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Having used movable do for a long time, I'm now in a country where fixed do is the norm. I'm looking for advantages/disadvantages of one over the other.

  • Isn't fixed solfege the same as American C,D,...? Tonic, dominant or I,IV,V ... seem to be used more often than movable solfege, at least when talking about harmony. – hpaulj Feb 9 '16 at 22:36
  • @hpaulj - never come across American C,D per se. Enlighten me please. Or is it just the letter names? – Tim Feb 10 '16 at 15:54
  • Here's a concise explanation of both systems, and good reasons for learning both a relative and an absolute system. It's a short, easy read, and covers a lot of ground. jomarpress.com/nagel/articles/Solfeg.html – MorrisTheCat Feb 20 '17 at 21:25
  • @MorrisTheCat - excellent, thanks. Right now I have a French student who knows fixed Do best. It's quite interesting to watch the mind calculate from one sytem to the other. However, more successful is to use letter names. Succinct, to the point, unequivocal, and to my mind, having used all three, simpler. For key changing purposes, knowing scales on his instrument sorts those out. – Tim Feb 21 '17 at 7:22
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I've worked with both, and prefer movable do. In movable do, the solfege syllables represent something functional about the note in the context of the key: "do" is always the tonic, and "ti" is always the leading tone.

I've noticed that the countries that use fixed do tend to put more of an emphasis on developing perfect pitch in their students. That might be an advantage.

As someone who worked mostly with early music, my sense of pitch has to shift around to accommodate anything from A392 to A460, so I don't worry much about perfect pitch anyways.

  • So early music had a sort of movable do, in pitch if not in letter name? – Tim Feb 12 '16 at 8:48
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    In a sense, sort of. While modern music is generally standardized somewhere around A=440Hz, in early music A could be anything from 392 to 460. Thus, a modern musician with perfect pitch raised with A440 who encounters A415 suddenly hears a piece in A major as being in A flat major. I suppose that's similar to the idea of movable do, within a small range. – TangledUpInBlue Feb 12 '16 at 13:20
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Adam Neely briefly discusses fixed and movable Do in his latest Q&A video. In short, he says that the differences between the systems are small compared to the practical matter that English speakers primarily use solfège syllables for scale degree (movable Do) whereas Romance languages use them for absolute note names (fixed Do).

In comments, MorrisTheCat mentioned Fixed vs. Movable Do by Jody Nagel, which examines the two systems in depth. Nagel reaches much the same conclusion as Neely: pitches and scale degrees are both important to musicians, and which you emphasize is a matter of context rather than inherent superiority.

Nagel offers some advice for English-speaking music teachers that applies indirectly to your situation:

If American music students avoided solfeg syllables altogether, they would never encounter the slightest pedagogical problem when learning 1, 2, 3 and A, B, C. And yet, those little labels, Do, Re, Mi, have become such "musical-sounding" words that many teachers continue to desire to use them. For such teachers, please do not use the syllables for both absolute and relative pitch designators; choose one or the other of the two systems. If you choose to use fixed-Do, please also teach the use of 1, 2, 3 for naming relative pitches. If you use moveable-Do, please also teach the use of A, B, C for naming absolute pitches.

Thus, I recommend that you either stick with the system you already know, or convert fully to the system of your new peers, but not attempt to mix the two. Either use Do for degree and C for name, or use Do for name and 1 for degree, whichever is less confusing to you personally.

  • One small consideration is that the solfège syllables are easier to sing than letters or numbers, so all else being equal you should use them for more for whatever you need to sing, and use letters & numbers for analysis. – Bradd Szonye Feb 20 '17 at 23:08
  • It seems they originated as a singing system, and continued with more emphasis on that side - Do is better to sing than Ut ! It becomes problematic in fixed do, when, say, in the key of Ab, singing the solfege names, as now there's often 'bemol' to sing as well. (Ab= La bemol) . Singing three sullables on a one syllable word in a song is impractical. Maybe merely sing 'La', but doesn't that negate the system somewhat? – Tim Feb 21 '17 at 7:42
  • My understanding is that in diatonic fixed Do, you do not sing “flat/sharp” but only the note name itself. For example, E♭ major and E♭ minor scales in fixed Do are both sung as “mi fa sol la ti do re mi.” (Chromatic notes have different syllables – see the Nagel link.) – Bradd Szonye Feb 21 '17 at 22:10
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Very different systems that drive toward different understandings. Fixed do is essentially C, D, E, ... and can sometimes help develop a sense of perfect pitch (or at least vocal tension pitch.) Movable do is all about what the notes are doing and character... more of a tie in to tension/resolution and opens the door to an aural understanding of functional harmony.

To some extent, when in Rome... but the real answer is probably this: become proficient in both. Why not?

  • Is movable do used more by vocalists? I've seen the fixed form in Spanish language guitar tutorials, but only one guitar harmonics series using movable. – hpaulj Feb 11 '16 at 9:05

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