[Smt-talk] Movable Do Subculture

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sun Jul 15 02:31:46 PDT 2012

Dear Colleagues,

The reaction that has been received about movable Do versus fixed Do is suggesting that many of us keep forgetting one simple thing: fixed Do is the the names of the notes in many countries of the world: most of Europe, all Asia and all Latin America. These musicians do not have a "two-level" system - they do not translate the name of the note from a letter to a syllable; they sing directly the note whose only name is a syllable.

In other words, movable Do would be an equivalent of a fixed "C" system, if the latter existed. Try to move the note "C" around, calling every tonic "C" and see if it works for you. Confused? Yet, this is what some teachers make their European and South American students do, without trying to understand what they are imposing on these poor souls. I once had a student from Colombia, who asked me kindly to give him a break to sing his fixed Do in my class. Had I not had the understanding of this problem, I would have imposed on him a dogmatic policy that would have crippled him. But I allowed him to continue with the way he sang in Columbia. He was the best in the class.

On the other hand, another Columbian student and one Asian student asked another colleague for the same compromise. She ignored their request and the girls sank in a labyrinth of confusion and stress.

Fixed Do is not necessarily a system; it has 7 notes/syllables: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and si. The sharps and flats are sung but not pronounced as separate names. All this versus 17 syllables and a "two-level" system that translates during the singing. Fixed Do sings through without calculations, just as you play the right notes on your instrument. No modulation or an atonal fragment could be an obstacle to one who sings by using the names of the notes. On the other hand, many American musicians prefer to use letter names when they face a demanding melody. Using letter names (C, D, E, etc.) is fixed Do in English language.

 I do not understand the speculations about movable Do people being better transposers. The assumption that fixed Do singers do not think of scale degrees when analyzing music is wrong.

This issue could only be solved if we had a conference on Movable Do versus fixed Do, and we gave a bunch of melodies to two different groups of people to sing at first sight. The group that sings smoother and faster will convince musically the audience in the merits of either Do. I have no doubt fixed Do will emerge as a winner, because you cannot beat simplicity and intuition in the process of first sight singing.

Finally, if some colleagues insist on having different syllables for every note of the chromatic scale, why movable Do does not have a name for the lowered 4th scale degree in C minor? F-flat does exist both theoretically and musically in C minor (especially when a  part of more rare altered subdominant chords, and when F resolves melodically downward to E-flat through F-flat.), but it looks as if musicians massively ignore that or do not know it.

Thank you,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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