Robert Stuckey and Richard Parncutt

VaWu is suitable for beginners and late starters offering instant note identification and bypassing the complex rules of clef, key signature and accidental. It shares many features with traditional notation so that the beginner can move between the two. It can be quickly picked up and taught by professional musicians.

The name “VaWu” comes from the first pair of five names for the black notes and can be used as a name for the whole set Va Wu Xe Yu Ze. From the diagram below it can be seen that these black note names do not conflict with those of Fixed Do, US/UK or German nomenclature. The vowels contrast with those of Fixed Do (and movable do) within a radius of three semitones.

VaWu and white note names2

With uppercase initials the names represent fixed pitches which can be used in the context of either letter name or Fixed Do initials.

Their use with letter names is illustrated in this extract from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Here the staff lines are white against a grey background. This helps the letters to stand out. Half-notes and whole notes are shown by adapting the diamond heads of renaissance notation (as used by modern percussionists). For the half-note the diamond head is flipped to become a tail. In the second bar the bass note is shown as a square b which can be interpreted as B by US/ UK readers and as H by readers of the German tradition which includes the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Estonia and Austria. The use of the square b dates back a thousand years to the notation of Gregorian chant before the B/H nomenclature split.

moonlight in AZhardb

The key signature is retained as an option. While it can be ignored by the beginner it is useful for the professional to understand how the music was originally written. For example the C in bar 5 was B# in the original and is placed on the B staff position as the leading note in the key of C# minor.

The next example shows how the VaWu initials can be utilized in a Fixed Do context. Here the sign “$” is used to represent Si to contrast with the S or Sol. Similarly, to avoid possible confusion with the letter name D, Do is represented by U derived from its older name Ut, as in bar 4.  It can still be read and sung as Do.

moonlight in LaZeSiU

In lowercase the initials represent movable relationships for singing and harmonic analysis and may be called Kodaly-vawu because of its kinship with the composer’s teaching method in which the solfa initials are placed on the staff (see ) . In this extract from Bach’s Air this melodic notation runs parallel with chord symbols built on solfa syllables. The symbol d^ represents a major chord built on do to distinguish it from the sung note do. The ^ can be dropped when there are other clues to identify the letter as a chord symbol. Following convention the minus sign indicates a minor chord and where a chord is displayed as a fraction the “numerator” is a single note in the bass. A note that has been tied is shown as a normal note head

Air in movable do3A greystave manuscript paper is here shown with a no-man’s land of four ledger lines which seems to be a practical number. Click on the example below to download and print.

greystave continuous


Pronunciation of the solfa syllables varies between language groups, however maximum contrast between adjacent consonants can be achieved by pronouncing the Xe as in Greek that is with the German /Scottish ch, and Ze as in Castilian Spanish as in the English th.

These usages are public domain. The letters VW XYZ were proposed by Stuckey and Parncutt in 1987.The vowels were added to make a movable chromatic solfa in 1995 and the syllables have subsequently been extended to Fixed Solfa context. As yet there is no computer program to convert from MusXML or MIDI files into VaWu.