Questions re: Fixed-do solfege

Thoughts and responses regarding the research at acousticlearning.com.
microsample
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Joined: Fri Dec 28, 2012 4:13 am

Questions re: Fixed-do solfege

Postby microsample » Fri Jul 12, 2013 5:32 pm

Hi all,

I have been lurking on this forum for about a year now. I've gradually become familiar with the small musical subculture revolving around AP and the issues surrounding it. I'm very indebted to Chris and everyone else on this board for helping me to avoid some of the obvious newbie pitfalls in AP training.

My own interest in AP was sparked through my fiancee, who is a grade-A PPP trained in the Yamaha method since age 3. When we first got together, her abilities (which extend far beyond naming notes) amazed and humbled me. Speaking with her confirmed what I had long suspected -- that there is a hidden language of music, and that it had been hidden in plain sight. Something mostly secret, which I could never, ever have figured out on my own. With her encouragement, I began to incorporate fixed-do solfege into my own practice regimen.

My question for the board is: Why is there so little discussion of fixed-do solfege on this and other (read: Prolobe) boards? My fiancee attributes her own development of PP to fixed-do solfege. She identifies notes by the way they 'sing' the corresponding solfege syllable. This blew my mind when I first discovered it, and as far as I know there is little or no literature on the phenomenon. I know it isn't limited to her -- e.g., http://usa.yamaha.com/music_education/yms/testimonials/ .

Still, I'm uncertain just how widespread it really is. Yamaha is understandably very coy about making any claims that they teach PP. However, According to Chris' page, Yamaha music education is very likely (85%+ in Japan) to lead to PP acquisition. This is a very successful educational method by any standard -- imagine a language class where 85% of students acquired fluency. Why is this phenomenon not more generally acknowledged?

More to the point, as we attempt to crack the nut that is adult PP acquisition, rather than reinventing the wheel, why wouldn't we choose to leverage from a method which is demonstrated to be effective in children? At the very least, this seems like the obvious place to start. I'm not certain that I believe the idea that adults' learning needs are so terribly different from children's, even if there are demonstrable neurological differences. My views in this regard are informed by my experiences learning Russian and Chinese. There seem to be many of the same dysfunctions in foreign language education as there are in music education.

Basically, what people are saying is that past a certain point, it becomes impossible to lay a proper musical foundation. Although this might be so, it will certainly be the case if we don't even try! My experience in other endeavors leads me to believe that it is never too late to lay a foundation -- IF that foundation truly starts from the ground up and doesn't rely on habitual compensating strategies.

A typical graduate of a four-year Yamaha music education program will have memorized at least 50 melodies in six keys using solfege, which they can reproduce absolutely. How many conservatory students could reproduce this feat? Have they tried? If you can't do this, why are you in music school in the first place? Why are the demands we place on adult music students so much less rigorous? Why on earth would you even put an instrument in somebody's hands without teaching them this first?

Are there any Yamaha educators on this board? If so, what do they think about the matter?

I have experimented with other AP acquisition techniques such as Burge's course, Prolobe, APB, and Pitch Paths, but the solfege seems to be the one which is sticking. It meets a clear criterion which the others do not: it leads to a host of musical skills besides AP, long before (and if) it leads to AP itself. If you work with fixed-do solfege, you will never need to ask yourself, "how will I incorporate my AP into actual music?" AP will become an integral part of your overall approach to and model of music. This is consistent with my general observation that AP seems to be an epiphenomenon, a consequence of a properly laid musical foundation rather than a fluke occurrence.

Whatever doubts I might have had regarding the fixed vs. moveable-do controversy have been assuaged as I have become more familiar with the system. The sum of my findings is as follows: everything that's in the moveable-do system is in fixed-do as well.

Until I began working with it extensively, I failed to appreciate just how much relative-pitch information there is in the note names. Note are never named 'absolutely' but always in reference to a key center. Before working with solfege, I thought that the distinction between enharmonic notes was primarily an academic one. Now I see how it all ties in to the greater system of Western ET music. Keeping the enharmonic distinctions preserves the integrity of the system of keys, which is the central organizing principle of this music. Much like Esperanto, there is a reason why 12-tone systems of solmization have never become widely accepted, despite considerable efforts to promote them.

If you doubt the superiority of fixed-do solfege over moveable-do, my challenge is as follows: Work with moveable-do solfege in C major until you feel that you have thoroughly mastered that key. (What, you might ask, constitutes mastery? Good question! How could I know what mastery means to you?)

The key of C major should be the same in both systems, right? When you can no longer stand working in that key, try working in G major. Do they sound the same, or different? If they sound the same, then why would you choose to work in a key other than C? If you acknowledge that they sound different, then why would you work with a system which obliterates any distinction between them?

I cannot yet identify the key of a piece of tonal music with 100% accuracy (although I am developing some level of confidence), but I do have an emerging sense that the keys are very different indeed. As my fiancee put it, each key is like its own language. Having drunk that particular Kool-Aid, I would not choose to return to a greyscale view of reality.

