Switch from moveable do Solfège to fixed do solfège

August 23, 2017, 5:37 PM · I’ve been using Solfège for as long as I remember, mostly moveable do because I first learnt it as a singer. While moveable do does give me some benefit, such as the ease of improvisation (I can play a tune in any key right away as soon as I hear the melodic line), I find moveable do confuses me/difficult for me to make sense of it when the melodic lines are obscure. It also slows down my sight-reading. I would like to switch from moveable do to fixed do. I wonder if any of you have tried such switch yourself or have taught student to do so.

Replies (39)

August 23, 2017, 8:02 PM · Having taught moveable do for many years at the college level (I was taught fixed do myself at conservatory), I consider moveable do the most useful option. I think fixed do is kind of a crutch that's easy but of little value.

If you have problems because it slows down your sight reading, then you need to practice it more.

The beauty of moveable do is that it is not tied directly to fixed pitches, which are in themselves not really that relevant. What is relevant is the relationships within a key.

August 23, 2017, 8:49 PM · Scott, thanks for giving me the hope! I did notice that certain works such as Bach solos really make a lot of sense with moveable do because of the relationship within each key is always pretty clear to me.
Edited: August 23, 2017, 9:44 PM · Yixi, this is what we used in school for atonal music:


Never quite got the hang of it :(

Edited: August 23, 2017, 9:50 PM · Double post...

I never understood why we continue to use solfeggio. Can't we just call a relative system by scale degrees and a fixed system by letter names?

Edited: August 23, 2017, 10:52 PM · Jeewon, I feel it's annoying to juggle all three because most of the musicians I know (including my teacher) use letter names, and some composers I know use scale degrees, but I am stuck with what I learned at an earlier age, very much like counting numbers. I still count in Chinese even though I speak English for more than 30 years. I noticed on YouTube that Christian Tetzlaff counted in German when he gave a masterclass in English. So this is probably a common phenomena.
August 24, 2017, 12:06 AM · Solfeggio is really nice for little children to learn the notes by singing them. This is how I learned note reading almost as a child's play. We learned to sing a lot of pieces, sight-reading, so definitely not a movable do. (Actually I could see someone sight-reading with movable do, that would be impressive?) Singing them in "C, D, E, ..." just is very artificial for children, I think. This is at an age where they do not know the letters yet.
August 24, 2017, 12:32 AM · I have no idea what the difference is
Edited: August 24, 2017, 1:59 AM · Ahmed, in fixed Do, Do is C. In movable Do, Do is the tonic. So in fixed do, Do is always C, no matter what key. But in moveable Do, it changes based on the key. So if you're in Gmajor Do is now G. Always scale degree I.

Scott put it best above - movable Do is great because it's about the relationship between pitches and not the specific pitches.

I'm not sure why, but I can't really relate to this question at all. To me the notes are related to positions on the instrument in regards to sight reading. I don't look at the note and go 'oh this is C5', I just go 'oh 2nd finger A string'. For me sight reading is more of a spatial relationship than a theory based one.

The biggest weakness I see with movable do is when there are modulations to different keys and the tonal center shifts around a lot, but then I could just be imagining that as a problem since I don't actively use movable do except for singing.

August 24, 2017, 4:19 AM · WHAT DO BECOMES G. WHAT.

I'm with you for sight reading.

I just play what's in front of me. I don't know the C5 stuff. Wastes my time. My ears are good. Do will always be do and A will always be 440*( i don't like 442)*.

I recently asked an engineer friend to give me a list of ran numbers to write music with.

Michael do you want to try? :) *numbers between 1*and 11

August 24, 2017, 4:56 AM · While never crazy about solfege in general, I favor fixed Do. With fixed Do you know what notes you're singing. In a simple line, either system can work but what if it starts to modulate? The same note can be seen as this in one key and that in the key it's modulating to - so what do we call it it in movable Do?
August 24, 2017, 6:21 AM · I have been forced to use both systems, so it is certainly possible to switch. I find fixed do much easier than moveable do, but haven't really found that either has contributed at all to my ability to recognize and understand interval relationships. Fixed do really is just translating letter names one-to-one, so I don't see any use for it as a learning aid. If anything, solfege has gotten in the way for me, especially when it comes to moveable do. With moveable do, it's akin to suddenly having to call what you have always known as "green", "red". But maybe I am just some sort of mutant, because most of the musicians I have met swear by solfege.
August 24, 2017, 6:26 AM · I think solfege makes the most sense for tonal music because it makes the relationships clear ((dominant-tonic, etc). I studied fixed-do and I find it helps me transcribe, or just remember a new tune.
August 24, 2017, 7:59 AM · "I never understood why we continue to use solfeggio. Can't we just call a relative system by scale degrees and a fixed system by letter names?"

