Should you use La-based minor?
Dear Choralist Friends, somehow Part I of this 18-page compilation didn't go through before Part II, so I'm trying again. I'd say 90% of the respondents favor or use la-based minor, rather than do-based minor in their teaching of sight singing. Thanks to all who responded to my original query.
Emporia State University
Teaching Sightsinging using La-based versus do-based minor
Responses July 2001
I sent a message to the members of Choralist.org. My original question: > What explanation would you offer for teaching la-based minor rather than do-based minor to music majors, nearly all of whom will be music teachers and who will, in turn, be teaching music literacy in their classrooms? Can you point me to research bolstering that argument? Our theory teacher, rightfully so, wants students to become aware of the primacy of the V-I relationship, its harmonic pull, in music. His point is well taken. If you use do-based minor in your class, what is your rationale for that choice.
I'm not a qualified teacher or anything, nor can I point you to any research, just speaking from my own Kodaly-based music education and my continuing involvement (as accompanist and chorister) with choirs that I use the Kodaly method. [The standard English text is "The Kodaly Method" by Lois Choksy if you haven't come across it yet]
I think do-based minor would completely undermine the
understanding of intervallic relationships within the
scale if so-mi is sometimes minor third, sometimes
major third etc. In conventional solfa, with la-based
minor, the semitones are always mi-fa and ti-do, and
the larger intervals are always consistent. This also
works for the various modes (eg Dorian-re, Phrygian-mi
etc), and for pentatony (the pentatonic scale can be
based on do, re, mi, so or la as appropriate).
La-based minor also helps you to teach relative majors
The only way I could see do-based minor working is if
chromatic alterations are used:
do-re-ma-fa-so-lo-ta-do for natural minor, ti for
harmonic minor, but this is extremely complicated, and
you would also lose many of the other benefits of
Perhaps for teaching the V-I relationship, use numbers
rather than solfa. I was taught primarily using solfa,
but we also sang in numbers and letternames. The
letternames are useful for developing absolute pitch,
the numbers are useful for what the theory teacher
I'd be interested in reading other people's responses
as well if you've got time to do a compilation. Simon
I am a theory teacher at the University of North Texas, and I am a la-based
do fan. My supervisor, however, wants me to do a do-based system. There
are arguments for both.
The la-based system of minor keeps the intervals from changing to chromatic
symbols (la-ti-do as opposed to do-re-"meh"). This is much more easily
recognized by the students, and they are usually aware of what scale degrees
are altered to create various minor modes and other modes. Ionic is
doh-based, dorian is re-based, phrygian is mi-based, etc.
The do-based system of minor keeps all tonics at doh, and the user must
alter each syllable accordingly to what mode they are singing. This is
fine, too, for it gets the students thinking about consciously altering the
syllables in order to sing the mode they want. All modes are do-based, so
there is no thinking about on what syllable the phrygian mode starts.
Personally, I like the la-based system more because of its lack of long-term
fussiness. Having students try to figure out if mi is flatted or not in
locrian mode is worthless to me. If they can recognize the mode, they can.
If not, no. One must also remind themselves of the purpose of solfege: to
recognize and learn intervals. It is not a pitch-naming system (nor a
mode-naming system) -- its only function is the acquisition of the skill to
recognize the space between two notes and to replicate that space aurally
As far as the V-I (or V-i) thing goes, it is again the job of the teacher to
acclimate the student to fifth root movement in the class. I don't really
think that one system is better for teaching chord structure. Students will
learn this in part writing, and they can simply work on recognizing fifth
movement in either system. The standardizing do-based system would seem to
me no more effective.
Whatever you want to teach, teach. If it calls for a committee meeting,
call one and state your case and reasoning. If you have to change, you
might like the other one. The end result is the same, hopefully. You
either like McDonald's fries or Burger King's fries.
Assistant conductor, Denton Bach Society
Choir director, Trinity Presbyterian Church
Music theory instructor, University of North Texas
I hope you will read the following paragraphs without taking these comments
personally; I do not direct them at you, but mean only to raise an issue
that I think is worthy of your consideration.
Although I realize this goes against prevailing practice, why teach
musicianship using solfege at all?
Solfege is an archaic technique which, since the onset of late Romanticism
and twelve-tone technique, is an hindrance to singers: it prohibits the
inclusion of text while sightreading, except for those persons having the
most advanced skills.
Intervallic sightreading is equally independent of specific key
considerations (i.e., harmonic centers); can be used with music of any style
period and actually offers greater facility with 20th century works because
it is more consistent with actual compositional practice of that era; and,
most importantly, teaches critical listening skills while allowing the
singer to sing the text at the same time.