My general contention is as follows: If we choose to adopt a system of solmization, that system should reflect the structure of the music we are playing. Around 200 years ago, for better or worse, Western music adopted a system of equal temperament and of absolute pitch values. These two concepts are, in my view, related, as both are to the use of modulation in music. In philosophy, these ideas are corresponded with the ideas of the Enlightenment and the scientific method.

Moveable-do solfege might be perfectly appropriate for, say, Gregorian chant, or Indian classical music, where the tonic 'sa' is selected arbitrarily on a day-to-day basis by one's guru. (At least, I assume that's how it works in Indian classical music -- does anyone here know how 'sa' is generally selected? And does AP occur in non-Western musical cultures which lack a concept of absolute pitch? Does such a musical culture, untouched by Western musical concepts, even exist in the present day?) It is no longer suited to the needs of the music we are performing. Using moveable-do solfege for Western music of the common practice period and beyond is attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole.

I will probably never develop full-blown PP, just as I will never speak Russian or Chinese without an accent. That's OK with me. I have a friend who converted to Orthodox Judaism. I asked him why he converted to Orthodoxy rather than going Reform or Conservative, especially in light of the vast cultural and linguistic knowledge he had to make up for, having grown up in a secular household. He replied, "My friend is a convert to Islam. They don't have "reform" or "conservative" Muslims -- just good Muslims and bad Muslims. I'd rather be 'bad Orthodox' than 'good Reform.'"

Similarly, I would prefer to have 'bad PP' than 'great RP.' At least my model of music will be grounded in objective physical reality.

My opinion might change if I saw any RP'er do any of the things you are supposedly supposed to be able to do with RP and a reference tone. In practice, I have never seen an RP'er transcribe music proficiently or play with anywhere near the fluency of an AP'er. The crux of the matter is that AP'ers are practicing music constantly, every time they hear a sound; RP'ers have to switch it on intentionally when they sit down to practice or play. You just can't compete with that kind of time spent immersed in music. Chris hit the nail on the head with his 'Speak-and-Spell' analogy.

I'm bummed that I spent so many years unaware and uncomprehending of the music which was always surrounding me. All that music I thought I was 'appreciating?' In one ear and out the other. Still, I'm determined not to let another day go by without acknowledging the basic fact that everything has a fundamental frequency.

In conclusion, my question for the board is: Who here has worked with fixed-do solfege and what has their experience been? If you are choosing to pursue some other method of AP acquisition, why have you decided not to go with fixed-do solfege? And why does there seem to be so little talk of fixed-do solfege in this community generally?

Thanks,

Andrew

TS
Posts: 168
Joined: Sun May 07, 2006 4:58 am

Re: Questions re: Fixed-do solfege

Postby TS » Sat Jul 13, 2013 9:40 am

I guess the main thing about fixed-do solfege is that there are whole countries who don't use letter names for tones (i.e. C,D,E,F,G...), but use the fixed-do solfege system exclusively. The fixed-do system is in everyday use in for example Russia, France, Spain, all the Spanish speaking countries in Latin America, so there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who have received all of their musical education using essentially a fixed-do solfege system, and still the incidence of absolute pitch doesn't seem to be significantly higher than anywhere else. If close to everyone in e.g. Russia or France had perfect pitch, then I'm pretty sure we would have heard about it by now.

Based on this evidence it seems that using fixed-do does not guarantee that you will learn absolute pitch.

As to the method for training children, there is some evidence that the age when musical education begins is correlated to incidence of absolute pitch, as seen in the graph at the bottom.

Looking at that graph it seems that if you begin really young, before the age of 5, then you have over 80% chance of developing absolute pitch, so it might be that the main thing in the method is just that it's suited for really small children, maybe having lots of playing, singing, picture books, etc., and just this fact that you can start early with the method is what makes it effective in developing absolute pitch.

The graph, taken from http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/resea ... #childhood
Image

lorelei
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Joined: Sat Mar 20, 2010 7:36 am

Postby lorelei » Sat Jul 13, 2013 11:17 am

Welcome to the forum microsample! And thanks for sharing your experiences and conjectures. You raise many interesting points here, for sure.
Personally, I have some experience with fixed do myself- I can attest that lots of training with that certainly has strengthened my AP and my vocal control as well, in addition to helping me out with other things like reading transposing instruments (with the aid of clefs and changing key signatures). Moveable do can also be useful, I suppose. It can teach people how to relate things to a tonic, although it has always somewhat confused me, as it uses the same syllables as fixed do. This, I find, can be a major problem- for example, do makes me reflexively think of C, sol makes me think of G, which is very confusing in a moveable do situation. Similarly, one of my friends who has had some experience with both systems, constantly gets herself confused with the syllables. Interestingly, I can cope with scale-degree numbers fine, and I suspect this is because they use a different set of syllables.
Enough of that tangent for now though... In general, I do overall prefer the fixed do system, I must say. I would also claim that it does reflect more of an absolute pitch orientation than a relative pitch orientation.
As for the hidden language of western music that you mentioned, that has been hidden in plain sight... I must say you describe it in a really interesting way. I'd never before thought of it like that. But yes, notes do take on certain qualities depending on what key they're in, what chord they appear in, where they appear in the chord, how the chord is spread out and quite a few other factors (I believe I talked about this somewhere previously in this forum, don't remember which post though). The fundamental quality of the note itself remains though, no matter what is going on around it.
Fixed-do and Yamaha methods are something to look out for, and have some surprising results. But as TS mentioned, fixed do doesn't guarantee absolute pitch, and neither does Yamaha, even for children. What helps though, I suppose, is a lot of practice, repetitions, associations.

