Which is better Fixed Do or Moveable?

Today’s Musical Mocha is highly controversial amongst voice teachers.  More than once I have read in FB groups about how “evil” this thing can be. This does sound dramatic. But voice teachers- you know we have a collectively earned reputation for exaggerating a little. So just what could be so contentious?

I’m talking today about Fixed Do in Solfege. I have scrolled through the comments, (eating my imaginary popcorn) while voice teachers in FB groups debate between the sovereignty of Fixed Do vs. Moveable Do.  They have some strong opinions one way or the other. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solf%C3%A8ge

When talking with other voice instructors about the merits of Solfege training the question always comes up. “Do you use Fixed Do or Moveable Do?”  Most voice teachers I have had this conversation with seem to prefer Moveable Do. I understand why. It is great for moving through the different keys throughout the vocal range. It sounds lovely. I’m sure there are many more wonderful merits for Moveable Do.

Both Fixed and Moveable Do are worthwhile systems for different reasons. Fixed Do Solfege in my experience, helps students of all ages gain pitch accuracy and interval identification more completely than Moveable Do. This is simply because it gives the student a certainty of pitch and interval relationship that they may be missing.

My Personal Struggle with Not Having Perfect Pitch

When I started college at seventeen years old, I strongly disliked the aural skills class. Although I could sing in tune with a piano, (and most of the time acapella) I couldn’t identify the starting pitch by ear. I had to have a  piano to assist me. This made me frustrated and yes- even resentful about it. It also made melodic dictation difficult. I wasn’t alone. I sat in a classroom full of  struggling young musicians. It was like you could just do it or you couldn’t. Most of us couldn’t.

How Fixed Do Entered My Life

Later, when I went through the Yamaha Music Education training, we were required to use and teach a Fixed Do system. I had to learn it fast. Once I started down that path, I began improving in my listening and pitch identifying abilities. I observed that the students that learned Fixed Do from the beginning excelled in this area.

Absolute Pitch Compared to Relative Pitch

Most people do not have perfect pitch, also called absolute pitch. (The ability to accurately label notes upon hearing them.) It has been widely reported only 1 in 10,000 people do.

Most of us have relative pitch. So singing  in tune accurately or playing by ear can be tricky for most people- even musicians.

Thankfully, we have help.  Those of us with relative pitch abilities can play a note on a tuned instrument and match it. It is helpful for young singers  to have a piano accompanist highlighting the melody  to assist them with pitch.  However, this is only a temporary fix. It should not be a life-long solution.

This begs the question. Can the student actually sing in tune?  Sadly, many singers can’t which is why there is an invention called auto-tune. Can they sing acapella? Why not?  They should be able to sing in tune without the melody being played.  They should have no problem staying in tune with a guitar accompaniment. However, for many students that struggle with pitch, these abilities aren’t there naturally. It’s our job to help them develop pitch accuracy and interval identification.

Acapella Singing is Important in Voice Training

Acapella singing should be strongly encouraged. It should be a regular part of voice training. Not only does this make a singer a confident soloist, but they will likely be able to  also hold their part when harmonizing.  The student should be able to sing  securely without having the melody played in the accompaniment. Students need to be able to do both of these  without fear.

How do we improve our  student’s listening and interval identification abilities? How do we help them produce correct pitches while singing acapella? Voila!!! The power of learning the Fixed Do system raises its lovely head.

Fixed Do is Powerful for Ear-training

Fixed Do truly improves the ear itself.  When used often, it is remarkable for developing pitch accuracy and identifying intervals. Fixed Do is the Bomb-Diddily!

When C is always Do, and D is always Re, and E is always Me, and so on…the certainty of the pitches develops confidence. The student knows where Do is- (C). They can sing acapella. They can identify their intervals. They don’t have to rely on the melody being played. Their ears have been trained.

If  you would like your students to have more confidence in identifying pitches and acapella singing, then give Fixed Do a try. Give it time to work. Have your students sight-sing with Fixed Do for at least a year at every lesson. Have them practice it at home.

Play Do on the piano, then let them identify their intervals from there by listening. Do-Re and then Do-Me and so on. Simply point out to them that it was a Major 2nd or third that they just sang in Solfege. Have them sight-sing simple melodies like  Hot Cross Buns, or Ode To Joy to get started. Use the Curwen hand signals. https://www.classicsforkids.com/teachers/resources.php?article=hand_signs

Fixed Do Develops Pitch Security

Now after many moons of using  a Fixed Do system for sight-singing, my pitch security has radically improved. I still don’t have absolute pitch. I probably never will. (Relative pitch is something that I can live with.) Some days my ear is more firmly tuned than other days. Most days I can usually hold a harmony part, or course-correct if pulled off slightly. I can sing acapella or with a guitar player strumming the harmony.

I attribute much of this personal growth to having used Fixed Do almost exclusively in my early teaching years. I do use Movable Do for vocal warm-ups. I like that, also. I don’t feel I have to go with one or the other.  Neither is, “evil.” They just have different functions within my studio teaching.

Fixed Do is an ear-training gift. I encourage you, dear teacher, give it a try in your studio.  I’m sure you will be pleased with the results. If you do, let me know how it goes for you!