We could use scale degrees, but that doesn't account for chromaticism. You'd still have to invent something to call flattened or sharped notes. The solfegge syllables are pretty easy to learn with a minimum of effort and culturally widespread.

One of the most important relationships in our tonal system is the half-steps. In fact, one of the first thing my students are taught are the positions of the half steps. Every lesson, they have to regurgitate answers to "where are the half steps in C?" and "Where are the half-steps in any major key?" It's really amazing how many students don't know these two very basic facts about music. If you don't know where the half steps are, it will be very difficult (almost impossible) to make sense of complex late-19th century music.

In moveable do, mi-fa and ti-do are ALWAYS half steps. It's so simple to remember. But if you use fixed do, then the half steps are always shifting around. If you use fixed do, In the key of D-flat, as quickly as you can, tell me where the half steps are:

Well? I'm still waiting. This my point. In the key of D-flat (or A#, or B, or G-triple sharp...) the half steps are still mi-fa and ti-do. They are ALWAYS in the same relative place.

In our system of diatonic scales, are there any relationships more important than the half steps? No. But there are some others that are still important. For example, sol-do is very important.

Quick you fixies: sing the syllable for V-I in the key of F-flat major. Now you have to do all sorts of calculations in your head. Why bother though? In Moveable do, it's ALWAYS sol-do. Major triads on I are always do-mi-sol. These relationships are much more important than the actual pitch names.

August 24, 2017, 9:46 AM · Again, I'm not a fan of solfege, period. I did it at Mannes for 4 years, ultimately in 7 clefs! And I still don't know what it did for me. We did fixed Do. I don't remember how we annunciated half-steps. But Scott, you haven't addressed the modulation issue.
August 24, 2017, 9:51 AM · BTW, there's a lot of discussion on the internet about this issue.

Also, I don't think that Homer J. Simpson was given enough credit for his interest in solfege. After all, he was always saying "D'OH!" ;-D

August 24, 2017, 2:30 PM · Raphael,
What's the "modulation issue"?
You make a decision, depending on the modulation, on what to call the new note. Brahms often uses chromatic modulations, such as renaming A# as G-flat. So you use the appropriate syllable for the first, and switch scale degrees for the new key of the second.

I think solfege probably helps violinists and pianists the least. By college they have a good working knowledge of theory and intervals. But it does help many other types of musicians, such as percussionists, guitarists, and vocalists, all of whom generally have very limited theory knowledge. Solfege give all those musicians a common way of applying the theoretical knowledge to some actual music. I think it's one of things that help, even though you can't define exactly how. Everything we learn adds up.

I do think it's necessary for future music teachers. They need to be able to vocalize to a class without always picking up an instrument. If they can't demonstrate a rhythm or interval or melody to a class, they will fail as a teacher. Whether they use syllables is secondary.

If I were testing students and they had to figure out what exactly to call a note at a modulation, I'd give them credit if they had any kind of reasonable answer. The issue I had with solfege wasn't that complicated: in the four colleges I taught aural skills the main issue was simply learning the syllables and taking a look at the simple tunes they were assigned. It wasn't rocket science, but simply doing the minimum. They wouldn't learn the syllables, they wouldn't learn the rhythms, they didn't practice sining in tune. It was disappointing and demoralizing to have so many students not even trying, no matter how much I lowered the bar. I'm glad I'm no longer fighting that battle.

Edited: August 24, 2017, 3:53 PM · It seems to me that solfège is an "aural shadowing" (sorry, I can't think of a better expression), in that, when I sight-read a piece, I don't intentionally read with solfège but I hear "do, re, mi" when I play in tune. I suspect such "aural shadowing" would have some affect on my visual perception/memory. It's not so much as verbalization, not singing out loud, but it's probably related.

