Fixed Do vs. Moveable Do
Here is a compilation of the 25 or so responses I received from the list
regarding the pro's and con's of moveable and fixed do.(I had to do it in
2 parts-sorry) Although lengthy, I think you will find the responses
Hamburg High School
I would suggest not changing, and further suggest taking an advanced
Kodaly workshop covering the use of solfege in non-tonal music, if
indeed such workshops are offered.
Guido invented movable Ut (even though limited to 3 hexachords) in
the 11th century purely as an educational aid, since one of his jobs
as a monk was training the choirboys. He wrote that his system
reduced the amount of time it took the boys to learn all the chants
(non-tonal, I might note, or at least non-functional harmony-driven)
they needed to know from 10 years to 2 years. His system was so
perfect for educational use that it was still being used more or less
intact 6 centuries or so later!
Kodaly, as you probably know, scoured Europe looking at all the
teaching methods currently in use, and settled on movable do as the
best system for educational use. Please note, for EDUCATIONAL use.
I'm sure other systems have their strong points and weak points as
well, but none seems to work as well as movable do.
John Armstrong who just retired from Oswego High School has a wonderful
program for music literacy based on fixed do and utilizing modified
Curwen/Kodaly hand signs.
He worked out his very approachable at Oswego and his results are nothing
short of amazing. He gave general music and choir directors a day's
workshop and we all felt empowered to use his simple materials and "just
do it." So I did.
I introduced the vocalizes all rhythmic variations on a major scale up
and down with hand signs for a few days and then gave my choir Lutkin's
Lord Bless You and Keep You. By the end of the 40 min period, the choir
had learned the piece with hand signs and solfege beautifully and the
pitch never, never sank.
It's usually easier to speak of the disadvantages of fixed rather than
the advantages of moveable. In fixed, you can set up a situation whereby
the interval of a major third is all called the same pitch, as Cbb, Cb,
C, C#, and C## are all do. Move from Cbb (Bb) to C## (D) and call it all
do? Doesn't sound like a good idea to me...
The only advanteage of fixed is if you happen to develop a VERY good
sense of pitch memory you can use it as a tool for developing perfect
pitch (with enough repetition, you'll here a pitch and go "Oh, that
sounds like fa... it must be an F therefore"). However, the rewards of
such in my opinion are not worth it.
I am not in favor of a fixed "do" system in any way unless it is a
student who has learned this from a very early age. Those who study
this from early childhood have basically a trained "perfect pitch" if
they use fixed do.
In conversations with many music educators over the years, I understand
that "la" minor is their preference. Those who are highly trained in
this method do very well. However, I think it does a disservice to
modulating music, and it is of no help when a student is studying college
theory. (I make my freshmen and sophomores use "do" minor even if they
used "la" minor in high school).
What those who use "la" minor say is that, given the same key signature,
all syllables are the same, and there is very little change.....therefore
this is an easier system. I beg to differ: In most melodic
singing, there will be the raised 6th and 7th scale steps: therefore
"fi" and "si". Whenever melodic minor is used, then, the only change
in the scale going up is "mi" to "me". Then, going down, ti becomes
"te," and "la" becomes "le."
My primary objection doesn't even have to do with the above, however.
It has to do with something theory and musicianship teachers are trying
to teach: functional harmony: and then allowing that theory
knowledge to guide musicianship. tonic is tonic whether one is in a
major or a minor key. And dominant is dominant: the V harmony has a
pull. If one uses la minor, then the dominant chord is sung with mi si
re: makes no sense for functional harmony.
In addition: sight singing modulating melodies is much easier to do
with "do" minor: pivot tones, etc, are easier.
I'm a moveable-do fan here. I'm mystified that your kids are stumped by
using moveable-do for chromatic music. I think it works great.
You might, however, consider *adding* use of the German letter names,
which are one-syllable in contrast to our two-syllable "F-sharp" or
"B-flat" system. The versions I sort of use are: sharps:
c-ciss-d-diss-e-iss (f)-fiss-g-giss-a-ace-b-biss(c); flats:
c-(cess)b-bess-a-ahs-g-gess-f-fess(e)-ess-d-dess-c (The As are the
difficult ones to deal with. You could figure out what makes the best
sense to you.)
This solution gives you a moveable and a fixed system (letter names) to
this doesn't really answer your
question, but for what it's worth, Eastman now requires fixed do. Kids
starting as freshmen last summer must do everything in aural skills
classes, etc. using fixed do. Upperclassmen are "grandfathered" and will
be able to finish with moveable do.
Like you, I spent most of my life dealing with moveable do and la minor.