I hear around 250+ auditions per year for the five ensembles I conduct,
which include one select university choir, a community college choir and a
community chorus which performs regularly with the Detroit Symphony
Orchestra. I always feel sort of sorry for persons who use solfege for the
sightreading part of the audition, because when I ask them to include the
words, they usually fall apart.
It has long seemed to me that this part of our music education process
should evolve to remain in keeping with musical reality. Composers writing
the most advanced contemporary works clearly expect singers to have command
of intervallic reading skills; and where vocal/choral music is concerned,
the method which best facilitates the presentation of text is clearly the
If you have time, I would be interested in your response. If not, I again
ask that you not consider this a diatribe but just a point for discussion.
UMS Choral Union
Ann Arbor, MI
Talk to any Kodaly guru and they'll give you more than enough ammunition.
If you teach fi and si to be altered pitches, as are me, le, and te, then
where are the accidentals in natural do-minor? We're now sticking square
pegs in round holes with unaltered altered pitches. By the way, there's
certainly more at play than the obvious guarantee that the last flat in the
signature is fa or the last sharp ti regardless of tonal center (which will
become evident enough in our reading). When I read a book or article, I
don't have to launch into an in-depth analysis or find a perfect authentic
cadence to know what language to read it in - that makes itself plain in the
Speaking of tonal center, what if (with a key signature of two flats) the
tonic is neither b-flat nor g? Is that poor sophomore going to have to do
the math to extrapolate do-ra-me-fa-so-le-te-do from what would be an
otherwise abundantly clear d-phrygian?
If harmonic audiation is the goal and we can assume that these students will
be protected from all tonal paradigms other than generic major and minor,
then even so why confuse the mind's ear with two different sol-do's? This
time they are harmonic pegs being forced into square holes. Your theory
prof makes the point for you: mi-la and sol-do are inherently DIFFERENT!
Teach both, along with their relative (pardon the pun) properties and I
guarantee you that the musicians will hear a major tonic-dominant
relationship with do-sol-do and a minor tonic to (major!)dominant
relationship with la-mi-la. It's a lot more sensible than trying to get
them to harmonize and tonicize do mentally as both a major and a minor
To my ear, do-sol-do is always harmonized by three major triads. I can't
imagine trying to pick and choose each time.
La-minor is certainly not inconsistent with any analytical techniques, so
there's no argument to me made there; Schenker's bassbrechung goes I-V-I,
not do-sol-do, and his urlinie goes 3-2-1, not m-re-do.
One more thing - once they move away from tonal music (not so hard to do,
since it only existed, in the strictest sense, for about a week and a half)
then it will become more and more important to rely on rock-solid intervals
as the foundation of their reading.
Neil Ewachiw, DMA Defender of the la-minorists
I can't say that "do-based minor is the only way to teach sight-singing" nor have I read Gordon's arguments
for la-based minor in order to be able to respond directly to them, but I do think that do-based minor has a
number of strengths. As your colleague suggests, it maintains for all keys the tonicizing relationship
between sol-do and ti-do, as well as the same "name" for the tonic pitch. Perhaps even more useful,
however, is the way that do-based minor allows the student to make direct. functional comparisons
between major and minor (i.e. natural minor differs from major by lowered third, sixth, and seventh scale
steps, hence mi-->me, la-->le, ti-->te; or, the ii chord in major is sung re-fa-la while the ii dim chord in
minor is sung re-fa-le). This is helpful also when other modes are introduced, though I suppose one could
use la-based minor as a basis for dorian, phrygian, and locrian. It seems to me that students would more
readily keep track of the differences between the modes if the tonic were always called do.
Assistant Professor of Music
Schenectady County Community College
I did a literature review for my master's thesis on syllable systems and
their usefulness in contexts.
There is quite a large disparity in the literature between "do"-based minor/"la" based. After considerable
thought on the subject,and after sifting through the
literature, I have come to believe the following is true:
"la" based is great within the public school realm where you see the students
for a very limited time. There, you are not only teaching syllables as a
means by which one sight-sings, but also as a means of establishing pitch and
key relationships, (i.e.-relative minor...or minor as a key related to "do",
the resting tone for major).
It is quick and does not necessitate verbal explanation...which is very
important when considering the developmental level elementary school students
are in. (Generally, they learn by doing, not through intellectual
In specific musical instances where the composer is clearly not moving to
relative minor, but rather parallel, the "do" minor system allows for more
fluent, uninterrupted sight-singing. It is also a better method when teaching
the difference in modality versus keyality, (ala Gordon). Even in Gordon's
curriculum, (which I have spent 2 years teaching), comparing major v.s minor
is taught using the same resting tone, (from an absolute pitch, such as "C")
, and is implicative of the "do"-minor theory.
