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date: 17 October 2019

Shape-note hymnodylocked

  • Harry Eskew
  • , revised by James C. Downey


A body of rural American sacred music published in any of several musical notations in which a note head of a certain shape is assigned to each of the solmization syllables fa, sol, la, mi (in the four-syllable ‘fasola’ system) or do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si or ti. Most shape notations (also sometimes called ‘buckwheat’, ‘character’ or ‘patent’ notations) employ key signatures, deploy the notes on a five-line staff and use the rhythm signs of conventional notation (see Notation, §III, 5). They are intended to help singers with little musical expertise to sing at sight without having to recognize pitches on the staff or understand the key system.

The shape-note tradition originated early in the 19th century and flourished among many whites and some blacks, particularly in the South and Midwest, where it still survives, and furnished the principal printed sources of folk hymns and white spirituals. A later 19th-century offshoot formed an important branch of white gospel music....

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Musical Quarterly
Journal of Research in Music Education