I agree that fixed do makes more sense the farther away from diatonic
one gets. I wish I had had an opportunity to even contemplate fixed do
many years ago. I think the thing that it does for one is actually to
develop better pitch memory. If "A" is "la" all the time, pretty soon
you look at an A and you know what it sounds (and feels) like regardless
of the key you are in (or are not in.)
For me, I have always taken great comfort in the idea of half steps
between mi & fa and between ti & do, and in my own singing, if I need
something to help me figure out a starnge or awkward interval, I'm more
likely to think of a trumpet fingering than to think of a solfege
solution. I don't have perfect pitch, but I'm almost always right when
I'm sight reading, and rarely need to do more than think for a moment
before I have pretty close to the exact starting pitch for almost
anything I'm reading.
I have always used moveable 'do.' I still think small tonal cells can be
found, even in atonal music, where the system can be helpful.
My college Musicianship teacher was very open with us as to why she chose
teach us using fixed do. Her main reasoning was that she thought fixed
would give us a sense of absolute pitch. Most days we were doing sight
reading, she would start by asking, "Do you have a do?" To this day, I
usually pick a C out of mid-air pretty well. I did atonal sight singing
with this teacher as well, and fixed do seemed pretty logical, given that
you're not dealing with a tonal center and essentially using the previous
pitch as a reference for the following pitch.
I'm not sure why I switched to using moveable do when I started teaching.
used the Jensen sight singing book throughout my teaching career, which
while using moveable do, doesn't do this so emphatically that fixed do
couldn't be used. Maybe I switched because this book used moveable and
realizing it would be easier for me to switch than for my students to
switch, maybe it was because I realized by then I was thinking music
harmonically and moveable made more sense, I don't know. I always
to my students, though, that there are other methods out there and that
one method is more correct than another. (A good thing, too, since one
my former students who started out as a music major had a hard time at
university where they use do-based minor instead of the la-based she had
On the one hand, moveable do communicates information about where the
lies in the key; sight reading for me got easier once I realized key
functionality. On the other hand, fixed do does develop some sense of
"that's where this pitch is," i.e. a bit of perfect pitch. I can tell
that switching from moveable to fixed is a whole lot easier than
from fixed to moveable. Even though I've been using moveable do for
now, I still find the key of C much easier to deal with than any other!
I would agree that moveable do could be a hindrance in extremely
and atonal music. Depending on the chromaticism, though, moveable do
be perfectly viable. I have a friend who is Kodaly trained, a vocal
proponent of moveable do, and who makes teaching sight singing her life's
work. We frequently have conversations about teaching sight singing, and
asked her about how moveable do would be used in atonal music.
(Conveniently, she and I both used the same atonal sight singing book in
college.) She tells me that the music is divided up into small cells for
which there is temporarily a tonality, then change to a new do for the
cell. She likens this to the mutation of hexachords in Medieval and
Renaissance music. It would be hard for me to judge, not having tried
way myself, but I think fixed do would be much easier to use in atonal
My suggestion is to continue with movable do, but when you have the
students sing on solfege, do you transfer to letter names? This is what
I was taught in my Kodaly training. This helps to teach stronger
relative pitch and will prove to be more helpful in more modern music.
For example they've sung in the key of F-do on solfege, then have the
students read on letter names (flats have "ess" added to end of letter
and "ese" for sharps). Then they can sing on text. This interim step
maybe the next challenge for you and your singers.
Count me in for moveable Do. Maybe it is because that is the way I was
trained; maybe because some method is better than no method at all. My
training was extremely strong in a Moveable Do system (Bob Vehar). We
did some very avant garde stuff in the 70's and everything was done
syllabically (OK I remember some Pinkham taught by rote-I don't remember
why it was not atonal) I took a class in teaching AP Theory at
Westminster a couple of years ago where Do based minor was in use-Yikes!!
I understand the why but personally I could not make the change after
over 30 years of moveable Do with a La based minor. I have also had
several students continue study at University settings and have to make
the adjustment to fixed Do.
I would say that students who operate very well with your method can
easily add intervalic relationships Do Fa, Re Sol, Me La , etc., as
Perfect 4th relationships and apply that to atonal situations. I find
some music or portions just don't fit the tonal model but perhaps a
phrase will. I break things down to their simplest components and work
from the familiar. If a passage calls for tritones we sing the familiar
P4 and raise the top or lower the bottom to get the Aug 4 or Dim 5th. It
makes our score study all the more intense as we need to look at it from
the familiar but then how do you read it? They would read in the same
manner since that is more than likely the path you have taken them on.
