"Shaped-note" Singing

What is it and what makes it different from ordinary singing?



OOOH!!OOOH!! I almost know the answer to this! My boyfriend did a bit of shape-note singing last year. The music pages were pretty funky. I think each shape refers to a particular note, so that you don’t have to learn the actual scale, just the note that goes with each shape. I’ll ask him next time I talk to him. I just thought it was cool that this was mentioned, cuz I was looking at the sheet music yesterday!

mnemosyne is correct - this is a style of notation used in England and America during the 17th and 18t Centuries. Its proper name is fasola, and it uses only four of the six Guidonian syllables (do, re, mi, etc.). As far as I recall, there is no difference in vocal technique (the examples I have seen were fom liturgical music, such as psalm books - I have not seen examples of secular music written this way).

According to my notes, there were four different shapes used. If I can read my writing:

fa = right-triangle
sol = oval (akin to a half-note today)
la = a rectangle
mi = (my rendition looks like a misshapen half note)
Each note did have a stem attached (the little vertical line found on our quarter and half-notes).

Prior to 1800 letters rather than notes were written on the actual staff. A scale was written as F,S,L,F,S,L,M,F
(yes, fa, so, and la were repeated, and mi was the 7th degree of the scale).

“In 1802, William Little introduced four different shapes of note for each of the syllables, a meathod known as buckwheat, four-shape, shape-note, or character notation, which proved to be very successful in the rural districts o the South.”

Not to further confuse the issue:
While writing this, I thouht of one other possibility. Without actually seeing an example of what you are referring to, it is possible you may also be thinking of Gregorian Chant - Depending on the calligrapher and the pitch depicted, the notation for GC ca look like different shapes - squares, diamonds and bars connecting two different notes. GC did not use stems as we would, except in the case of connecting two or more notes on the same syllable.

Does either of these explanations help?

Bill Moyers, in his show about “Amazing Grace”, spends about 15 minutes on shape note singing. A great show; a great piece.