Reading music in France

I have a question regarding reading music. I’ve no idea what category I ought to put it in :thinking:

I can read music without a problem normally and have sung in choirs before joining this one in France. However, I have started to hit a problem…

The choirmaster frequently changes bits of the score and always gives the change in what sounds like tonic sol-fa. An example from last night was when he changed a note in the alto part to A-flat (judging by my neighbour’s amendments) but he called it “la moll(e?)” so my question is - according to UK things I’ve read “do” changes with the key signature of the piece (rather complicated when the music keeps changing key, I would have thought). Is that the case in France as well or has it been rationalised further? If I know, I have a chance of translating what he says (slowly) into the musical notation that I know :smiley:

Angela, I posted a similar question a while ago* . I don’t think we have many French musicians here!

My conclusion was that often the French refer to what we would call the key of C as Do. D is Re, etc.

In the UK, you’re right, Do is the “tonic” - in other words, the root note of the key and first note of the scale - but I’m not sure that is the case in France.

*Movable do solfège

Sorry @Porridge - I didn’t see your previous post :roll_eyes:

I did wonder whether the French used the key of C as Do but the example the choirmaster was talking about actually started out in the key of C so that didn’t help me with the question of whether Do moved or not. I assume this is just a singing phenomenon? Perhaps I need to try talking to fellow singers in the choir who abviously read music and ask them, but I do feeel rather daunted by the complexities of the language involved here :smiley:

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I have a singing lesson Thur week, so can ask if no one else pops up.

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Thank you! Your French is so much better than mine…

Hi Angela, I think you are probably hearing ‘molle’ when it is ‘bémol’ that is being said. Bémol meaning ‘flat’.

Complicated details here…

The notes are do, , mi, fa, sol, la and si.

They can be modulated with double bémol 𝄫, bémol ♭, bécarre ♮, dièse ♯ and double dièse 𝄪.
i.e. two flats, one flat, natural, one sharp, two sharps.
I’m pretty sure that’s correct !


I was sure that I’d read “molle” meant flat, but when I came to look it up, of course you’re correct. I’ve edited my post accordingly.

Any info @JaneJones gets will be useful to me as well as to @AngelaR.

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It depends if you’re in treble alto or bass clef because that decides where do is on the stave.

We also use mettre un bémol to mean to mitigate an opinion for example.

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Does it? I don’t think you can see or infer that from those examples, because none of the staves has a key signature – so all of those examples are in the key of C. The G in the first example is Sol because it’s the fifth degree in the scale of C; the Fs in the second (though I’m familiar only with the first of the two example staves) is Fa because it’s the fouth degree, again in C.

@vero, or indeed @JaneJones, do you never have a key signature with sharps and flats like these examples

in French music? And, if you don’t, how can you tell what key it’s in?

I just found a score of Cantique de Jean Racine, and there is definitely a key signature. 2 sharps F and C.

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Two sharps: D Major. The puzzle is being resolved!

The next question is what would the French call D Major? I thought my supposition (that it would be ré) is looking increasingly unlikely …

… but I found this:, which suggests it would indeed be ré majeur.

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Snap! :rofl::grin:


But you’re better at posting links :rofl:

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Wikipedia says
Le Cantique de Jean Racine, op. 11, est une pièce vocale composée en 1865 par Gabriel Fauré, alors âgé de 19 ans. Écrite pour chœur (soprano, alto, ténor et basse) avec orgue ou piano[1], cette pièce se situe dans la tonalité de ré bémol majeur.

Après une introduction jouée à l’orgue (ou au piano), le chœur entre pupitre par pupitre. À la quarantième mesure, après un pont instrumental, une partie centrale modulante intervient en la bémol majeur (puis si bémol mineur), où l’œuvre atteint son plus haut niveau expressif. Par un retour lent et solennel, la pièce évolue ensuite vers son caractère initial mais transfiguré.


Interesting – the music @Fleur posted was in D Maj, not Db Maj (not that it matters)

But in fact that answers all my questions (I think)!


You can get books on the solfège to explain (in French, obvs), it gave me no end of confusion when first trying to learn to play the saxophone in France, many years ago.

This might be of some use:

EDIT: to add another link from the same resource:


That would be D major.