And microsample, here is a link to another fixed-do related post on this forum: viewtopic.php?t=558

microsample
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Joined: Fri Dec 28, 2012 4:13 am

Postby microsample » Sat Jul 13, 2013 3:27 pm

TS:

Based on my limited exposure to musicians from fixed-do musical cultures (mostly Russia/Eastern Europe and China), they usually are familiar with fixed-do solfege but have little or no proficiency in its use, and they certainly haven't been trained in it with any particular rigor. There is a definite 'how to' when it comes to solfege, having an instructor who is proficient in its use is very important.

For the most part, solfege training in those countries seems to be taught along similar lines to our own, i.e. saved until conservatory training when it is far too late to benefit optimally, and taught in a somewhat perfunctory manner. Obviously there are exceptions, but I'm talking about the great mass of students. So it doesn't surprise me that growing up in a fixed-do musical culture doesn't automatically lead to AP.

At any rate, the crux of my argument is that fixed-do stands on its own merits whether or not it leads to AP. A foundation is a foundation. Better to have a foundation which reflects the actual structure of the music than one which does not, and definitely better to have such a foundation than none whatsoever. Even later in life.

P.S. In my original post I forgot to mention one other thing. In my desperate search for internet resources on AP acquisition (I'm pretty sure I've searched every nook and cranny by now), I ran across this guy:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ilearnmusic4free

He studied composition at Juilliard under Milton Babbitt and recently nabbed a teaching position at a university in Los Angeles (I forget which one). He claims to have learnt PP using fixed-do solfege at the age of 16, which would put him outside the 'nil' boundary on your graph. He's been very approachable and generous in our correspondence, and I admire his idealism ('a free musical education for all children').

I can't confirm whether he has PP that would satisfy Chris. (Since Joshua Jobst's ability to 'identify and produce notes absolutely' did not satisfy his criteria, I'm not certain what would, outside of an MRI?) My guess would be that he has what I someday hope to have -- a well-trained musical ear with some pseudo-PP. His workout looks a lot like I would expect an effective PP acquisition programme to look like -- musical kung fu, very rigorous and thorough with lots of repetition. The basic idea is to work in a single key center each day, locating every possible interval, arpeggio and chord in every inversion.

I haven't been 100% consistent in adhering to his programme, but I'd say I've gotten out of it what I've put into it thus far. I think anyone who is highly motivated to learn AP would do well to at least give it a try. And as I said earlier, David is very helpful and open to questions.

Andrew
Last edited by microsample on Sat Jul 13, 2013 4:58 pm, edited 7 times in total.

microsample
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Joined: Fri Dec 28, 2012 4:13 am

Postby microsample » Sat Jul 13, 2013 3:57 pm

Lorelei:

Thanks for the gracious welcome. Interesting to note that you found solfege helpful. From an RPer's perspective, it is difficult to imagine how any such tool could be of help to a PPP -- looking at my fiancee, it is difficult for me to imagine how any aspect of music could be challenging for her. She dropped out of music school, in part for the reasons you described. They made her use moveable-do in her theory class, and she got frustrated by having to call a note 'sol' when she heard it singing 'do,' for instance. Incredible.

I suppose she could have been waived from the requirement if she had made a fuss, but until recently she'd been circumspect about advertising her abilities -- understandably so. Can you imagine how good PPPs' ears would be if educational institutions catered to their needs rather than marginalizing them?

My principal objection to moveable-do solfege is that it reinforces a natural or untrained way of hearing. For the most part, I already heard music according to the model of moveable-do solfege (that is, delusionally) BEFORE I began solfege training at all. So why would I choose to invest time and energy into a system which reflects the way I already hear music?

Given enough time and practice, pretty much any idiot will eventually figure out the basics of intervallic relationships, harmonic function etc. without much guidance or encouragement. The same could not be said of AP -- you could play music your whole life and never stumble upon the secret.

With regards to Yamaha music education not necessarily leading to AP -- well, in the interest of full disclosure, my fiancee's sister went through the same training, and she has a perfectly ordinary (though musical) ear. That puts a bit of a crimp in my theory!

Regarding the different qualities of notes in different harmonic contexts, the way I now ID pitches is as follows:

1) Hear the harmonic relationship -- is it a leading tone, supertonic, etc.? Where does it seem to want to go? All pitches now seem to have a resolving tendency for me now, even when heard in isolation. Burge calls this "perfect relative pitch" or some such nonsense. I suspect the illusory 'key' that I am hearing in individual tones has something to do with the overtones I'm hearing subconsciously, although sometimes it is due to key retention from previously heard pieces of music.

2) Find the tonic.

3) What's the solfege syllable?

4) Is it sharp, flat, or natural? This is where I really have to rely on a sense of quality since the 'up and down' aspect is too imprecise to tell the difference between, say, a B and a B flat.

