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Fixed Do vs Movable Do

Fixed Do helps young children (0-6) develop Absolute Pitch. Moveable Do is better saved for school-age kids (6+)

Bryan avatar
Written by Bryan
Updated over a week ago

Fixed Do helps young children develop Absolute Pitch. Moveable Do is better saved until school-age, when kids are less likely to develop AP but ready to develop Relative Pitch.

One of the most common questions we get about Prodigies is about our choice to use Fixed Do instead of Moveable Do. In this article, I’m going to explain the difference between Fixed and Moveable Do, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and what compromises we made in creating Prodigies to try and please both sides of the Moveable Do debate.

Before we dive in, we are planning to create more Moveable Do content, and have started making a Movable Do track. Most likely, those will appear in Level 2 content and some performance tracks.

Advantages Of Moveable Do

Most of us here in the United States grow up on Moveable Do. In Moveable Do, Do is almost the tonic, or the scale degree 1, or the home base note.

In other words, Moveable Do applies the Solfege syllables to the Scale Degrees. Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do become 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. In Moveable Do, Do is relative. By extension, it promotes the idea of relative pitch.

Almost all musicians develop relative pitch throughout their lifetime, which is the skill of being to identify chord changes, melodies, chromaticism and more, but in relation to the tonic (home base note).

In other words, you can’t just pick a note out of thin air and know what it is without being given a reference first. If you’re already playing a song and someone throws in a weird note, you’ll be able to find it, mimic it, or identify what not to do, but you’d be doing that through the context of the scale you’re already in.

In Prodigies, we do most of our relative pitch work (Moveable Do work) with the scale degrees (number 1-8) and the roman numerals (for chords). Where we are criticized occasionally for not using Moveable Do, I remind people that we use the scale degrees a lot and that no other preschool music program places the same kind of emphasis on Roman Numeral analysis (which is super heavy on relative pitch) as we do.

Advantages Of Fixed Do

Fixed Do means that Do is always C. Re is always D, Mi is always E, Te is always Bb, etc. etc. on and on… no matter what key you’re in. In other words, Fixed Do swaps out the letter names for the Solfege syllables.

Solfege enthusiasts argue that the Solfege syllables make musical notes easier to remember and easier to sing (even more so than the letter names). The syllables are easier to pronounce and have a more word-like and singable quality than the letters E and F.

With Fixed Do, you have the distinct advantage of being able to use Solfege to teach absolute pitch to young children. Before age 5, children are receive meaningful and memorable play with musical notes can develop the skill of absolute pitch, which is just like relative pitch except that you don’t need any kind of reference to center your ear – all the notes are memorized essentially.

When you have color coded instruments, using Moveable Do is very confusing for preschool kids. Especially considering the amount of beginner music written in C, kids are less confused when Do is always Red, Re is always Orange, etc. It’s of course possible to teach Moveable Do, but it’s not nearly as friendly for the young child who craves consistency and predictability.

Fixed Do also has the distinct advantage of being the international standard, where as Moveable Do is only truly popular here in the U.S.

The Middle Ground

As the host and creator of Prodigies, I had a two year debate with myself about the merits of Fixed vs Moveable Do. For 2 years, Prodigies stayed only in the key of C Major simply to avoid grappling with this issue.

Now, I grew up on Moveable Do, so when we decided to go with Fixed Do, I was definitely a little worried. Ultimately we decided on Fixed Do (with a Moveable Do path coming in the future) for several reasons:

  • When we polled our users, 70% thought the program should be in Fixed Do where as 30% believed it should be in Moveable Do. This was a hugggge factor

  • Only 1 in 10,000 English speaking kids develops the difficult skill of perfect pitch, where as almost every musician develops the easier skill of relative pitch. With that in mind, we wanted to promote as much absolute pitch learning as possible.

  • As mentioned, Fixed Do is the international standard, and it’s really only here in the U.S. where moveable do is super popular.

  • The Curwen/Solfege Hand Signs help develops a child’s sense of absolute pitch (and relative pitch too). Therefore, we thought it would be seriously difficult for a lot of our students with perfect pitch to have to sing Do (and make that hand sign) while actually singing the pitch of an F (which would normally be Fa).

  • The Boomwhackers have the Solfege printed on the tubes, which would be a bit confusing for young kids as well

Inevitably, You & Your Students Need To Understand Both Methods

Most of the criticism we’ve gotten for making the choice to use Fixed Do has been that it makes it harder for teacher teaching Moveable Do, especially in the Elementary School Classroom.

To those people I saw this…

For one, we are working on an eventual Moveable Do path to supplement the core curriculum in Fixed Do. ETA 2020 hopefully…

But more importantly, the fact remains that there are two systems of Do in the world.

A well-rounded musician (and music teacher) should understand the advantages of each system and how they can work together. Even if you primarily use and teach one, that shouldn’t stop you from occasionally working with the other system.

Furthermore, cultures that have more exposure to absolute pitches (like speakers of Mandarin) grow up with stronger musical ears by huge margins. I don’t want to suggest that something is broken about the way we teach music in the U.S., but at the same time, we have no where the kind of perfect pitch or musical literacy that musicians from Mandarin speaking countries have.

Again, I don’t mean to suggest the end of Moveable Do (I love Moveable Do), but I think drawing from all cultures, methods and practices inevitably yields the best results. That’s why we use Fixed Do with Solfege and teach relative pitch with scale degrees and chord analysis.

Fixed Do For Preschoolers & Moveable Do For School Age Kids

Furthermore, I think it’s 100% reasonable to teach Fixed Do to children 1-6 (while they’re developing their sense of memorized pitch) and to then teach the concepts of Moveable Do to school age kids when they’re a bit older. This takes advantage of the young child’s ability to develop the skills of absolute pitch while also avoiding the confusion that switching between Fixed and Moveable Do creates. Then, after kids have done Fixed Do for two or three years and developed a strong sense for the notes, to introduce Moveable Do as a more advanced concept. This is what our plan is here at Prodigies and we truly believe your kids will benefit massively from this approach.

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