Neither system is "the be-all and end-all", and both have problems that can
hinder the speed and fluidity in which one sight-sings. In a pure
Gordon/Kodaly context, the syllables are considered intermediaries and are
meant to be "lost" or "fallen away" as the student becomes more familiar and
comfortable with standard music notation and rules. Sight-singing, therefore,
should not be bogged down by any syllable system in an "on-the-spot"
situation. Again, we're talking about the ideal, and for the most part, not
the reality in which most of us learned or teach.
I hope this didn't confuse you too much. This subject both fascinates me and
frustrates me since I, too, am looking for the best method to expose my
If you have any questions about Gordon, check out his websight, or his
publications from GIA. The writings of Kodaly may also be an avenue to look
Check with Organization of Kodaly Educators OAKE. I believe they will be
able to give you data that supports La based minor. I'm sure you are familiar
with this organization. I am not able to help more now as we are moving. Good
luck. I support the La based minor.
I'm not a professor teaching sightsinging; however, I was, a few years ago,
a music major taking sightsinging.:) For me, it was difficult as first to
change mindsets when it came to minor keys; yet, it was learning do-based
major and la-based minor that helped me to relate both major and minor. If
the minor keys are taught using do as the base...where is the relationship?
It does not help the student in sightsinging, nor does it help the student
to understand the theoretical relationship between major and minor.
That's my two cents worth as a prior music major.
I battled this problem for many years as a theory teacher in a
college and area long dominated ( Roman Catholic) by the la moveable-
doists. Some years ago a major rift in the music faculty was avoided when a
newer faculty member with a Julliard background was using fixed do! Heavens
to Betsy1 Guess which forces won the day? Well, I, like everyone used la
moveable do. However, I must add, under protest. I didn't come to Louisiana
from a syllable background, and, at first, tried to foster a democratic
"every man for himself" approach, but the R.C. department head would have
none of that!
Lots of luck.
I have been using sol-feg with the moveable "do" and the "la" based minor
system for many year at the high school level. My students are not music
majors and have little knowledge of some of the advanced theory we strive
to give our students. The "la" based system is less confusing because "do"
remains constant throughout. My students can sing all the scales and
modes, sing triads and inversions, identify chords within the framework of
a scale as to their tonality and can write things down. I spend about 5-7
minutes every day with sight reading which encompasses some theory. One of
my students recently went to Carnegie Melon and auditioned for advanced
theory. The professor asked him if he could sing a minor scale to which
Brad asked, "would you like the melodic, natural, or harmonic minor
scale?" The professor was impressed and moved Brad on.
If the V-I concept is the only reason for moving to a "do" based scale, I
would come up with 10 reasons why one should stay with the "la" based
system, the least of which is less confusion when singing.
I would love to hear some of your other responses as that has come up in my
classwork also. I teach choral methods and a choral literature class at
St. Olaf College and students have challenged me with that one. For high
school students, it works best to keep it simple and consistent.
Anoka High School
Anoka, MN 55303
I am one of those who believe that the concept of "do" is negated when teaching "la based do". Do is not
just a syllable, but a center of gravity, a pull toward home. I understand why it's easier to teach a minor
scale beginning on la, but why on earth should a scale begin on la rather than do?
North Central College
Having taught the first-year sightsinging course at my university for
several years, I am firmly in the la-based minor camp!
I began teaching this course using la-based minor because that is the
system I knew. I was persuaded 11 years ago to switch to doh-based minor,
and even during my 4 year hiatus away from this course, it was used by the
other instructors. When I resumed teaching the course, I switched back to
la-base, because I noticed that as students in my choirs who were trained
on doh-based minor progressed through the system, the choirs were less
proficient at reading in minor keys. My main rationale is that la-based
minor works better as an aid to sight-reading.
I also have observed that in the repertoire we sing, the instances of
moving between relative major and minor keys far exceeds the instances of
moving between parallel major and minor.
While the goal is to integrate the theoretical and practical study of a
musical score as much as possible, there are some opposing forces at work
in the process. Your theory teacher is correct in wanting his students to
recognize the primacy of V-I root movement in both major and minor keys; it
is equally useful in reading music to recognize instantly the size of an
We are, after all, dealing with labels here. The notes on the page remain
the same - it is in how you perceive them that makes turning them into
sound more or less easy. It is far easier to read an ascending interval as
e-g# than as e-Ab. In my experience (over 20 years of teaching this
course) students are more quick to recognize that c is doh whether the
music is in c major or a minor than to remember the new syllable names.
