[Smt-talk] Movable Do Subculture

Myles Skinner mskinner at tierceron.com
Fri Jul 13 23:26:31 PDT 2012

On 12-07-13 1:57 AM, Ninov, Dimitar N wrote:
> 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!
And yet, strangely, I'm not at all appalled to call that same E-flat 
"scale step 1" or "tonic", but I would feel a little odd thinking of the 
tonic of E-flat major primarily as some kind of lowered mediant. Maybe 
it's just because it's hot and humid and late, and I'm getting cranky, 
but I feel obligated to stand up for the value of understanding diatonic 
context in performance. I know that the whole "fixed-vs.-movable 
solfege" has a tendency to turn into a conflagration, and I really am 
not trying to set the list on fire. (It's already too darn hot in my 
apartment anyway.) Actually, I feel it's valuable to get comfortable 
with both systems, and I'm not just saying that to be diplomatic.

I play bass trombone in a trombone choir, so I have a huge 
responsibility for keeping the group in tune. Let's pretend I'm playing 
along in E-flat major, and I come across a low C. I'll be thinking about 
"C", but I'll also be thinking, "two triggers and fourth position". If 
the work is tonal, often I'll be thinking "la" (or scale-step 6, 
depending on my mood at the time), because it helps me keep in tune. 
Sometimes, if the tempo is slow enough, I might even be thinking "root 
of the chord" or "third of the chord" (depending on context). Sometimes, 
I'll be thinking all four of these things at the same time. Not 
appalling at all, really.

I've never understood how having more than one way of thinking about the 
same musical object can possibly diminish our musical understanding. By 
all means, have a preferred system--we all do. But I would caution 
against such epithets as, "clumsy and inadequate"; they're hyperbolic 
and entirely unfair.

Myles Skinner
PhD., University at Buffalo
Freelance web developer, trombonist, and arranger (unaffiliated)
(I know! It's a floor wax AND a dessert topping!)

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