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Guidonian hand

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Guidonian hand

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One example of the Guidonian hand, from a Bodleian Library MS One example of the Guidonian hand, from a Bodleian Library MS

In Medieval music, the Guidonian hand was a mnemonic device used to assist singers in learning to sight sing. It attributed to Guido of Arezzo, a medieval music theorist who wrote a number of treatises, including one instructing singers in sightreading. The Guidonian hand is closely linked with Guido's new ideas about how to learn music, including the use of Hexachords, and the first use of Solfege, which is also attributed to him.

The idea of the Guidonian hand is that each portion of the hand represents a specific note within the hexachord system, which spans from Gamma Ut (the contraction of which is "gamut", which can refer to the entire span) to ee la. In teaching an instructor would indicate a series of notes by pointing to them on their hand, and the students would sing them. This is similar to the system of hand signals sometimes used in conjunction with solfege.

There have been a number of variations in the position of the notes on the hand, and no one variation is definitive, but in the example below, the notes of the gamut were mentally superimposed onto the joints and tips of the fingers of the left hand. Thus gamma ut(two G's below middle C) was the tip of the thumb, A was the inside of the thumb knuckle, B was the joint at the base of the thumb, C was the joint at the base of the index finger, and so on, spiraling around the hand counterclockwise until the d above middle c (the top joint of the middle finger) and the e above that (the back of that joint, the only note on the back of the hand) were reached.

This device allowed people to visualize where the half steps of the gamut were, and to visualize the interlocking positions of the hexachords (ut re mi fa sol la). The Guidonian hand was reproduced in numerous medieval treatises.


The medieval hexachordal system (c = middle C)
Note Syllable
ee   la
dd   la sol
cc   sol fa
bb♮     mi
bb♭   fa  
aa   la mi re
g   sol re ut
f   fa ut
e   la mi
d   la sol re
c   sol fa ut
b♮     mi
b♭   fa  
a   la mi re
G   sol re ut
F   fa ut
E la mi
D sol re
C fa ut
B mi
A re
Γ ut



Claude V. Palisca. "Guido of Arezzo", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed March 12, 2006), (subscription access). Andrew Hughes. "Solmization", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed March 12, 2006), (subscription access).

External links

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

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