They must perceive the movement of roots by fifths, but most students seem
to have difficulty remembering doh-re-meh-fa-sol-meh-te-doh as diatonic
notes in the (natural) minor scale. In sight-reading, keeping the syllables
the same in both major and minor keys is more useful than keeping the
integrity of V-I root movement.
I have recently graduated from Augustana College with a BA in vocal music education. I have been
taught solfege since I was in sixth grade and have always used a la based minor scale. Here's a recent
student point of view for you--
I was always taught that intervals are the key--to sightsinging, to understanding harmonic structures (ala
V-I), etc. While using la based minor, you still can use the same interval relationships as a major do based
scale. Granted, intervals are always the same in a given scale...but to a mind that is trying to grasp the
solfegge system (some music majors at our school had never been asked to use it before) it's easier to
always remember half steps between ti and do and between mi and fa. I also think it's easier to have less
"accidental" syllables. Teach them "fi" and "si" but "me" and "te" seem like too much. If you are teaching
the V-I relationship, I think it helps to know that SOL-DO is just as valid as MI-LA. If students think that
V-I only occurs with SOL-DO, canalization of Romantic/Chromatic music will be difficult. However, in
closing, I recognize do based minor as a valid method. I like using Curwen hand signs too (even with
college and high school level stud!
ents). The older students are a
ble to understand the meaning of the actual hand sign. For example, the sign for TI actually points to DO.
The sign for DO is stable, and the triad DO MI SOL requires only simple changes in hand position. FA
falls down to MI, etc. Like I said, just the point of view from someone who was recently a student!
I have used la-minor for years. I teach sightsinging to boys age 8-14. I
used to use syllables (do-re-mi) because that's how I was brought up. In
1990 I changed to using numbers (hence 1=do and 6=la). I concluded that if
I had a daily-rehearsal group, I could and would use syllables, but with a
twice-weekly group, the numbers give a more immediate feel of interval size.
We do "customize" the numbers chromatically, by changing the vowel to "ee"
for sharps, and to "ah" for flats. Hence 1 - ween - two - tee - three (3#
almost never happens) - four - feer - five - feev - six - seex - seven -
seeven (again, 7# hardly ever comes up). And:
One -seven - sahven - six - sahx - five - fahve - four - fahr - three -
thrah - two - tah - one - wahn. And of course 1b and 4b hardly ever come
I am not in a college situation. Music Theory is a tool to the end of
good performance. We are adamant in our sight-singing work, and each
rehearsal, without fail, begins with a vocalise and 10 minutes of drill.
First, a "point-&-sing", then a two or three-voice exercise of 5-8 measures.
I do teach 6-minor (same as la-minor), and have no trouble with the boys
hearing 5-3 OR 1-5 as tonic-dominant relationship. The point is hearing the
relationship. I point out the frequency of 1 & 5 in major keys and of 6 & 3
in minor keys. They see it, they hear it, it makes sense. They home-in on
6 just as easily as on 1, once they gain some experience.
I believe you are right that Gordon would support you. Gordon is one of
our patron saints. IF your incoming students have been brought up on tonic
sol-fa using do-major and la-minor, then when they get to your college
course, they can make the shift to fully do-based solfege. But I'll bet
that your class is, for many of them, their first experience in organized
sight-singing. I'd stay with la-minor to start with.
Do you view theory study as proceeding from linear (contrapuntal) hearing,
or from vertical (harmonic) hearing? Most college theory is SO keyboard
based, that vertical thinking sweeps all else aside.
But for most of musical history (worldwide!) music has been heard
horizontally. Sight singing is about lines, not harmony. The harmony rises
from the interaction of lines. I believe you have a strong case to make,
though in the face of some groove-loving theory faculty, you may have a hard
Brooks Grantier, The Battle Creek Boychoir, Battle Creek, MI
Dr. Terry Barham.
Director of Choral Activities
Emporia State University
Emporia, KS 66801
Part II La-based vs. do-based minor compilation
(compiled by Terry Barham, Emporia State University)
Do you know Ken Fulton at LSU? I don't know how easily he can be reached
this summer, but I think it would be worth the try. This whole argument came
up while I was a doctoral student under Fulton. He was able to make such a
compelling argument that the theory faculty agreed that the two solfege
systems could work together. I was not involved in the discussions, but
heard directly from Fulton as he reported back to the grad students. The
phone number at the School of Music at LSU is 225-388-3261. They can connect
you with Fulton's office where he has voice mail. He's very good about
returning phone calls and, I think, would enjoy helping you out. Off the
record, I think most of his enjoyment would come from "sticking it" to
another theory person.
