically. [8]


A monument to him was erected in his native Arezzo. He is one of the famous Tuscans honored by a statue in the Loggiato of the Uffizi in Florence.

The computer music notation system GUIDO music notation is named after him and his invention.

The "International Guido d'Arezzo Polyphonic Contest" (Concorso Polifónico Guido d'Arezzo) is named after him.

Francisco Valls' controversial Missa Scala Aretina took its name from Guido Aretinus' scale.

See also

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In music, an accidental is a note of a pitch that is not a member of the scale or mode indicated by the most recently applied key signature. In musical notation, the sharp, flat, and natural symbols, among others, mark such notes—and those symbols are also called accidentals.

Ut queant laxis psalm

"Ut queant laxis" or "Hymnus in Ioannem" is a Latin hymn in honor of John the Baptist, written in Horatian Sapphics and traditionally attributed to Paulus Diaconus, the eighth-century Lombard historian. It is famous for its part in the history of musical notation, in particular solmization. The hymn belongs to the tradition of Gregorian chant.

Shape note

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The Micrologus is a treatise on Medieval music written by Guido of Arezzo, dating to approximately 1026. It was dedicated to Tedald, Bishop of Arezzo. This treatise outlines singing and teaching practice for Gregorian chant, and has considerable discussion of the composition of polyphonic music.

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The diatonic, Guidonian, or major hexachord (6-32) is a hexachord consisting of six consecutive pitches from the diatonic scale that are also a consecutive segment of the circle of fifths: F C G D A E = C D E F G A = "do-re-mi-fa-sol-la".


  1. 1 2 Stuart Lyons, Horace's Odes and the Mystery of Do-Re-Mi with Full Verse Translation of the Odes. Oxford: Aris & Phillips, 2007. ISBN   978-0-85668-790-7.
  2. McNaught, W. G. (1893). "The History and Uses of the Sol-fa Syllables". Proceedings of the Musical Association. London: Novello, Ewer and Co. 19: 35–51. ISSN   0958-8442 . Retrieved 2010-02-26.
  3. Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 271–7). ISBN   978-0-19-520912-9; ISBN   978-0-19-820171-7.
  4. Claude V. Palisca and Dolores Pesce: "Guido of Arezzo [Aretinus]". Grove Music Online , 11 February 2013. Accessed 11 February 2018. (subscription required)
  5. "Solmization" by Andrew Hughes and Edith Gerson-Kiwi, Grove Music Online (subscription required)
  6. Claude V. Palisca, "Theory, Theorists, §5: Early Middle Ages", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers).
  7. Bonnie J. Blackburn, "Lusitano, Vicente", Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. accessed 13 July 2016.
  8. Don Michael Randel, "Guido of Arezzo", The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996): 339–40.

Further reading