I notice that some great pianists are singing (audible like Glenn Gould) when they play, or you can see some move their mouth constantly even their voice is inaudible (Fazil Say, Yuja Wang, etc). Violinists moving their mouth is considered problematic (tension or something), but I'm sure we all sing in our head when we play, only that some sing with solfège and others don't.

Edited: August 24, 2017, 5:30 PM · 1ah 1 1ee
2ah 2 2ee
3ah 3 3ee
4ah 4 4ee
5ah 5 5ee
6ah 6 6ee
7ah 7 7ee

Maybe not as mellifluous, but has virtue of making immediate sense, with no translation. And it cannot be confused with fixed letter names.

That's interesting what different people perceive while playing. For me, solfeggio is an extra language I have to practice to maintain. Numbers are much easier to hear intervals with.

Scott, all instrumentalists read with fixed do, just that outside of France, we call them by their letter names. Some people can manipulate the names with interval numbers with chord numbers, much faster than others, but everyone who reads music with any facility is immediately reading fixed do and realizing through fingering.

August 24, 2017, 5:39 PM · I must be an odd ball. I read fixed do when learning a new piece or sight-reading the first a few tries. I hear moveable do as soon as I start to get a little fluent with the piece and that'll stay. I'm pretty good at memorizing a piece, better than most adult violinists I know. I attribute this ability to moveable do solfège.
Edited: August 24, 2017, 5:52 PM · Or... your excellent musical memory makes it easy for you to think in solfege :)

(My wife has no formal training in sight singing or solfege, but could always just do it. She has an innate relative pitch, including modulation. She has excellent musical memory. She can't name pitch but remembers all music in their absolute pitch, which she usually has memorized after a few attentive hearings. Her fixed pitch reading is much slower (she has to translate letter names and fingerings.))

August 24, 2017, 6:24 PM · I don't believe either is a must, if you can play any given passage's scale in tune. Every musician reads, learns, and memorizes differently, according to background and individual predisposition. It gets old when people argue about which is "best"-though thankfully, we are not doing it in this thread. Whichever you learned first will seem "best" and more natural to you, usually, unless you train yourself otherwise.

I didn't even know of the concept of movable C (being honest, don't even remember its pros) until maybe Master's Degree, so I never think of any scale that way. Thinking of an Ab Major scale's tonic as "C" boggles my mind, for I always hear a C tone when I think of C, never an Ab. I memorize notes/passages as sounds and finger patterns-the intonation, in my case, I just "feel" with my ear, rather than actively think about scale degrees. With experience, you just *know* which note is what in any given passage, and you flatten or sharpen accordingly.

Since non-movable C is supposedly "harder", this is what I would suggest one learns to begin with-OF COURSE (as aforementioned), with the bias that it's what I was raised on in music. Another person with a different background may say movable C is easier to grasp, thus better to begin with, etc.

August 24, 2017, 8:00 PM · I had a firm training in intervals and pretty much thought in numbers/intervals. Always been happy to be able to switch between thinking one interval to the next or understanding what degree of the scale I was on. Then, I join music college and have to sing solfege and have to change those numbers into names and suddenly my skills are downgraded while I translate. I felt this was a complete waste of time and transferred to a class that worked differently! I dabbled in Indian violin and they have their own solfege (sa,ra, ga, ma, pa, da, ni, sa). I also studied Japanese Shakuhachi which again had its own names for the scale. In my jazz post-grad however, I found that jazz musicians always talk in numbers, whether that be chords, chord tones or scale degrees. Really, these things are all arbitrary names so it doesn't really matter but personally I think the numbering of notes gives you a better idea of degree of the scale and is not archaic or exotic. Being able to hear, pitch and name the interval from note to note is a must for any violinist also.
August 25, 2017, 12:37 AM · Adalberto, I've never heard of "movable C" (other than transposing instruments such as a Bb trumpet, but that's not quite "moving"). Is this common in your country?