>From my perspective as a choral conductor, La-based minor is infinitely more
valuable because of the half-step relationships (mi-fa; ti-do; si-la). When
my chorus sings solfege (this is how we learn all of our music), I tend to
be more concerned with half-steps. I tend not to emphasize the sol-do
movements-my basses tend to start sounding like timpani when this happens.
The result has been a chorus that sings on the top side of the pitch, sings
much better in tune, and sight reads more fluently.
Assistant Professor of Music
Hampden-Sydney College, VA 23943
I've been teaching movable do for years, in high school, college and
community choruses. I teach la as the "related" minor or relative minor
(after all it shares the same key signature as do major so it's "related")
I teach do minor as a parallel minor. la minor has always made more sense
to me since it shares the key signature. I am not aware of research, just
my 30+ years of experience with hundreds of students. It works and it makes
I teach all of the sight-singing at Xavier University in Cincinnati and have
finally come down on the side of "Do based". I find that the student has
enough trouble solidifying the V-I and IV-I concepts that changing
syllables for the minor key is distracting. Further, each of the
other chords retain their essential similarity to the major scale.
That is, the solfege "spelling" of the triads is already familiar. I
must admit, however, my sense of logic wants to use "la based".
Tom Sherwood in Cincinnati
My rationale for la-based minor solfege:
I teach la-based minor solfege to all my students (K-8).
Your students will probably do the same in public or
private schools. I tried a few different sight singing
systems and did lengthy research on other methods, but I
found moveable do and la-based minor solfege the best
way for my kids to earn Superior ratings in sight
reading at Choral Festivals.
Tony Bernard, Music Ministries Director
St. Andrew United Methodist Church
3455 Canton Rd. Marietta, Ga 30066
While I don't have a "researched" rationale for teaching moveable do sightreading. I have found from my
experience (I learned both ways in school) that using moveable do, does indeed reinforce the V-I concept.
When teaching sightsinging especially for purposes of choral music, it is imperative that it be easy. Using
fixed do sightsinging can get very confusing-especially where more modern literature is concerned. Also,
fixed do does not easily allow for transition to modified key changes (hidden V-I relationships) within a
piece, whereas, moveable do is more effective because one will learn the intervals associated with
do-re-mi etc. and therefore be able to change their "do" midstream so to speak.
Ex> in the beginning of the piece do=C where C is the tonic. Suppose then we transpose through the
piece with or without key signature changes to A# where A# becomes tonic. Whereas C was do, and A#
was "li or le" A# now becomes do. Easily done at any given point without losing pitch relationships.
There is also the matter of too many syllable changes and not enough concentration on pitch relationships
with fixed do. Examine something complex like Frank Martin "Mass"
Finally....though no basis.....I don't know a single individual who can sightread better with fixed do.
While it is good for learning pitch control....it doesn't help anyone learn faster, its complicated. Moveable
do allows for a few immediate learning responses. 1. you know where the piece is going, the mood, and
where it will end up (major, or minor). 2. Your tonality is readily established. 3. Ease of use with
moveable do allows you to make music faster-who needs to worry about li, leh, si, se, etc....their are fewer
syllables to worry about...leaving room to work on other attributes of your pieces.
Anyway....enough diatribe. Clearly I choose moveable do for its ease of use over anything. Good luck,
hope this helps. By the way, it is a must when teaching children...1 guess what I teach mine.
JMBC Children's Choir
Your answer lies in teaching fixed do. Do is always C, Re is always D, etc.
Julliard used this system, and according to our learned community choir
director, Bill Gray, it is the best way to teach relative/perfect pitch and
I can only give you my take on things from my personal experience as a singer, but maybe it will be
helpful to you. I learned to sightsing in chorus in middle and high school using a la-based minor system.
