What is Moveable do Solfège?

“Moveable do” solfege is a system where the tonic note of a key is always sung or played as “do,” allowing you to easily transpose melodies to different keys. It is a powerful tool for learning to play by ear!

Here’s how moveable do assigns pitches to solfège, within a major scale:

First note – do
Second note – re
Third note – mi
Fourth note – fa
Fifth note – so
Sixth note – la
Seventh note – ti

(See “Moveable do for minor keys, modes, and chromatic music” below, for how notes outside the major scale get their solfège names.)

Fixed do Solfège?

Fixed do solfège is a system of solmization where each absolute pitch name is assigned to a solfege syllable. C is always DO, D is always RE, and so on. Black notes on the piano are referred to with “flat” and “sharp” as in, “I always play that song in the key of MI-flat.”

Here’s how fixed do assigns absolute pitches to solfège:

C is always DO
D is always RE
E is always MI
F is always FA
G is always SOL
A is always LA
B is always SI

The Benefits of Moveable do Solfège

  1. Singing in moveable do solfège cultures your ear to the subtle but tangible quality each note in the scale produces.
  2. Singing in moveable do solfège makes it possible to imagine music clearly enough to conceptualize the notes without checking an instrument.
  3. Singing and understanding using moveable do solfège is like using a master key that unlocks all the 15 major and minor keys. If you can understand and imagine a piece of music in moveable do solfège, mapping your musical thinking to note names (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) becomes significantly easier.

It’s hard to describe how amazing it was for me to start hearing music this way, and that was after many years of non-tonal interval training. Prior to my pursuit of moveable do solfège, I was taught to hear melodies consisting of abstract intervals (the distance between notes), and never taught that each note has its own flavor within a key. It was like getting an upgrade on musical my senses, like going from color to 3D!

The Benefits of Fixed do Solfège

I’m really not a fan of fixed do. Not a fan at all. In fact, I resent having had to use it in the first place! Had I been taught moveable do much earlier, I am certain my ear would have achieved much more at a much younger age. There are some advantages, none of which outweight the almost magical power of moveable do to reveal music elegantly to the thinking mind.

  1. If you are singing atonal music and need a system that ignores any tonality that might begin to infer itself, fixed do can be a good resource.
  2. It can help you memorize note names for a piece of music. If you are practicing concert repertoire on an instrument and need to think names-of-notes, fixed do can help. But again, this directs your attention away from direct experience of sound and towards a mechanical representation of it.

Also, to sing the black notes on the piano, you need two syllables, and that breaks the one-note-per-solfege pairing that makes solfège useful in the first place. Some people modify the fixed do syllables a bit to account for sharps and flats: “LA” becomes “LESH” or some such. Others modify them as I describe below in “Moveable do for minor keys, modes, and chromatic music” below.

Oh, by the way, fixed do does NOT help you develop perfect pitch!

Check out these [[Tips to Help You Play by Ear Better With Moveable do Solfège part 1 of 3]]

Solfège is a Magic Musical Language

When you come right down to it, solfège is actually a magical musical language, where each word not only tells you what note is being sung, but it also conveys a tiny nugget of emotion. Each tone carries a subtle energy that draws the ear in and invites you to wonder at the next one. One tone combines with another in an ever accumulating lattice of musical understanding. The kind of understanding that only music can convey, and while we might run out of words to say our feeling, there is always music to speak our truth.

A Caveat!

For many people who grew up learning music in Latin America, parts of Europe, and elsewhere, moveable do solfège has a steep initial learning curve. Many people don’t use letter note names at all and instead use fixed do exclusively. In other words, you might have grown up without using A, B, C, D, E, F, or G at all, and instead used do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, & si. So now, to learn moveable do solfège, you’ll have be careful not to get confused by expressions like “In the key of Re major, do is Re.” Using letter note names that would translate to “In the key of D major, do is D.”

Moveable do for Minor keys, Modes, and Chromatic music

Another thing that makes moveable do so effective is how it handles alterations to the major scale. This opens doors for all the flavors of minor, chromatic music, modes, key

Remember here, do can be any note, so this is not about accounting for black notes. As often as not, these alterations are white notes! Here’s are the solfege syllables for each scale step and its alterations:

First note – do
First note raised a half-step – di (pronounced “dee”)
Second note lowered a half-step – ra (pronounced “rah”)
Second note – re
Second note raised a half-step – ri
Third note lowered a half-step – me (pronounced “meh” or “may”)
Third note – mi
(Notice that there is no third note raised a half-step!!!)
Fourth note – fa
Fourth note raised a half-step – fi
Fifth note lowered a half-step – so (or sol)
Fifth note – so
Fifth note raised a half-step – si
Sixth note lowered a half-step – le (pronounced “leh” or “lay”)
Sixth note – la
Sixth note raised a half-step – li (pronounced “lee”)

For more about how these work, check out [[Moveable do for Minor keys, Modes, and Chromatic music]].

Which One Should You Use?

If you are interested in playing by ear, playing in different keys, imagining music before playing it, and figuring out chord progressions, moveable do wins the day!

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