c.995 – C.1050

Italian Benedictine Monk


Guido was born in France and served as a Benedictine monk. In 1025, he traveled to Arezzo, Italy where he worked for Bishop Theobald. Guido may have remained in Arezzo for the rest of his life. Around the time he came to Italy he developed a new form of music notation. This new system replaced letters with notes and wrote them on four parallel lines. Arezzo added one red line and one yellow line to the already customary two-line staff. He also introduced a system of solmization; the solfegge, or Aretinian syllables ut, re, mi, fa, sol and la. These syllables were used as names for the six tones C, D, E, F, G and A, the hexachord. Later, as the octave scale replaced the hexachord, additional syllable, si or ti, was added, and eventually do replaced ut. His theoretical work Micrologus de disciplina artis musicae (c. 1025), which describes the music of his time, is one of the principal sources of our knowledge of organum.


Guido was not a composer, but his contributions as an early music theorist and teacher were paramount. His achievements made it possible for early composers to record their work in manuscript. Before Guido's invention of musical notation, singers had to memorize the entire chant repertoire, and those singers would have to teach the chants to the next generation of singers. Because of memory errors or differences of taste the chants would change over the years. Guido’s system of notation made it possible to definitively record a chant.




Guido derived the six syllables ut, re, mi, fa, sol, and la from the first syllables of each of the first six phrases of the text of a hymn to St. John the Baptist


Ut queant laxis,

Resonare fibris,

Mira gestorum,

Famuli tuorum,

Solve polluti,

Labii reatum, Sancte Joannes!


In this hymn, the first phrase begins on C and each following phrase begins one scale degree higher than the one before. French singers still use the syllable "ut" but in most other countries that syllable has been replaced by "do." Guido discovered that using syllables to teach chants made it possible for his singers to quickly learn new chants.












The "Guidonian Hand" was used widely as a teaching tool. Parts of each finger were assigned a different note. Guido and his followers could teach singers their notes by pointing to different parts of the hand. In 1028, he demonstrated this and other innovative teaching methods to Pope John XIX.