We didn't use solfege, we used numbers, but we'd sing minor scales starting on six. It makes things much
simpler, especially when trying to teach sightsinging to middle schoolers. We didn't worry about
distinguishing between major and minor keys. We learned about key signatures and how to find our
numbers from those - farthest flat to the right is melody number 4, farthest sharp to the right is melody
number 7. Even if you're in a minor key, say e minor instead of G
major, F# is still melody number 7, the piece will just end on 6 instead of 1. From that standpoint,
especially preparing people to teach, la-based makes more sense because it's just less complicated all
around. (I don't have experience with teaching it - I'm only about to start my second year teaching
elementary music, and last year I was so focused on surviving and getting on my feet that I didn't do as
much as I really wanted to or should have with music literacy) When I got to college, we still did
sightsinging with numbers, but one was always the tonic of the key we were in, major or minor. That gave
me trouble, and I never did really adjust to it very well. If I
have to sightsing for any reason, I always use what I learned in middle and high school. Whether I'm in a
major or minor key - starting on 1 or on 6 - makes a difference in my head even something as simple as an
interval of a fifth. 1-5 and 6-3 are both P5s, but if I'm singing 1-5 in a minor key in my head I lose the
minor tonality of the song (in isolation, that is, without other parts to give me the harmonic structure) I
know a lot of this distinction with me is because it's what I learned early and what I used and had drilled
into me for six years. From an elementary music teacher's standpoint, the system I learned makes much
more sense to teach to children. It lends
itself very well to a discussion of major keys and their relative minors - you can see that they're related
when you use one scale for both, just starting on different numbers, whereas if you use do-based minor it's
not as easy to see. Well, no, that's where I better stop because I don't have experience with solfege. With
solfege some of the syllables in minor are different from the syllables in major, aren't they? I'm starting to
get into things I don't know enough about, so I better quit now.
I know I'm really in no position to give any kind of informed, expert opinion on any of this. I just wanted
to relay my personal experience. Maybe some of that will be helpful to you. The rest is just speculation on
my part, as I have only taught for a year, on the elementary level at that, and didn't do much in the way of
music literacy this year. Thanks for wading through all of my rambling!!
K-6 General Music
Cherokee County, GA
I am a middle school music teacher but I have taught high school for over a
decade. My students sight-read, both in major and minor keys, using
movable-do major and la-based minor. I have had most success using these
two concepts (I have taught with do-based minor as well as with numbers.)
The reason, I believe, is that aurally, it is easier for the students to
hear the difference in tonality and have corresponding syllables that
support the sound. The la-based minor also allows the students to see and
hear the minor third that defines the difference between major and minor
keys. It is similar to teaching the students that the natural minor can be
created by beginning with the 6th degree on a major scale. Since most of
your students will become teachers, I would strongly urge them to teach
students using movable-do major and la-based minor.
I don't have any specific research to support my statement. However,
someone from the Kodaly association may be able to give you definitive
I have no research but I agree with you. La based minor maintains key
signature integrity and teaches relative keys. Teaching 5-1 pull is
important, so do it. Change the 5-1 from major to minor, just as we do note
names. Teaching do-based minor seems to me to be emphasizing the harmonic
at the expense of the melodic, and when singers are trying to find a pitch,
it is the melodic motion they are concerned about.
I fought this battle at Webster and lost. As a result, I no longer teach
undergraduate musicianship. I teach la-based minor in my grad-level
musicianship class required of music ed majors.
La-based minor is at least 400 years old as a method. Do-based minor is (I
am convinced) the invention of some 20th-century theorist who needed a
history lesson badly!
I wrote an article on some of the history of this controversy.
Title: "Shaping and Sharing Techniques for Sight-Singing" in
*The Phenomenon of Singing*
edited by Brian A. Roberts
published by Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1998
You might want to check it out -- you could probably get the book on
interlibrary loan if you do not have it in your library.
St. Louis MO
This disagreement is common between theorists and choral musicians. OUR
agenda is to teach the skill of sightsinging, whereas they want to reinforce
common practice harmonic principles. Both are laudable goals, of course.
I'm sorry that I cannot quote research off the top of my head. However, I
would be suspect of any conclusions drawn in this area without a really large
sample in dozens of studies. There are just too many possible variables.
Gordon, though, for whatever one may think of his specific solutions to music
ed problems, has done the research to back up his stuff.
La-based minor is consistent: absolutely consistent. The intervals are
always the same, the syllables are always the same, and one can move easily
between major, minor, and all the other modes without a problem. Much (maybe
most?) music in minor actually spends a large part of the time in the
relative major anyway, does it not?
Let's face it: V - I is NOT a difficult concept to grasp, and music students
will learn it just fine without having it reinforced every time a choral
student sightsings a piece in minor. However, dorian, phyrigian, etc. are
much harder for most students to hear. BUT, they CAN find the sounds in their
ears much more easily when using la-based minor.
Actually (I just thought of this), all descending fifths in the bass are
significant, aren't they? By using la-based minor, we can actually reinforce
the significance of la to re, ti to mi, mi to la, and other facets of the
"harmonic sequence," to say nothing of secondary dominants. The specific
fifth so to do is of prime importance, but it's clearly not the only important
descending fifth in common practice harmony.