Since this is a progressive process your students would most likely have
lots of tonal practice before being asked to work outside the box. Isn't
Here is part 2 for interested parties
Hamburg High School
I learnt both systems as a child, I learnt fixed do first, but ultimately
found movable do made more sense to me, since the majority of music I
sang was tonal, and movable do *sounded* right (fixed do was great for C
major or A minor, but confusing outside that context, even *before* I
learnt movable do).
A major benefit of learning solfa was the approach of learning intervals
(d-r major 2nd d-m major 3rd etc),and this is where I still find it
helpful singing atonal music - one does not bother trying to solfege the
entire piece (generally by the time you are attempting this kind of music
your musicianship has developed to the point where you can sight-sing
without having to work out the solfa first), but when one encounters a
particularly difficult and angular phrase, one can usually identify the
intervals and find a way to convert them into solfa phrase-by-phrase. It
means taking "movable" extremely seriously! but it works. I am currently
singing "Big George" by Jennifer Fowler, and found that the handful
of phrases I couldn't pitch straight off came together very quickly once
I wrote some solfa (eg phrase F A# G# D#, I learnt to pitch the F from
the altos Aflat, which I hear as do, and the phrase became la re do so
(required an enharmonic conversion) - the F minor anchor only works for
that phrase, but after that I have four bars rest, and the next entry is
easy to pitch (entry on C after sopranos sing F E D C, hear it as fa mi
re do, easy).) you just apply it in bits and pieces as necessary.
Of course you could still do that in fixed do (and would have the
advantage of consistency - it would be better for your preferred approach
of singing the whole thing in solfa before attempting text) - as long as
you use chromatic alterations a la Curwen/Kodaly ie do di re ri mi fa fi
so si la li ti do ti ta la lo so sa fa me ma re ra do. I've never yet met
a fixed do practitioner who works with that system. I don't understand
how anyone can sing so-mi as a major 3rd without giving themselves a
headache; or how so-mi can be of any use whatsoever if it is a major 3rd
piece, a minor 3rd in the next, and an augmented third in the next. In a
Curwen/Kodaly derived movable do system, the intervals are always
consistent, and that's the major advantage.
Are you working the students on letter names as well, using the
handstaff? One of the main Kodaly gurus here
in Australia, James Cuskelly, argues that while you should begin teaching
with solfa at the elementary level, by the time they finish high school
they should be singing in letternames. (Not a skill I've developed well,
but I agree with his point.)
The valuable to movable DO is the sense of tonic that it provide. In
tonal music it is vital in my opinion. Every pitch has it's place, even
the chromatics. You just have to teach them and get the kids used to it.
There have been pieces that are a-tonal or continually shifting
modes/keys that I have chosen to NOT use solfege when teaching. I try to
do this a little as possible.
Three Madrigals - Diemer, for example. Easy pieces in the long run,
great teaching pieces but #1 switches so often without changing the key
signature, I'm not sure if it's worth using solfege.
I have been using Fixed-Do for the past 25 years and cannot say enough
good things about the method. The most important issue for me is that
it makes students think about the key they are in and they must think
in half-steps and whole-steps. My choir (starting with 7th grade)
learn all of their music on syllables and I test them frequently. They
all sing their part for me.
I recommend the method for you to try.
I'm a big fan of moveable "Do." It's been my experience that, once a
person becomes familiar with the moveable Do system (including
chromatics), it is relatively easy to deal with chromatic or atonal
scale fragments that may be completely out of the key. In such cases,
"Do" just has to jump around. To someone who knows what he's doing and
why, this shouldn't be a problem. I just started giving piano lessons
to a couple of young boys who had learned all their music from a
previous teacher using the "fixed Do" method. It's actually caused some
confusion for them...
What I find is that using la-minor works best for singers. But when it
comes time to introduce singers to piano-based theory, do-tonic works
best. Students who take both voice and piano seem to have to trouble
using both systems depending on context.
Here, deep in the heart of Texas, 98% of us use the moveable do
system. I understand how singing music with increased chromaticism and
even atonal music on a movable do can become problematic - I still
prefer it since the system allows for chromatics. Even "atonal" has a
relationship to do somewhere. Do you use the Cerwin hand signs? They
help in giving additional reinforcement through kinesthetic movement.
Good luck, remember it is better to have doed and lost than to never
have doed at all.
In my opinion, once you get to more advanced literature, no system is
Rather, the concepts taught in each system are what really matter (eg
rythmic and intervalic structure). When someone learns ear and rythm
training well, it is the concept that allows them to move forward, not
necessarily the actual repetition of solfege.
