Shape Notes

"Shape notes" are a traditional aid to help untrained singers find the pitch in music that is reliably in a simple major or natural minor scale. These are based on the solfege system. In the "7-shape" system each scale tone has a unique shape - different shapes for Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, and Ti. The minor scale is La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol. The C major scale would look like this in half notes:

The "4-shape" system used in the Sacred Harp tradition (also called fasola) uses what may seem to be a quirkier method: a major scale reads Fa, Sol, La, Fa, Sol, La, Mi, and the minor scale is La, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Fa, Sol. Here's the same C major scale in the 4-shape system, this time in quarter notes:

What about the raised 6th and 7th degrees often found in minor? Shape note singers usually don't raise the 7th, and in the Sacred Harp tradition they generally raise the 6th degree without writing it that way - which means that Sacred Harp singers usually sing minor scales in the "Dorian mode" rather than the modern minor.

To use shape notes, open the Staff Appearance window in the Staff Menu and check the box "Use Shape Notes in this staff." You can also choose whether you want the 4-note or 7-note system. Songworks will automatically choose the correct shape note for each note of the scale. All you have to do is to write the music the usual way, with or without shape notes turned on, and when you turn on the shape notes feature the note heads will instantly adjust as appropriate for the chosen 4 or 7-shape system. If you change key or move a note the notes will automatically change shape. Turn off the shape notes feature and the notes revert to "normal" notation.

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