Once upon a time, I was taking a graduate course in twentieth century
compositional techniques from an excellent composer, teacher, and theorist.
When some members of the class had difficulty hearing and conceptualizing the
various modes, I proposed the obvious solution: relate everything to the
major scale on do (implying la-based minor). He responded that they
(theorists) don't do it that way. It was my first initiation into this small
but moderately annoying controversy.
If it were a matter of right and wrong, more of us would all agree.
It isn't a matter of right and wrong, but the choral solution (la-based minor)
is clearly better for teaching effective sightsinging. In my ever-so-humble
opinion, of course.
By the way, I have thought for some time now that choral musicians would be
the best teachers of sightsinging and aural skills courses. Not that we need
more to do.... :)
Rowland Blackley, D.M.A.
Director of Choral Activities
Ashland, OH 44805
I strongly favor LA base, including modal scales. All through my
undergrad days, modes were a total mystery for me (and sightsinging was a
nightmare, as the person I had used fixed DO). When I started my Graduate
work in a Kodaly program, everything was approached through LA and Do base
- CLICK! Lights on! I continue to teach my high school students in
this manner (and did the same when I taught middle school), and a number
former students have come back from college theory saying that they have
continued to mentally do the modes in the way I taught, and profs are
amazed at their ability to identify what mode a piece is in.
The credit goes to Dr. Robert Perinchief, who in the mid 70's started the
Kodaly certification program at UW-Whitewater. He published some materials
with Sister Lorna Zemke, and also many of his own. Many of the things are
for primary grades, and he does really neat stuff with visuals on these.
If a 3rd grader can get it, what's the problem?
Bob has now moved from Wisconsin, but if you want an additional source of
support (and materials to refer your music ed. majors to) you can reach
him at: PERRYINNOVATIONS(a)worldnet.att.net
The way I learned them is:
Start with DO and LA pentatonic scales, then fill in the altered tones.
DO: D R M S L
Ionian: F T
Mixolydian F Te (lowered Ti, whatever you want to call it)
Lydian Fi T
LA: L D R M S
Aeolian: T F
Dorian: T Fi
Phrygian Te F
Harmonic: T F Si
Melodic: T Fi Si (asc.) S F (desc.)
My high schoolers are adept at identifying the mode of anything they sing
with this, They easily identify major and minor key signatures and
automatically know how to build major and minor triads. The V-I thing, it
seems just as reasonable to have MI-LA and SO-DO, as it carries into ear
training so easily. I wish I had learned it this way first! I am
thoroughly convinced I would have gotten SO much more from my undergrad
theory, composition and eartraining/sightsinging!
Beloit Memorial High School
For what it's worth, I think it would be good to have them learn both.
In fact, you should also teach them numbers (tonic do = 1, etc.) You
both have your reasons for teaching the way you do, and I have my reasons
for teaching the numbers. I was taught both numbers and solfege and am
very thankful for it. Truth is, ANY of the methods will work just fine,
so why not give them all? You would only expand their musical ears, and
it will probably make it easier for them to transpose (something not
taught nearly enough in the schools).
Josh & Nancy Peterson - Directors of Music
First United Presbyterian Church
1303 Royal Heights Road // Belleville, IL 62258
This argument will rage eternally. I completed my doctorate in music education at Temple University
while Gordon was still there. You will be interested in knowing that the theory department and the
education department were divided on this issue. In fact, when one theory instructor referred to la-based
minor as fiction, several graduate students were rather miffed. I believe the result at Temple is that
education students learn do-based minor to make their theory teachers happy and learn la-based to teach.
Though a bit cumbersome, some ability in both systems is not entirely a bad thing.
Unfortunately, since this subject wasn't central to my dissertation (or many other things I did), I can't give
you reference to strong research other than Gordon's Music Learning Theory. At the moment, I can't cite
anything written by him on this subject that involves quantitative research, though I'm sure he must have
done some. His writing is too strong on the issue for him to have done so without some empirical
As far as I'm concerned, fixed do and do-based minor are illogical, where teaching is concerned.
Everything related to the V-I pull in music can be handled rather well with a la-based system.
Professor of Music
Rochester Hills, MI
La based minor maintains the same intervallic relationships between notes
that keep the same solfegge names. For example, LA - DO is a minor third
using La based minor, it would be a major third using Do based minor.
This hinders memorization of intervals.