August 25, 2017, 4:51 AM · Well, I'm no master theorist (I just play one on tv!) but re modulation, often as a modulation starts, there will be say, a certain pivotal note that can be simultaneously understood as this degree of one key and that degree of the one it's moving to. So what do you call it in movable Do? It just all seems so much more difficult and fussy to not name the notes but instantly interpret their place in the scale and tonality.

Anyway, again, I'm no fan of ANY kind of solfege and for me at school, it was a waste of time. Once when I complained at Mannes, they told me "well look, you know that you're going to do it in all the clefs. Suppose you take up the viola. You'll already be ahead of the game, knowing the alto clef." I said "I can already name the notes in alto clef. But I can't just pick up a viola and put the right finger on the right string in the right position. And being able to do-re-me the notes doesn't bring me any closer to being able to do that." They had no answer. And they never even tried to explain what I'd ever need with such clefs as soprano, baritone, etc.

Mannes in some ways was very close to European conservatories in its approach, as well as an epi-center for Schenkerian analysis. (Don't even get me started on THAT!). I heard that in the Paris conservatory they held solfege contests!

Edited: August 25, 2017, 6:28 AM · Here in France, solfège (fixed DO) usually starts a year or two before being allowed to touch an instrument. It consists of rapid spoken enunciation of the note names (without mentioning the accidentals); followed by the same in rhythm; then some easier examples which have to be sung in tune (by some sort of miracle). Absolute pitch is thus the sign of a true musician! Intervals are discovered much, much later.

I met a fellow violist who assured me that she waa excellent at solfège but was not very musical.......

Of course the most innately musical student will compensate for the huge failings in this approach, but that is hardly the point.

Edited: August 25, 2017, 8:00 AM · Raphael, pivotal note you mentionef can be subdivided into two to transit from one key to the other. I figured out this by myself as a kid but I don't know how others hear the pivotal note. I agree with you that movable do is fussy and I wish to switch to fixed do, which I used to use when I first started violin. It's just once I have learned to play with movable do, I always hear the notes this way without trying.
August 25, 2017, 8:04 AM · "They had no answer. And they never even tried to explain what I'd ever need with such clefs as soprano, baritone, etc."

Yes, students are always asking "why do I have to know that?" And I'm not sure, in any discipline, that an institution is obligated to provide an answer except to say that they are educating you in your profession.
It shouldn't be up to the student to decide what will be useful to them later in life. As professional musicians, we should endeavor to learn about soprano and baritone clefs. And much other arcana.

August 25, 2017, 8:50 AM · The singers in one of the bands I work with use a version of the fixed Do system. The Spanish version is; do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-Si-do. I have always thought that the interval system is more important. Intervals, not the individual notes, are the true building blocks of music. For the violinist there is a clear connection between the pairs of two-finger combinations and the intervals. I also was assigned that "Modus Novus" book in college.
August 25, 2017, 9:45 AM · Scott, the institution should be obliged to provide an answer, because if they really can't, then that means that there is probably no good reason for you to be learning said skill. And as a customer, you shouldn't have to pay for stuff that isn't useful, and takes time away from that which is. Students should have some say in what they find useful, facilitated ( not dictated ) by faculty of course, because students have different interests, and should pursue them accordingly.
August 25, 2017, 9:52 AM · I'm finding this a fascinating thread to follow.

I just learned, starting at age 4 where the notes on the page went with what fingers on my tiny violin's fingerboard - and also where they ere on a piano. Then like everyone else I learned moveable Do (long before Mary Poppins), But what happens to the moveable Do concept with minor scales, and what about all of these:


Is there a DM PhD thesis in all of this?

August 25, 2017, 9:55 AM · Honestly. Too complicated, too odd. Never heard of it. A pitch is to me hertz wise a fact. I can't think any other way
Edited: August 25, 2017, 4:23 PM · Andrew, you could use:
Do Re Me Fa So Le Te

La Ti Do Re Mi Fa So

August 25, 2017, 10:26 AM · OK, now I'm finally inspired by solfege. Move over Mary Poppins!

DOUGH - some cash, and baking too

RAY - it's coming from a gun

ME - 'tis I, it is not you

FA - we've only just begun

SOL - the sun is shining bright

LA - it's "the" in old Francaise

SI - it's "yes" in Espagnol

And it brings us back to...to.. D'OH!!

