Shape-note singing , a musical practice and tradition of social singing from music books printed in shape notes. Shape notes are a variant system of Western musical notation whereby the note heads are printed in distinct shapes to indicate their scale degree and solmization syllable fa , sol , la , etc. Use of these syllables helped singers keep track of their place within a melody, especially when sight-reading. In 16th-century England, singers discovered they could operate effectively with only four syllables mi , fa , sol , and la. English colonists carried the four-syllable system to North America. Meanwhile, on the European continent, the hexachord was expanded to seven syllables, one for each note in the major scale in Italy, do , re , mi , fa , sol , la , and si. The seven-syllable system ultimately prevailed during the 19th century in England and America. Shape notation has been adapted to both the four-note fasola and the seven-note doremi system. Shape notes, also called character notes or patent notes, are one of many notational innovations that, like solmization syllables, attempted to make sight reading easier. The four shaped notes —a right triangle for fa , an oval for sol , a rectangle for la , and a diamond for mi —were invented by Philadelphia shopkeeper John Connelly about and made their first appearance in The Easy Instructor , by William Little and William Smith.
Sacred Harp singing is a non-denominational community musical event emphasizing participation, not performance. Singers sit facing inward in a hollow square. The singing is not accompanied by harps or any other instrument. The group sings from The Sacred Harp , an oblong songbook first published in by B. White and E. The repertory includes psalm tunes, fuging tunes, odes and anthems by the first American composers , and also settings of folk songs and revival hymns The current Edition contains many songs in these styles by living composers. This style of singing stems from singing schools in the colonial period.
What is Sacred Harp singing?
It soothes the soul like a remnant of Eden, or a preview of the Promised Land. In a culture increasingly immune to simple pleasures, few Southerners today partake of such an experience by any means more direct than secondhand nostalgia. There exists in our midst, however, a wellspring of the living past.
What are the Shapes and Why? In England, by Elizabethan times, this system became simplified to four syllables fa, sol, la, and mi. A singer would be taught to associate the singing of a given syllable with a particular scale degree. For example the major scale would be sung while singing the syllables fa, sol, la, fa, sol, la, mi, fa.