I find that the key qualities correspond more or less to the circle of fifths, with the flat keys sounding 'mellower' and 'hipper' and the sharp keys sounding 'brighter' and more 'exotic'. That means that keys which are adjacent chromatically are for the most part diametrically opposed in terms of character -- B major and Db major are about as far from C major as you can get. This has really helped me get a 'foot in the door' as far as understanding the keys' individual characteristics.

To be certain, there is a hefty element of educated guessing from context -- a piece with horns will probably be in a flat key, and a cowboy song probably won't be in Ab major (although a Western swing tune might). To me all of these elements are inseparable and I'm not terribly concerned about trying to extract everything from context.

Similarly, I'm not too worried about becoming dependent on vocal tension, or trying to isolate AP from RP. Frankly, I'm becoming increasingly skeptical that there is even such a thing as 'AP' or 'RP' -- there's just 'ear training.' People who say 'oh yeah, I have RP' usually mean, 'I have an untrained ear.' Merely being able to recognize intervals is such a superficial level of hearing that it's not really worth mentioning.

Also worth mentioning is that Livianu's program was really helpful in that it got me identifying intervals and triads BEFORE I was identifying individual pitches. This is consistent with some of Chris' theories about literacy acquisition proceed from wholes to parts, not the other way round. My guess is that 100% accurate identification of decontextualized individual pitches with complex timbres (e.g. that goddamn train whistle) will be the very last ball to drop.

Over time, the process of ID'ing pitches is getting faster and more subconscious. Someone mentioned learning AP as being like learning to add repeatedly after having learnt to multiply. I teach math and I see much of the same processes at work in my students. Procedures which are at first very conscious and laborious get 'layered' upon one another until it becomes difficult to tell how they solved the problem in the first place. You just look at it and know. Going the other direction as a teacher really helps you retrace those steps.

Who knows whether this method of ID'ing pitches will ever become fast and accurate enough for me to use? (I already do use it, often, but as Chris would be quick to point out, this is a far cry from perfect pitch. To me, the essence of perfect pitch is passivity -- you can't switch it off.) I often have the experience of pitches 'singing' solfege syllables, just as my fiancee describes -- the problem is that they are often wrong, relativized to the wrong key (often C).

It's incredible to me, after all the work I've put in thus far, how badly my brain seems to want to interpret 'do' as 'the tonic' rather than 'C.'

In this context, it's worth mentioning that my fiancee believes her own PP is the outcome of relativizing all the notes and key centers to the key of C. Who knows if she's objectively 'correct' -- that's her experience. Although she is fluent in all keys, she still regards C as her 'home base.' This is starting to crop up for me in my improvisations especially -- it is as though I'm playing over a continual 'sa' drone of C, no matter what key I'm in. Other keys seem almost like superimpositions.

The questions I keep asking myself are: Why did I ever attempt to improvise in all twelve keys, when I hadn't yet mastered improvising in one key? How many improvisers -- professional musicians included -- have truly mastered improvising in one key? What does it even mean to master playing in one key? Why would I ever have thought that I could avoid learning each key as its own distinct entity?

Cheers

Andrew

confidence
Posts: 45
Joined: Fri Feb 26, 2010 7:15 pm

Re: Questions re: Fixed-do solfege

Postby confidence » Sat Jul 13, 2013 8:18 pm

microsample wrote:My question for the board is: Why is there so little discussion of fixed-do solfege on this and other (read: Prolobe) boards? My fiancee attributes her own development of PP to fixed-do solfege. She identifies notes by the way they 'sing' the corresponding solfege syllable. This blew my mind when I first discovered it, and as far as I know there is little or no literature on the phenomenon. I know it isn't limited to her -- e.g., http://usa.yamaha.com/music_education/yms/testimonials/ .

Still, I'm uncertain just how widespread it really is. Yamaha is understandably very coy about making any claims that they teach PP. However, According to Chris' page, Yamaha music education is very likely (85%+ in Japan) to lead to PP acquisition. This is a very successful educational method by any standard -- imagine a language class where 85% of students acquired fluency. Why is this phenomenon not more generally acknowledged?


85% is news to me. Could you perhaps link to where Chris says that?

As you rightly point out, Yamaha don't actually make specific claims about their method and AP acquisition; they certainly don't provide any kind of scientifically robust evidence for it. But then for the rest of your post you proceed as if a link is established fact.

There is also a possible confounding factors in the fact that Yamaha education typically starts very young, and is largely based around the piano. These factors are known to contribute to PP acquisition regardless of the specific method used.

I'm not certain that I believe the idea that adults' learning needs are so terribly different from children's, even if there are demonstrable neurological differences.


It's not a question of learning needs being different, but of critical periods closing that make certain types of learning effectively impossible. There is some evidence for this in terms of language learning (I mean the fact of learning language AT ALL, not which specific language you learn). The fact that no person, ever, has been reliably documented as having acquired true AP in adulthood seems like pretty strong evidence for something similar, to me.

Basically, what people are saying is that past a certain point, it becomes impossible to lay a proper musical foundation.


If you consider AP indispensible to a "proper musical foundation", then yes. But it clearly isn't: the majority of professional musicians, including plenty of outstanding ones, don't have AP.