Edited: August 25, 2017, 10:44 AM · It was the other way for me.

I have perfect pitch and could not stand movable DO until I went to college. I went a major musical school in the USA which emphasizes on using the number system, which is essentially the same as movable DO. It was hell for me. I was advanced, so I passed out of the first year advanced ear training/sight singing and went straight to the second year. However, it was really a hard transition for me to think in movable DO. Because I am great at reading all clefs (yes, all the common ones and the uncommon ones), so I was able to fake through the only year that I had to take.

It was after that first year in college, after I suffered through the only year of ear training I had to take, that I actually began to adapt to the number/movable DO system. And it was natural to me by the time I had to teach it as a TA in graduate school.

I would say it is harder for someone who has perfect pitch and fixated on fixed DO to learn movable DO, than for someone who is transitioning the other way around.

I think it is wonderful to be able to do movable DO so naturally. Just as you said, you can improvise up and down left to right just like that.
Fixed DO sometimes is a curse... I think.

August 25, 2017, 11:21 AM · Y Cheng, thank you! I think such encouragement can really be life-changing. As a serous armature player, I always question my inadequacy and gaps in my learning. No one around me seems to know what I'm talking about when I name the notes I hear. Too confusing for other musicians around me so I feel I must switch. Now that I see that switching is not necessary even possible. My focus should be on knowing my fingerboard and let solfège do the singing and improvisation work.
Edited: August 25, 2017, 12:28 PM · Yixi, I must confess I wasn't sure what you were after. Can you clarify? (Better sight reading? Ability to playback complex tunes after brief hearing? Improvisation? Communicating what you hear with others?)
Edited: August 25, 2017, 1:10 PM · Jeewon, playing back after brief hearing and improvisation are easy for me. Communicating what I hear with others generally is not a problem, as long as I don't use Solfège (which often leads to chuckles from others anyway). However, I thought since no one I'm working with knows what I'm talking about when I hear Solfège, I thought I should switch to what people are used to such as number or fixed DO with letter form, just to make things less confusing for everyone. For instance, during a lesson, my teacher would say "Your Ab is too high" while I was thinking about Solfège note and it sometimes takes a second or two for me to translate. I also thought Solfège might have slowed down my sight-reading. When I'm busy with hearing the Solfège, my focus might be too much aurally and not enough visually. But who knows, it's all speculation on my part.

The discussions we've got so far have helped me to realize that switching may not be the right approach, or even possible -- once I've heard something, I can't unhear it. Since professional musicians have learned moveable DO Solfège at one time or the other, it's unlikely a total waste to use it. What I need is to be fluent in the ways other people are using. In other words, I need to be flexible and learn more.

Edited: August 25, 2017, 4:28 PM · Ah, I get it. Just have to pile on even more work ;)

I don't think it'll take you long. What confused me was the method, fixed Do, wherein you look at C and call it Do, D is Re, etc. I think we all agree there is a basic literacy we each possess, and it's just a matter of translating to a new terminology, which takes practice and time, and can be annoying. But if by fixed Do you mean reading and thinking in letter names and chord names, I think it's just a matter of spending a little time speaking the name when you read, think or finger a passage.

For instance, I used to get students to name a key, name a position and play all 4 fingers across all strings and back, a position scale, naming the scale degree of the starting note, naming the tonic and dominant as they are played. You can make up all sorts of exercises. Do a shifting exercises, say 4ths. Name a key, name a position, shift 4ths up and down on each finger across all strings, naming the starting and target pitches (I find it useful to name positions as well in the context of keys.)

For sight reading, I'm not sure being able to name pitches is the trick. I think it has more to do with recognizing the scale or key centre and seeing, ultimately feeling, the finger pattern (later, also seeing rhythm, dynamics, articulation, etc.)

Will think on it some more...

P.S. This is how crazy complicated it all is: http://www.jomarpress.com/nagel/articles/Solfeg.html

Edited: August 28, 2017, 9:18 AM · In my childhood we learned to use intervals to find the notes, not the opposite.

Fixed DO comes in handy in atonal, or even highly chromatic music, where it is difficult to understand the music before playing it. And even then..
Then I would just think in C major wih a hell of a lot of accidentals.

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