[Smt-talk] Movable do vs. Fixed do

Devin Chaloux devin.chaloux at gmail.com
Sat Jul 14 14:25:04 PDT 2012

Greetings list,

For the original question about a movable do system in the Romantic Era, I
am not aware of a specific method for that type of music as you seek.
Certainly, the use of a movable do system become increasingly harder as one
expands into coverage of mid- and late-19th century music. At the same
time, however, I do not think it is without merit if one chooses to utilize
such a system in an Ear Training class.

The fundamental question is: Do you want your students to be able to sing
the melodies with ease or not? If the answer is yes, then probably a fixed
do system would be more appropriate. It is easier since the number of
syllables is less and calculation of modulating melodies is quite limited.
However, in my personal view, an Ear Training or Musicianship class should
not focus solely on a student's ability to sing the melody. In fact, I
would much rather they understand the melody than be able to sing it.

When students come to the quick conclusion that such a class is a "singing"
class, I try to correct them as soon as possible. In no way am I trying to
teach my students *how to sing.* I am trying to teach them how to hear and
understand music. Sometimes, the best way to internalize that message is by
using the instrument given to us: our voice. Thus, for me, those
complicated modulations and calculations on how to switch solfege systems
is precisely something I want them to do. In these moments,
the subtleties of changing function on a pitch or several pitches is far
more important than "Are you able to sing this quickly?" At the same time,
it can bring up riveting discussions about the different possible ways to
interpret the music based on how one may hear/understand it.

For instance, in a recent talk at CCM, Steven Rings questioned the audience
about which scale-degree was heard at the beginning of Brahms's Symphony
No. 4, II. In an audience consisting mostly (if not entirely) of very
educated musicians, three different (yet plausible) answers were given.
Interestingly, I found myself having similar discussions with my own
students, all prompted by using movable do. That is, my students were
thinking critically about the music (something I find is increasingly rare
due to the general lack of critical thinking skills taught in today's
public school systems).

Did some of my students struggle? Absolutely, but I found those were mostly
the ones who spent little time actually practicing homework, participating
in class, and preparing exams. Those who put in the effort were able to
produce at a very high level, which ended in sight singing a melody
consisting of tonal segments in keys related by the symmetrical division of
the octave. (Hard to sing in any system, in my humble opinion.)

Even though I am a proponent of movable do myself, I definitely see the
merits of using fixed do (especially when accompanied by a scale-degree
system). I'm not here to bash fixed do and state that it never works.
Clearly it does work and that's why many reputable schools use the system.
However, I find it perplexing that some still find movable do so flawed
that it should be banished outright. What some people may call flaws in
movable do, I find to be strengths, especially when understanding and
conceptualizing music. For me, as a music theorist and pedagogue, that is
what is most important to my students.

Devin Chaloux
University of Cincinnati, CCM '12 - MM
University of Connecticut '10 - BM
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