A typical graduate of a four-year Yamaha music education program will have memorized at least 50 melodies in six keys using solfege, which they can reproduce absolutely. How many conservatory students could reproduce this feat? Have they tried? If you can't do this, why are you in music school in the first place? Why are the demands we place on adult music students so much less rigorous?


They're not less rigorous, they're different. The typical graduate of a four-year Yamaha music education program could not play advanced pieces of the repertoire that music college entrants typically can.

Whatever doubts I might have had regarding the fixed vs. moveable-do controversy have been assuaged as I have become more familiar with the system. The sum of my findings is as follows: everything that's in the moveable-do system is in fixed-do as well.

Until I began working with it extensively, I failed to appreciate just how much relative-pitch information there is in the note names. Note are never named 'absolutely' but always in reference to a key center.


I don't understand that, could you explain it?

My understanding is that if you sing a chord I arpeggio in fixed do solfege in C Major, you sing "Do-mi-so". If you then sing a chord II arpeggio, it goes "re-fa-la".

If you then want to sing a chord I arpeggio in D major, you sing "re-fa-la", exactly the same as the chord II in C major (except in some systems where you would call the F# "Fis" or whatever - but I gather from later in your post that's not what you're advocating anyway). So reference to a key centre has nothing to do with it. A D is named "re" regardless of whether it's the second scale degree in C or the first scale degree in D.

If you doubt the superiority of fixed-do solfege over moveable-do, my challenge is as follows: Work with moveable-do solfege in C major until you feel that you have thoroughly mastered that key. (What, you might ask, constitutes mastery? Good question! How could I know what mastery means to you?)

The key of C major should be the same in both systems, right? When you can no longer stand working in that key, try working in G major. Do they sound the same, or different? If they sound the same, then why would you choose to work in a key other than C? If you acknowledge that they sound different, then why would you work with a system which obliterates any distinction between them?


The problem with this is that it suggests that a good system should carry all the necessary information differentiating the notes within the names given to them. But no system does, for the simple reason that such systems have to be brief and fast, to be sung at speed with a sense of musical flow. Moveable do solfege does indeed not make explicit the difference in feeling between a tune sung at one pitch and at another; it doesn't pretend to. By the same token, fixed do does not make explicit within the note names themselves, the difference between "re" sung as the second scale degree in C, and "re" sung as the first scale degree in D. Neither system tells you about the harmonic context of the note you are singing - whether it is the root, third, fifth or seventh of the chord for example. There's a lot of information left out of the names in any method you choose. That doesn't mean that the method considers that information irrelevant. Just that there's only so much you can sing in the space of a crotchet or quaver.

FWIW, I have my students sing to both moveable solfa names AND fixed names (in the language they know: C-D-E etc - more of this below.) So they practice both and understand that the same tune sung at different pitches is both the same AND different, in different senses.

My general contention is as follows: If we choose to adopt a system of solmization, that system should reflect the structure of the music we are playing. Around 200 years ago, for better or worse, Western music adopted a system of equal temperament and of absolute pitch values. These two concepts are, in my view, related, as both are to the use of modulation in music. In philosophy, these ideas are corresponded with the ideas of the Enlightenment and the scientific method.

Moveable-do solfege might be perfectly appropriate for, say, Gregorian chant, or Indian classical music, where the tonic 'sa' is selected arbitrarily on a day-to-day basis by one's guru. (At least, I assume that's how it works in Indian classical music -- does anyone here know how 'sa' is generally selected? And does AP occur in non-Western musical cultures which lack a concept of absolute pitch? Does such a musical culture, untouched by Western musical concepts, even exist in the present day?) It is no longer suited to the needs of the music we are performing. Using moveable-do solfege for Western music of the common practice period and beyond is attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole.


I think this is quite wrong. The whole point of moveable do is that it DOES reflect the system of modulation and equal temperament. When you hear Bach's first prelude and fugue, you hear C as the tonic. It is treated as the tonic harmonically. All the rules of harmony revolve around that. When you hear his third one, you hear Db as the tonic and THE EXACT SAME RULES OF MELODY AND HARMONY APPLY, JUST SHIFTED UP A SEMITONE. Just as G7 chords resolve to C in the first one, Ab7 chords resolve to Db in the third. It thus makes perfect sense to call the tonic in both pieces "do". It's not different from the way it's called "I" in harmony textbooks. Harmony textbooks, universally, don't present different sets of material for the 12 different keys - that would be absurd. There is one set of note relationships, that can be transposed to 12 different pitches, but still operates the same way. That is true throughout the common practice period.

My opinion might change if I saw any RP'er do any of the things you are supposedly supposed to be able to do with RP and a reference tone. In practice, I have never seen an RP'er transcribe music proficiently or play with anywhere near the fluency of an AP'er.


Well that's just silly, because the fact is that plenty of outstanding professional musicians without AP play with complete "fluency", to the point of becoming world famous, all the time.

It is certainly true that AP seems to make some things quicker and easier. Transcription is one of them; conducting is probably another. But the idea that that is the single issue separating properly trained "fluent" musicians from the rest is just wrong, both theoretically and in terms of empirical evidence.

