A user with perfect pitch reminded me that applying relative doremi will be torture like he had to read the word “green” in red letters.

How can I develop relative pitch if I have perfect pitch?

I must agree that I see this conflict in all languages that don’t use cdefg the absolute names and name the notes in all keys doremi for cdefg.

How do they cope with this problem?

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    What real-word use case(s) for movable Do do you have in mind? (If you never use it, then you never need to "cope" with it.) Sep 26, 2019 at 5:42
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    @200_success I've heard this problem mentioned with regards to e.g. international students from french-speaking countries at American music schools. Sep 26, 2019 at 5:43
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    @ 200_success :I neither ever had until I wanted to advice the moveable do-system to someone with perfect pitch who wants to develop relative pitch. I assumed that he doesn't have heard about the relative names ... But how can someone have a concept of relative pitch without knowing the move-able do? *) I will edit the question adding the link where I probably misunderstood OP's problem. *) But this is probably possible by knowing the functions of harmony ... Sep 26, 2019 at 7:58
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    And, indeed, vice versa.
    – Tim
    Sep 26, 2019 at 15:58

3 Answers 3


I was taught fixed-do solfège as a child, and only found out a few years ago that there is such a thing as movable-do. I have also been familiar with the A-G letter system for many years, and in my head the two systems were simply two different languages describing the same thing.

When I come across movable-do descriptions of musical concepts, in posts here or in websites and YouTube videos by English speakers, I find it fairly easy to think of do-re-mi... as simply a numbering system, i.e. notes 1-2-3... in a certain key. It's similar to how, if someone says ii-V-I about a song in C, that automatically translates to Dm-G-C in your head, without requiring much thinking.

I have seen many comments online assuming that movable-do is a problem for people from fixed-do cultures, but I can't say that I have experienced this myself. And I assume that any person who has been making music for a long time, or is studying music, would be able to adjust easily. After all, being able to transpose music into another key is a skill that is often needed, and movable-do is a similar concept. It's also similar to the way you translate a barre chord of a certain open-chord-shape on a guitar to the actual chord being played as you move up the neck. People who play a transposing instrument will be even more likely to see the naming of notes as something that is inherently movable.

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    @AlbrechtHügli I guess the solution is to either start using letters for fixed notes, or to consider the note names as a transposing naming system. Sep 26, 2019 at 5:58
  • Or just thinking the numbers of the degrees, actually this almost the same mental effort when we’re analyzing chord progressions by Roman numbers or abbreviations of functions, or what we do when applying fingersettings to other notes on different steps. But this works more automatically and might be less conflicting with perfect pitch gifted or fixed do users learning to sing or think in moveable do. Sep 26, 2019 at 6:15

"Do re mi..." is used in many Romance languages, although "ti" is sometimes "si."
Korean uses something with similar consonants.
Japanese uses a katakana that is unrelated.
So these languages all have a moveable "do." The only language in this table that I don't know the pronunciations for is Thai.

Ascribing Latin letters to particular numerical frequencies (C D E...) is peculiarly Western, and not uniformly so (Bach called B "H," and B flat "B"). Nonwestern languages may see no more of a problem than Western ones. (Edit: if you call Turkish Western, as Uncle Bob found in the comments.)

  • Camille, are you speaking French? Sep 26, 2019 at 5:45
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    @AlbrechtHügli "Goudeseune" suggests Dutch rather than French :-) Sep 26, 2019 at 5:47
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    Frans kan ik best spreken, maar mijn moedertaal is Nederlands. Andere talen heb ik professioneel meegemaakt :) Sep 26, 2019 at 5:49
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    The Turkish Makam naming system is very much a fixed-name system, if I'm not mistaken. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_makam Sep 26, 2019 at 5:55
  • But I think you see the confusion the moveable do might evoke in people who have learnt the fixed do ... as your answer doesn’t seem to consider the described conflict for French speaking people. I know they use to sing all keys with the same names of fixed do regardless of sharps and flats. Sep 26, 2019 at 6:03

I'm working the other way round right now, and it's horrible! For me, do has always been the tonic of the key at the time. But now, do is always C, no matter what key. The bandleader quotes in fixed do, and that goes for transposing instruments too. So he sings a line in solfege using the actual notes, not the ones that come out of a trumpet, for example. Although in fairness, his voice gets transposed to the appropriate note that sounds. So, in a way, he's using fixed do in a moveable way!

It gets more complicated with ♯ and ♭, as the words diese and bemol get added to the solfege, although when singing the line, he uses singular words - even more confusing when trying to follow an orch.

How to cope? Slowly, and translating back to real letter names.


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