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Considering that everybody has their own most comfortable singing range: when using the 'movable do'-system for solfège, which pitches does one choose to sing the various syllables?

Can 'do' be any pitch one wishes? i.e. does this mean everybody chooses their own key to sing in, transposing the music while singing? And, if so: isn't this confusing when singing with others and/or an instrument?

Or is 'do' always the C from the C-major scale, and does one choose the most comfortable octave?

  • One could even choose a pitch, say, between B and C, and decide that was doh. Especially if it was only voices. Of course, one chooses the most comfortable octave to sing in. But whatever note name is chosen, that note name, in all octaves, will be 'doh' – Tim Oct 15 '14 at 14:12
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Can 'do' be any pitch one wishes?, i.e. does this mean everybody chooses their own key to sing in, transposing the music while singing?

A movable 'do' can indeed be any pitch, however, in a group setting, the entire group must use the same any pitch. Otherwise, you get unintended multitonality, and chaos! If needed, the group's leader could pick a pitch as 'do', based on the range of the piece, and the ranges of the individuals in the group.

But usually pieces are already written in a specific key, which defines what 'do' is for that piece -- movable 'do' always refers to the tonic, or first scale degree (the key note).

This is opposed to the fixed 'do' system (as is used by some European countries), where 'do' always refers to the pitch 'C'.

Example: Consider singing the syllables 'do', 're', 'mi'. In a fixed-do system, this will always mean to sing C, D, E, regardless of what key you are in. In a movable-do system, it will always mean to sing the first three scale degrees of whatever key you are in. So in the key of C, it is identical to fixed-do (C, D, E). However, in the key of A major, you would be singing A, B, C#. In the key of Eb, you would be singing Eb, F, G. And so on...

Also, as you note, solfege syllables do not specify the octave. Thus, they are not enough to completely specify a melody by themselves. That is not their intent -- they are meant as an aid to highlight the interval relations within an octave.

Frequency vs Pitch Fixed vs. Movable 'do' says nothing about what frequency (in Hz) a given pitch (such as A) will be. To determine that, there are different pitch standards, the most widely-adopted (and the official standard for the US and Europe) being A=440Hz. For playing in early music ensembles, other standards will sometimes be adopted; e.g. A=415 is frequently used for Baroque music, and A=432 seems to be a popular alternative as well (especially in youtube videos, which apparently claim that that frequency is somehow more relaxing than others). But using something other than A=440 is still pretty rare.

  • "But usually pieces are already written in a specific key, which defines what 'do' is for that piece -- movable 'do' always refers to the tonic, or first scale degree (the key note)." Now I'm confused again. Are you saying that for a piece in an obvious key, one should always sing "do" at the pitch of this first scale degree? This means that for a piece in C major, movable 'do' and fixed 'do' are always exactly the same? – Tim H Oct 15 '14 at 11:36
  • So, in A-major "do" is always sung at 440Hz? – Tim H Oct 15 '14 at 11:43
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    In A major, movable 'doh' is always A. A might be 440Hz, but isn't always -- see music.stackexchange.com/a/23303/1252 – slim Oct 15 '14 at 12:41
  • @Tim H - In the Western world, A is generally regarded as being pitched at 440Hz, for convenience.Whatever the note designated to be 'doh' actually is, A will usually be 440 - or darned close to that. – Tim Oct 15 '14 at 13:43
  • @Tim H - regarding your first comment - Fixed doh = C. Movable doh = whatever note the players designate. If they decide C, then yes, the fixed and movable are one and the same. – Tim Oct 15 '14 at 13:46
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Movable Do is called such because it is just that: movable.

Movable Do focuses on intervallic relationships. When you change keys, "Do" becomes the new tonal center for that key and all of the other solfege syllables are transposed accordingly. For example, in the key of D, "D" would be "Do". If we changed keys to "F", "F" would now be "Do."

Fixed Do focuses on pitch classes. In fixed do pitch classes retain their solfege regardless of context. For example, "C" is always "Do" regardless if it is the root of the chord / scale or not.

  • Ok, thank you for making explicit the difference between movable do and fixed do. But this doesn't answer my question. In practice at what pitch (Hz) do you choose to sing this "Do" (= the tonic) in the key of F?, considering voice range. And what to do in a group setting? – Tim H Oct 15 '14 at 8:04
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    Technically, I did answer your question as you asked about pitch. However, you meant to ask about frequency. In all tuning systems, pitch classes are always consistent within themselves (due to how the overtone series functions). The actual frequency of F differs depending on the tuning system, but whatever system you're singing in will determine the frequencies of the notes you sing. FYI we use the Equal Temperament system in the Western European tradition. Voice ranges and groups only effect what key you choose, not the frequencies of those keys. Find a key that works for everyone. – jjmusicnotes Oct 15 '14 at 13:15
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The fixed doh system as used in France, as one example, can quickly become more of a hindrance than a help. If a tune is in , say, Eb, then doh automatically isn't the root key note (tonic); that will be called Me flat. One of the helpful bits to a movable doh is the lack of sharps and flats - usually, in simpler tunes at least. Thus, the whole ensemble regards the key note as 'doh' and all the others follow it as if the tune was actually written in C.(C sort of being construed as a datum point doh). I suppose it's somewhat like an alto sax player playing a 'C' note from music, but actually, that 'doh' for him turns out to be an Eb doh in reality.From that point of view, in an orchestral score, there would be several different dohs to compensate for the different transposing instruments, i.e. in a piece in concert D, the trumpet doh would be E.

  • Are you saying that for a piece in F-major the note F, sung with the syllable "do", is always sung at the pitch of C? This is not the same answer as the answer of Caleb Hines, where it would be the pitch of F. – Tim H Oct 15 '14 at 12:59
  • In the fixed doh, doh is always C. So in that format, F would always be Fah. I'm saying the same as Caleb - that for the movable system, when in the key of F, F is regarded as doh. In the latter system, doh will only be sung (or played) as C when it's decided that the tune IS in C.Maybe I need to re-phrase my answer ? – Tim Oct 15 '14 at 13:38

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