You need to remember too that there are PLENTY of mediocre musicians out there with AP. The fact that someone has AP, really, just means that they have AP. It doesn't mean they have good technique on their instrument. It doesn't mean they're an insightful interpreter. it doesn't mean they understand harmonic relationships or can improvise. In my class at music college there were 7 pianists, of whom 3 had AP. But I was always the first to get everything in keyboard harmony class, because I'd studied chords and played jazz.

Also, you seem to be presenting AP and RP as some kind of either/or thing. This is also wrong. People who have AP still need to understand the relative relationships of how notes go together in harmony generally to do a variety of things (such as keyboard harmony). This is RP, whatever name you give it. The best AP musicians I've worked with have been the ones who understand RP as well (and in the case of singers, can use this and turn their AP off when it becomes a hindrance, as it often does.)

In conclusion, my question for the board is: Who here has worked with fixed-do solfege and what has their experience been? If you are choosing to pursue some other method of AP acquisition, why have you decided not to go with fixed-do solfege? And why does there seem to be so little talk of fixed-do solfege in this community generally?


My main problem with fixed do solfege, in English-speaking countries, is that it involves learning a whole different set of names for things that already have names, and the new names don't actually add any new meaning.

What is the difference, in fixed note names, between "Do-re-mi", and "C-D-E"? Nothing. Nada. So when we already have a perfectly good working language used by musicians of all kinds everywhere, which kids learn when they take instrumental lessons, their parents know etc. etc. - what on Earth is the value of making them learn a whole different set of names for the SAME THING?

Anything that you sing in fixed do to "do-re-mi" can just as easily be sung to "C-D-E". Like I said I do get my students to do that. Sometimes after first singing to relative names, sometimes straight up (although after a reference tone, as they don't have AP). The thing about "do re mi" is that in Romance language countries and some others, they ARE the ordinary names used for notes, by piano teachers, orchestral musicians etc. So French solfege classes are not teaching solfege as some kind of arcane construct the way some in Britain or the USA do. They are just teaching people to sing according to their normal names for notes.

I had to do fixed do solfege at music college and most of us found it ridiculous. We couldn't work out what was the point of learning a new set of names for notes that we already knew perfectly well by a different set of names.

Moveable do solfege is completely different, because the syllables used have a different meaning from the letter names of the notes. "Do" in this system means "the note which sounds like the tonic, which has the most gravity and sense of completion". Each other syllable describes a sound's identity by scale degree, which is the main way that they vast majority of people (ie, those without AP) actually identify it in real music. So you're not just learning new names for something you already know. You're learning new names to express a different concept. That's educationally sound.

I am all for singing to absolute note names, but there is simply no reason to learn a different set of note names from those ordinarily used, just for that purpose. It's like it's some kind of pretence to give the process a sense of gravitas.
Last edited by confidence on Sun Jul 14, 2013 4:40 am, edited 2 times in total.

confidence
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Postby confidence » Sat Jul 13, 2013 8:44 pm

microsample wrote:From an RPer's perspective, it is difficult to imagine how any such tool could be of help to a PPP -- looking at my fiancee, it is difficult for me to imagine how any aspect of music could be challenging for her.


But there are plenty of aspects of music that are challenging to people with AP.

She dropped out of music school, in part for the reasons you described. They made her use moveable-do in her theory class, and she got frustrated by having to call a note 'sol' when she heard it singing 'do,' for instance. Incredible.

I suppose she could have been waived from the requirement if she had made a fuss, but until recently she'd been circumspect about advertising her abilities -- understandably so. Can you imagine how good PPPs' ears would be if educational institutions catered to their needs rather than marginalizing them?


I don't know what school she went to but I wouldn't expect that most music schools are specifically hostile to the needs of students with AP. Mine certainly wasn't - those with AP were exempted from doing a lot of the aural classes.

My principal objection to moveable-do solfege is that it reinforces a natural or untrained way of hearing. For the most part, I already heard music according to the model of moveable-do solfege (that is, delusionally) BEFORE I began solfege training at all.


Hearing music "naturally" is "delusional"? Sorry, that makes absolutely no sense to me.

So why would I choose to invest time and energy into a system which reflects the way I already hear music?

Given enough time and practice, pretty much any idiot will eventually figure out the basics of intervallic relationships, harmonic function etc. without much guidance or encouragement.


Yet some people clearly do it far better than others. Just as pretty much any idiot picks up their native language without really trying, but few become world famous authors. You're really massively oversimplifying a very complex and deep process here.

Regarding the different qualities of notes in different harmonic contexts, the way I now ID pitches is as follows:

1) Hear the harmonic relationship -- is it a leading tone, supertonic, etc.? Where does it seem to want to go?


But this is RP, pure and simple! You are using a clear RP strategy as part of your development of hearing. Just as people - including those with AP - do in all sorts of ways all the time.

People who say 'oh yeah, I have RP' usually mean, 'I have an untrained ear.' Merely being able to recognize intervals is such a superficial level of hearing that it's not really worth mentioning.


It's certainly true that people often don't understand what these terms really mean, and use them wrongly. Pretty much everyone "has" RP - they wouldn't be able to recognise a tune if they didn't. But of course some people have it developed to a much finer degree than others.

