[Smt-talk] Movable Do Subculture

Jonathan Santore jsantore at mail.plymouth.edu
Sat Jul 14 09:15:17 PDT 2012

Dmitri hints at what I feel is one of the major issues behind the great solmization debate -- fundamental differences between European and American pedagogical techniques from a child's earliest encounters with music.  
I've written at length about this on this list before, but the vast majority of students I've encountered in my pedagogical career don't come to me with an established link between a traditional solfege syllable and a specific pitch class, or an American note name and a specific pitch class, OR a traditional solfege syllable and a specific scale degree. I agree with Dmitri's point about the non-intuitiveness of solfege syllables as carriers of aural scale degree information -- however, the college/university music students without absolute pitch whom I've encountered in my teaching career also find no intuitive link between solfege syllables and the sounds of specific pitch classes, nor between note names and the sounds of specific pitch classes (perhaps because so much of American music education takes place in the context of transposing band instruments). 
I don't question the idea that, if a student is encouraged to build links between note names or solfege syllables and specific pitch classes from their earliest encounters with musical materials, such links can be established (as was obviously the case with all those students in the Bucharest Conservatory in Dmitri's anecdote) . The question we face in college or university instruction is, can such links be established in our students by the time we get them, or is it too late? In other words, is teaching a non-AP 18-year old with no previous experience of fixed do solfege, or note-name solmization, under one of those systems a more effective aural skills strategy than teaching them under movable do solfege, or scale degree number solmization? Will the average American college/university music student progress farther and faster in aural skills under fixed do/note name than under movable do/scale degree? I know that Dorothy, Dmitri and others who advocate the use of fixed do/note names in Amercian college/university aural skills classrooms vote yes; based on my subjective experience I vote no; have there been any objective studies on this issue completed? 
I personally advocate the use of chromatically-inflected scale degree numbers as a solmization system that affords students easy access to an aural pattern that they do carry intutively by the time I first encounter them -- the major scale (I've also written about my inflection system at length on this list before!). However, I am willing to admit that my preference is based entirely on my personal, subjective experiences as a teacher and musician (non-AP, earliest encounters with musical materials in beginning band in middle school) . Until we have objective evidence in hand regarding the superiority of one solmization system over another as a pedagogical tool for the students we actually encounter in our classrooms , I think it's important that we approach one another's subjective experiences and beliefs in a spirit of open-mindedness and respect. 
Jonathan C. Santore, Ph.D., Chair 
Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance -- MSC 37 
Plymouth State University 
17 High St. 
Plymouth, NH 03264-1595 
(603) 535-2232 
jsantore at mail.plymouth.edu 

----- Original Message -----

Not to speak of the fact that movable Do is clumsy and inadequate with its 17 syllables, especially when singing melodies with modulations and atonal fragments. Fixed Do is singing by using the names of the notes,which is the most natural approach to singing - as if English speaking musicians sing with letters. In this sense, it is not necessarily a system. In my view, American students (except those who study fixed Do at Eastman and other conservatories) are crippled through the massive application of fixed Do, which was probably created by Zoltan Kodaly for the children in the kindergarten. 

Singing at first sight is a special activity, and it is there where the qualities of a system comes forward. A movable Do singer does a mathematical work, for he/she imagines the name of the note as a letter first (A, B, C, etc.) and then they translate that real name to a syllable. This unnecessary process slows down the reading of music, and when they face a modulating melody, they have to do the math as of where exactly the modulation occurs; for they have to accommodate the new tonic by changing the syllables. However, first sight singing is about singing smoothly through an unfamiliar fragment, not to make an analysis during the process of singing. I am yet to see a good movable Do singer at first sight. Even if they had a perfect pitch, they would stumble upon a syllable, if they had to use movable Do. 

In my teaching at Texas State, I had to switch to movable Do (because of the policy of the school), and I was able to realize how far behind the education in sight singing was. More that 10 years ago, when I taught at the University of South Carolina (where Prof. Dorothy Payne, an Eastman graduate, had introduced fixed Do), I did not see so many problems in our students' singing. Unfortunately, after Dorothy's retiring, the movable Do was introduced there too. 

You do not need 17 syllables to sing.You do not have to imagine the solmization syllables as an exotic tool that should be moved around. If my English speaking colleagues imagined for a second that their letter system (C, D, E, etc.) was movable, and they had to look at E-flat major and call it "C", they would be appalled with such a prospective! In the same manner, most Europeans are appalled when someone is making them changing the names of the notes. A colleague of mine in the Bukarest conservatory told me a story about an American professor visiting a class there; he sang different examples in movable Do. The students looked with condescension at his heroic attempts to sing through with strange syllables, and then they sang naturally the same examples twice as fast than he. Embarrassment. Movable Do. 

Best regards, 

Dimitar Ninov 

Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer 
School of Music 
Texas State University 
601 University Drive 
San Marcos, Texas 78666 
Smt-talk mailing list 
Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org 

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