Kodaly and Guido D'Arezzo, the two main inventors of the system, both used
La based minor.
I use Fixed DO in Italy, where I live and teach. You might want to visit my
websites that deal with solfegge teaching materials.
Convince your head that DO - SOL relationship is for harmonic thinking
whereas learning solfegge and sight singing melodic intervals goes beyond
this concept and can be useful in modal music and contemporary idiom.
All my best,
Via Cairoli, 78
50131 Florence, Italy
La-based minor allows beginning students to really establish the relationship
to the key signature and relative minors keys. It also helps them to
determine the different between parallel and relative minor scales. Also, it
sets them up for further understanding modes in that do is not always the
tonic. If one is using moveable do, then la based minor fits right in. With
La-based minor, one only need three chromatic syallbles to solve the majority
of solfeging issues: te, fi, si.
Look to Kodaly methodology, the most popular and successful curriculum for
teaching children musical literacy. It uses La-based minor.
Do- based minor sounds like fixed do.
What I have observed is that vocalists tend to prefer moveable do and
la-based minor, while instrumentalists tend to prefer fixed do and do-based
minor. I think that it can be attributed to the fact that instrumentalists
can push a key and blow and get the right note while vocalists (who don't
have perfect pitch) must find the key relationship so that their note makes
Movable do and la-based minor do not preclude the use of fixed do and
do-based minor, but fixed do and do-based minor make for a difficult
transition to moveable do and do-based minor. Student schooled in high
school in la-based minor will easily transtion to do-based minor if they need
to in college as long as they have been taught about the intervals in the
Both will work eventually, but beginning and intermediate students will have
much more success in sight singing using moveable do and la-based minor
because the key relationship within each scale are preserved.
Also, think about written music. Do the letters change from c major to a
minor? Personally, moveable do and la-base minor are the only logical choices. :)
>From a theory standpoint, do-based minor strengthens the
comprehension of parallel majors and minors (very important in
19th-century music) while la-based minor strengthens the
comprehension of relative majors/minors (more valuable for
18th-century music). When you get into real music (which some
sightsinging curricula never do) there are many minor-mode pieces
which seem to switch back and forth fairly freely between relative
keys, especially earlier in the common-practice period. La-based
minor might make these easier to sing, not forcing you to make a
judgment on whether a modulation has occurred. OTOH, the reason this
only seems to happen in minor-mode pieces is the presence of the
leading tone (thereby making i-VII-III seem to tonicize III), and
calling the leading tone SI obscures this important function.
Allen H Simon
Soli Deo Gloria
We discussed this very question some this summer at a workshop for AP Theory
teachers (I teach HS choir and theory). Our professor, Dr. Ferrandino from
Texas Christian University, made an excellent case for taking care in how we
approach many aspects of the minor key and scales. His basic point was that
the minor should not be considered a step-child or variation of the major.
The scale developed from its own mode and is equally valid. DO based minor
implies that the minor scale is just a variation of the major which is
demonstrably false. The whole-step, half-step relationships are more
solidly entrenched this way too, I feel. Dorian would be based on RE, etc.
Burleson High School - Burleson, TX
Don't expect to find agreement on your question. Kodaly teachers
utilize la-minor as part of their solfege system and it works exactly as it
is supposed to. Guido got it right in the 11th century, and it still works
just as well today. Obviously the teacher has to be fluent in solfege.
Theory teachers are, well, theory teachers and hopelessly trapped in
common-period practice. They also love to regularize things instead of
following what composers actually do. Musicians trained in those countries
that utilize fixed-do will rhapsodize and insist it's the only way to go.
Nobody is going to change anybody's mind.
Kodaly methodology is based on movable do with la minor. Music educators
owe it to themselves and to their future students to be intimately familiar
with Kodaly methodology, because it was designed to develop sight reading
and music literacy skills, and it does so quite well. Research? Most of
the Kodaly materials are published by Boosey & Hawkes. Read some. For
future music educators it is the only rational way to go. And it doesn't
hurt if your students have to learn a second system in theory classes. All
the systems work and all of them have their strong points. It's just that
teaching musicianship is one of the very strong points of Kodaly teaching.
Obviously I don't! Let me simply put it this way. (Nor do I like using
numbers for several good reasons.) Except for the Kodaly materials (all
readily available), all sight-singing methods I've ever seen are written by
theorists and use principles that appeal to theorists. And nobody in my
experience has ever learned to sight-sing using those methods. Students
taught by experienced Kodaly teachers do. Q.E.D.
Dr. Terry Barham.
Director of Choral Activities
Emporia State University
Emporia, KS 66801