Thursday, July 03, 2008

Fixed Do vs. Movable Do

OK, this is a tough one.

One of my big breakthroughs, of late, has been singing more in my practicing. Thus I plunge into that old debate...

Sing in "fixed do" (C is always DO no matter the key)
Sing in "movable do" (The tonic note is always do no matter the key)

Some considerations:
I don't really have perfect pitch
A lot of music I'm working on is chromatic with shifting tonal centers or ambiguous tonality

So this means fixed do. Right?

Here's the thing: the syllables only help if they help you hear the note in your mind.

Since I have less experience singing solfege, I still have many moments when I can hear the correct pitch but hesitate trying to think of the correct syllable to use.

Obviously, at this point solfege ain't helping.

For the time being, I'm trying singing in fixed do but using a slightly altered system:


I replace mi and ti with "may" and "tay" because, if I ingrain this system in my brain, I don't like instinctively thinking of the "eee" syllable when I'm hearing these notes in my head.

Or perhaps, I should just sing everything on "la" or "ba"

OK, enough rambling. Here are some other websites that provide intelligent discussion..

A blog entry by Scott Spiegelberg of DePauw University (some good comments below the blog entry, too)

An interesting article by Jody Nagel

I found a very long thread of comments on the topic at

Your thoughts??


Alex Manley said...

'm just a little confused doc, if you're using "may" and "tay" what syllable do you use for your flat chromatic alterations on those pitches? For me, solfege only helps in tonal music, with movable do. Fixed do could be useful in attaining perfect pitch and exercising it, and would then be helpful for nailing down pieces with atonality/tonalities that shift too quickly for movable do to be useful.

Brad Edwards said...

I ignore chromatic inflections. D, D-sharp, D-flat are all just "re"

It seems to come down to this:

if the syllables help you trigger the "sound in the head" ...good

if the syllable seem arbitrary and meaningless....bad

Both systems have value. No real answer, ultimately, but interesting to think about.

Scott said...

Why not just sing letter names? Granted, there are far too many "eee" sounds, but you could replace those with "ay" as in your stated plan. Thus:

A = "ah"
B = "bay"
C = "say"
D = "day"
E = "ay"
F = "eff" (or "fay")
G = "jay"

Basically the French pronunciation of the alphabet. Then you don't have to do the translations you mentioned which can slow down sight reading.

Other point, not having perfect pitch would be an argument against fixed-do, rather than an argument for it.