[Smt-talk] Movable Do Subculture

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Mon Jul 16 00:17:22 PDT 2012

Dear Art and the List,
it seems to me that if someone started learing the system of solfege  ("I started fixed do as a freshman") one should expect to have problems ("I sucked at it"). Music presents many problems, but this one is unique. It blocks the way to understanding all other musical issues. Then, one can fantasize about congitive aspects of music, etc.  
The thesis that tonality is the relationship of seven scale degrees is the product of the problem above. No, it is modality that operates with scale degrees. Tonality operates with keys and chords, located on scale degrees but not finally determined by scale degrees alone. For example, G is not the Dominant in C major. It can be the fifth of the tonic triad. The triad of G major, with all its contextual effects, is. So, the task of solfege is not to teach the intervals within a seven-scale mode, but to internalize tonality as a complex system of relationships of chords and keys. For that, you have to learn the relationship of C major and G major by singing them both in one system of syllables. Harmony (progression, tonal-functional cycles, modulation) is the goal of solfege for professional musicians. Letter-names are abstract mute symbols. Solfege syllables are sounding elements for singing, within which a person can train his or her professional
I agree with Dr. Gjerdingen that current system of training is based upon training adults. It is, therefore, wrong and has to be reformed. The Society for Music Theory can take the leading role in implementing countrywide network of music schools with decent training in both instrument and academics. It has been done elsewhere.  Solfege (fixed Do or moveable Do) has to be taught professionally  at the ages of 5 to 14. That is the core of the problem, not the system of solfege. 
Dr. Ildar Khannanov
Professor of Music Theory
Peabody Conservatory
solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
--- On Sun, 7/15/12, art samplaski <agsvtp at hotmail.com> wrote:

From: art samplaski <agsvtp at hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Movable Do Subculture
To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Date: Sunday, July 15, 2012, 12:32 PM

Dear List,

Many thanks to Jena Root and Bob Gjerdingen for their comments re
the current kerfuffle.:)

>From a cognitive standpoint, I agree absolutely that if you want
students to be able to internalize the relationships between scale-
degrees, you need to have _SOME_ system that says "This is tonic,
regardless of what pitch it is." You can use movable-do, numbers,
whatever; but you need something like that. While singing Rossini's
_Petite Messe Solennelle_ (which, as the program laconically noted,
is neither:) in a community chorus this past spring, various
chromatic passages made zilcho sense until I looked at them using
movable-do SDs, after which: "Oh, right--Duh!"

I also agree 10,000% with Bob's point about college students being
adult learners and just experiencing great difficulties in moving
to a new system. I speak from personal experience, having grown up
on movable-do and then my freshman year of college suddenly having
to do fixed-do--to say I sucked at it big-time would be a severe
understatement, and it took many many many years to overcome my
resulting extreme dislike for it. I now understand the need for
both some sort of fixed system as well as a relative system; and
found that students used to movable-do had basically no problems
whatsoever sight-singing Renaissance modal music (we did so for fun
one day) _IF_ they used fixed-do for that--the fixed syllables let
them get past the unfamiliar scale-structure. Regrettably, I've not
had a chance to see how quickly they might be able to internalize
such new scale-structures and switch to a "movable-finalis" system.
(BTW: Stephano Mengozzi had a very interesting book out two years
ago from Cambridge on solmization in late-Med & Ren treatises: _The
Renaissance Reform of Medieval Music Theory_. Definitely worth a
read for anyone interested in the history of the topic.)

On the flip side, I have had freshmen able to sing octatonic and
whole-tone scales on Day One of Sight-singing I using movable-do
by adding mutation of syllables straight from the Guidonian hand
tradition. They didn't know they were doing Sight-singing IV stuff
already until I told them so afterwards--and they got a terrific
ego-boost out of it.:) They were just thinking, "Sing sol-fa-mi;
hold that note and say sol; now sing sol-fa-mi from there; repeat
ad naus." I told this trick to other students who had not taken
SS1 with me but who were waiting in the hall in terror at having
to sing octatonic for an SS4 hearing--they came into my office 15
min. later and beamed that they'd nailed it solid.:):)

So, movable-do is __NOT__ useless... just as fixed-do isn't, either.

Art Samplaski
Ithaca, NY
Smt-talk mailing list
Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
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