The only advantage, that I know of, to fixed Do is to
help with perfect pitch. I have always found that
movable Do makes the most sense. It gives a sense of
key center so that the intervals in each key are
similar. Using numbers does not allow for accidentals
or othe types of scales or modes. In listening to
students do sight reading exercises using various
methods I have found that movable Do is less confusing.
I am one of a million supporters of moveable do. I think the entire
population of Italy (and a few others) are on the other side of the
but I am quite sure they are in the minority.
When you get into Romantic music and beyond, where the accidentals are
frequent, you just need to find new tone centers and "change keys" in
to make the solfege fit.
You may know that in Hungary, as well as other Eastern European
they do EVERYTHING in solfege for a long time before adding text. When I
in Kecskemet, Hungary, at the Kodaly Institute, I sang under the
of the incredible Katalin Kissbrilliant musician!and I remember this
19th century piece where Kati "walked us through" the changes. Sometimes
literally sang only a measure or two before changing the position of
Sometimes the different voice parts had different centers for "do" at the
same time. But it totally works!!!
In Hungary, they do not "go too far" in modifying the syllables. For sure
they use sharps fi and si and flats ra, me and le, but that's about it.
they need more sharps or flats, they just move "do" again. In 20th
music, that may mean having 4 voice parts in 4 different "do centers" at
once and changing every measure for a while.
I just believe (not having known the system for 40 years and now having
known it for 10+) that there is no other way to learn the relationships
I use movable do as well, but I also spend a lot of time with interval
recognition. I tend to have students sing intervals in non-tonal music
on a single syllable. It isn't perfect, but I feel there are too many
advantages to movable do to do anything else.
Why not learn BOTH? As a harpist, I use "fixed do" since that is the
system; however, as a singer I learned "moveable do" which is more useful
for interval relationships.
I use moveable do because fixed do doesn't make any sense. Here's why:
if all of the syllables are going to be fixed to the notes names, then
why not just use the note names? It's much more direct than having to
translate from looking at a staff of notes into solfege, and then from
solfege to pitch. (That is what the mind is doing after all.) If do
will always be "C" anyway, then just call it C!
The only advantage to using fixed do solfege over notes names is dealing
with chromatics. It is easier to say the one syllable "di" than to say
"C sharp." The advantages of fixed do, as you implied, are that they
seem to be a good tool for learning non-functional or otherwise atonal
music. However, I think that the benefits are not from the system as
much as they are the constant assocation of sight (looking at the staff),
kinesthetics (vocalizing on a specific syllable), and sound (pitch). In
a sense, the constant repition of the exercises lead to very good
relative pitch. So, it's not fixed do solfege itself that helps in
chromatic reading, but the pitch memory that can accompany the constant,
continual, and ritual use of fixed do.
Since most of our choral music is fairly tonal in nature, I like moveable
do because it is a tool that helps to strengthen musical functionality.
It is about relationships between notes rather than notes themselves. I
findeven in pieces that seem to fluctuate between keysthat there is
always a feeling of do. I tell my students where the "do" is for the
partuclar sections (or I help them to figure out where it is) even if it
is not officially what the key signature says it is.
I choose solfege over numbers because the single syllables are simpler to
use. They also seem more universal, and aren't grounded in my language
or in math (a subject some music students would like to get away from).
I use do-based minor instead of la-based because my students are already
familiar with the chromatic solfege, so it seems easier (and makes more
sense) to keep calling the tonic "do." Why should the root of the chord
suddenly have a different name? From another angle, when we do
functional analysis, we still call a G-c progression ( in c minor) a V-i
progression and not a III-iv progression, so why not keep calling G-c
sol-do, rather than suddently changing it to mi-la? Given that the point
of moveable-do solfege is to teach the relationships of notes, shouldn't
we leave the names the same if the relationship is the same?
Well, I think that's everything. Solfege vs. numbers. Moveable do vs.
fixed do. La based minor vs. do based minor. If I left anything out or
you would like some clarification, please let me know.
I've about decided that there are True Believers in the solfege world
people who think there is only one correct answer, just as there are
fundamentalists in every religion! My own viewpoint is more lax: I
teach moveable do, using la for minor keys, as you do, but when the
music gets thorny or the tonality questionable, we just revert to C as
do, and work out things using the fixed-do method. I have a stale joke
I tell about C being the center of all things, so when things get rough,
we go back to the center and work from there using chromatic solfege.
It works almost all the time.
Basically, as long as you can explain it well and show them the tools
they have to problem-solve, I find they solve the problems effectively.
I just try not to make a big deal out of any method I use, since
they're hopefully going to work with lots of different directors in
their lives, and I don't want them "programmed" into inflexibility.