There is of course much more to RP than "merely being able to recognise intervals".

It's incredible to me, after all the work I've put in thus far, how badly my brain seems to want to interpret 'do' as 'the tonic' rather than 'C.'

In this context, it's worth mentioning that my fiancee believes her own PP is the outcome of relativizing all the notes and key centers to the key of C. Who knows if she's objectively 'correct' -- that's her experience. Although she is fluent in all keys, she still regards C as her 'home base.' This is starting to crop up for me in my improvisations especially -- it is as though I'm playing over a continual 'sa' drone of C, no matter what key I'm in. Other keys seem almost like superimpositions.


That's really interesting. I recently went through the We Hear And Play piano method, that Chris distributes, with my daughter. It seems to have worked, in giving her very strong passive AP at least (still working on the active).

Thing is though, I remain completely unconvinced that it actually "teaches AP". What it teaches is RP in the key of C. I don't know whether the kids then develop AP as a result of simply hearing and distinguishing the same small set of notes intensively and often enough, at an age when they are still perceiving things as objects rather than as relationships, or what.

jac
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Re: Questions re: Fixed-do solfege

Postby jac » Sun Jul 14, 2013 7:50 am

microsample wrote:Moveable-do solfege might be perfectly appropriate for, say, Gregorian chant, or Indian classical music, where the tonic 'sa' is selected arbitrarily on a day-to-day basis by one's guru. (At least, I assume that's how it works in Indian classical music -- does anyone here know how 'sa' is generally selected? And does AP occur in non-Western musical cultures which lack a concept of absolute pitch? Does such a musical culture, untouched by Western musical concepts, even exist in the present day?) It is no longer suited to the needs of the music we are performing. Using moveable-do solfege for Western music of the common practice period and beyond is attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole.


Hello everyone!

I'm new to this forum, but i have been around reading discussions for a while and read this section now. Thought of sharing my experience with Indian Classical music and Western Classical and a perceived comparison of both.

Though i was trained for 7 years in Southern Indian classical vocals, there was never a concept of perfect pitch. Everything is relative there. Kind of like moveable solfege but even "Sa" is not fixed at "C" or any key. Sa is just the tonic of any scale that you choose to sing in. The 7 notes are sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni and then back to sa. C is the "Sa" in C major/ minor/ melodic minor etc. and D is the "Sa" in D major/minor etc. Except for that it's just like moveable solfege. Accidentals don't have separate names. (for eg. In D scale, D# and E are both "re") But by the time i was 15 yrs my relative pitch was good. If you gave me a song, i could sing the syllables in place of the notes in the melody. It could be any key, but i would sing the tonic as "Sa" and the rest of the notes relative to "Sa". And if i could sing it (or hear it in mind), i could play it on the keyboard without much effort, though i was not learning keyboards at the time.
The key was not a matter of importance, but a matter of our convenience of singing/ vocal range. We can select C/D/or any note as the key, but generally follow the same key daily by using an instrument which plays Sa, Pa, Sa harmonically. (Do-So-Do if in C scale).

But when we attend church, we hear western compositions as well. I love western classical music. It was in church that i came across some one who sang a "G" out of thin air! I thought that was impossible. Didn't know this ability had a name. The Indian classical music does not incorporate the term perfect pitch, but relative pitch is very important. The scale is always given by an accompanying instrument. And the concept of chords & harmony as accompaniment to melody is not there, which is the major reason for us liking western music.

But even as i was learning Indian classical, and started learning keyboards, I remember once playing the middle C on the keyboard and then B and checking whether they were not different timbre. Then I thought something was wrong with the keyboard. It must have been difference in chroma. (If only i had listened to it more then!) Maybe for relative pitch moveable solfege is sufficient but not for perfect pitch. After practicing APA, and some melodic triggers, i have been able to detach myself from feeling relative all the time. Now if i hear two notes adjacently, it is a matter of choice whether to hear relatively or separately. But Perfect Pitch seems like a lot of work (and -rest). Just started with the green egg in APA.

But i have to admit that everything is clearer when we are young. As a child i just ignored the colors even though it appeared now and then and sometimes i used to sing weird like aa oo ee hearing the notes like vowels. But it's never too late. Also i am confident that fixed solfege will definitely aid the process. May be we could sing solfege for favourite songs and learn them by heart and sing them repeatedly.. Eventually we will be able to sing syllables without "thinking" about them.

lorelei
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Postby lorelei » Mon Jul 15, 2013 3:20 pm

Jac, welcome here! And thanks for the insights into Indian Classical music- that might be something interesting to explore. I wonder how a Western-trained musician, especially an APer, would find working with that scale?

From an RPer's perspective, it is difficult to imagine how any such tool could be of help to a PPP -- looking at my fiancee, it is difficult for me to imagine how any aspect of music could be challenging for her.

But there are plenty of aspects of music that are challenging to people with AP


This is true. There are plenty of aspects that are challenging to APers, although many of these challenges are ones that people might not expect. If I tried to learn a transposing instrument, for example, I would probably go nuts at first. I can transpose fine- it's just trying to think 2 different things to produce one note, it's kind of like the stroop effect. Same goes for keyboards with a transpose function that is not on 0.

She dropped out of music school, in part for the reasons you described. They made her use moveable-do in her theory class, and she got frustrated by having to call a note 'sol' when she heard it singing 'do,' for instance. Incredible.

I suppose she could have been waived from the requirement if she had made a fuss, but until recently she'd been circumspect about advertising her abilities -- understandably so. Can you imagine how good PPPs' ears would be if educational institutions catered to their needs rather than marginalizing them?


I suppose moveable-do would be fine if it were the first system that one learned. With solfege, I feel what matters most is consistency. If one learned fixed do at an early age, like your fiancee did, learning moveable do later, with the same syllables, is incredibly confusing. I don't blame her for being frustrated.
Also, educational institutions don't marginalize APers, at least mine doesn't. I got waived out of a good deal of aural skills requirements. However, it doesn't cater to our needs either, which is understandable since we make up only a small portion of the population. It would be nice, though, if they offered something to help us improve our AP though.
I think I did mention this earlier, but there is a range of AP for sure- it spans just being able to name single notes to being able to play symphonies in your head from scores or from memory, being able to name all the notes of random chromatic chords heard, being able to sing notes on command (note this also involves good vocal control), being able to name the pitches of random everyday noises and also tell how flat and sharp they are, among other things. I've seen APers with all sorts of different masteries of all these different capabilities, and if the system helped us achieve a higher level of mastery with these, that would be great.
But yeah, certainly a lot of interesting thoughts flying around here. :)

jac
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Postby jac » Wed Jul 17, 2013 12:00 pm

Thanks, Lorelei!

lorelei wrote:I wonder how a Western-trained musician, especially an APer, would find working with that scale?


There are plenty of aspects that are challenging to APers, although many of these challenges are ones that people might not expect. If I tried to learn a transposing instrument, for example, I would probably go nuts at first. I can transpose fine- it's just trying to think 2 different things to produce one note, it's kind of like the stroop effect. Same goes for keyboards with a transpose function that is not on 0.


Though I like fixed solfege system and am a believer that it helps perfect pitch learning, I doubt that this may build a perfect pitch which has more boundaries than freedom. Sorry about describing the Indian system again, but just to bring out the concept of notes having specific names in Western music:

In Indian training, a common instrument used to accompany the vocal sessions is the harmonium. It has a keyboard just like the organ. However, the keys are not assigned names. If the trainer had to test a student for perfect pitch, he would have to say “Sing the first black key” instead of “Sing a C#”. There are no names to be identified. Also, it’s not possible to ask to sing a syllable (like “Sa”) because it is arbitrary too.

I have never met someone with perfect pitch, who is trained in the Indian style. But if a song is required to be sung in a key different from the original, then a perfect pitcher would have to shift the tonic to that new tone/ black or white key (obviously), but since there is no concept of names for what specific notes they are singing, it would not be too difficult to shift the whole song/ relationship to a new key chroma - just my assumption.

But Lorelei, would you mind answering a question…because I may be wrong at what I said about transposing… Would you have more freedom without the names because the notes keep calling out their names to you, or is it only the chroma that creates the difficulty in transposing? Can you refresh your mind just for transposing by thinking that the composer had originally composed the song in the desired key (not the original key) and imagine the whole song in your mind?

lorelei
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Postby lorelei » Wed Jul 17, 2013 2:29 pm

But Lorelei, would you mind answering a question…because I may be wrong at what I said about transposing… Would you have more freedom without the names because the notes keep calling out their names to you, or is it only the chroma that creates the difficulty in transposing? Can you refresh your mind just for transposing by thinking that the composer had originally composed the song in the desired key (not the original key) and imagine the whole song in your mind?


Like I said, transposition itself is not a problem. I can imagine pieces in different keys than they are written actually- it's just that when playing an instrument, I expect certain keys to sound a certain way. So if they are transposed instead, my fingers want to move to the wrong place or something like that. What I play does not match what I hear.
As in would I have more freedom without the names- I have no idea. I dunno if the notes really call their names out to me- I just know what they are. It's hard to really explain it better, I'm sorry. And since the chroma is linked to the label, I dunno if it's really possible for me to separate the label from the chroma, and I have no idea what that would result in. Interesting question though...

jac
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Postby jac » Thu Jul 18, 2013 6:29 am

Wow thanks!.. I think I get what you mean. For a learner, I'm gonna save solfege for after I get to perfect pitch (fingers crossed) and focus on listening and APA, see where it goes :).

cjhealey
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Postby cjhealey » Sun Oct 20, 2013 7:54 pm

For what it's worth the pianist I know who have perfect pitched all Learned fixed doh at an early age, most through the Yamaha system.

It is true that the aural curriculum at a university level is no where near intense enough and regular enough to develop AP. I had fixed doh but I wasn't required to practice or use it on a daily basis at any point in order to pass.

However, in my own experience using it intensely for a brief period and just sight singing a lot with it is that you do start to sing from your remembrance of that note as opposed to intervallically as it is quicker for me to remember an F# that I sang a minute ago than to work it if it's an awkward interval (like a tritone)

If you did it daily I suspect it would inevitably transfer to long term memory. Which is what that hong ong study found


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