Solfege with Transposed Chants
  • madorganist
    Posts: 755
    For those of you who practice on solfege, do you find it preferable to use syllables corresponding to the mode or what's actually printed? For example, with the mode II gradual from last Sunday, Angelis suis, or the Requiem gradual, do you begin on sol and end on la, or begin on do and end on re? With Mass I, do you begin and end the mode IV Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei on ti or mi?
  • We use a movable Do. Whatever line the Do Clef is on, that’s Do. So to answer your question regarding the gradual from last Sunday, we begin on sol.
  • We use the solfege associated with the clef, so for Angelis suis we would use SOL as the starting pitch. Similarly, if we are using solfege with polyphony, we would use the key signature as the DO (so a key of a minor and C major would both have a DO of C). We do a fair amount of chant alternated against polyphony, so over time the expectation is for choir members to use solfege to connect through the transitions.

    There may be an occasion where a transposition occurs between Gradual and Alleluia / Tract... where we read the DO clef as a FA clef or vice versa. An example might be if our ending pitch of the Gradual (DO clef) is SOL and we are transitioning to an Alleluia (in mode 2 FA clef, say) with a starting pitch of DO... in which case the DO of the new key might be the SOL of the old key. In that case, we may demonstrate the correspondence of the old modal scale to the new modal scale... but typically that is only long enough to demonstrate the transposition.
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  • madorganist
    Posts: 755
    Follow-up, many months later:
    We use the solfege associated with the clef
    Is this modified if there is actually a B-flat key signature, e.g. the solemn tone Alma Redemptoris and Regina caeli? Does B-flat become fa and F do?
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,172
    We would simply call that flatted-ti "te."
  • madorganist
    Posts: 755
    I understand, but in movable do with modern notation, a key signature of one flat means that B-flat is called fa instead of te. I think the introduction to the Liber says we use movable do, but aren't we actually using fixed do in such instances if we call F fa instead of do? If I sing the scale as fa sol la te etc., and the final is notated as F, I don't understand how that's movable do, when the tonality is actually major/Ionian. I know there's also a "do minor" version of movable do. For Lydian mode, the scale would be do re mi fi sol la ti in that system, if I understand it correctly, but the key signature with B-flat actually changes the modality. Am I making this more confusing that it needs to be? It just seems like fixed do instead of movable do to me.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,713
    Is this modified if there is actually a B-flat key signature, e.g. the solemn tone Alma Redemptoris and Regina caeli? Does B-flat become fa and F do?
    I think not. Alma Redemptoris (Mode V) begins on fa, the first few notes being fa la te do do re fa fa. I think you are trying to force the modern concept of key (signature) into chant notation here.
  • madorganist
    Posts: 755
    Solesmes publication from 1932. Which scale degree characterizes the tonality of mode V compared to major/Ionian?
    image
  • I understand, but in movable do with modern notation, a key signature of one flat means that B-flat is called fa instead of te.

    I don’t follow this logic. (Isn’t the 7th scale degree the only one that is ever altered in chant? “Fa” might become home base in a chant depending on the mode, but it doesn’t stop being “fa” and “te” doesn’t stop being “te” either. It’s tempting to want to pretend that it is in “fa major” perhaps, but then you are confusing the two systems. [and it’s not actually Fa major.])
  • ClemensRomanusClemensRomanus
    Posts: 1,013
    I’m a movable do guy because I just find it easier. As long as we’re in tune and moving together, doesn’t really matter to us.
  • Movable do is my system of choice for all tonal music because it more accurately represents the function of the tonal system; however, for modal music such as chant I find the "fixed do" system far more intuitive.
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,730
    I know people's minds work in a variety of different ways. But I must be totally misunderstanding what is meant by 'fixed do' if it is intuitive for chant.
    My consultation of such erudite sources as Wikipedia tells me fixed do means 'C natural' and that (currently in a concert hall) means 261.625565 hertz, YMMV. I would not be much use as a cantor in Easter week then - no Surrexit Dominus on Monday, absolutely no Aqua sapientiæ on Tuesday. What am I failing to grasp?
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  • "Fixed do" in Gregorian chant - do always refers to the note indicated by the C clef/fa always refers to the note indicated by the F clef, regardless of the mode of the chant or key signature.
    "Movable do" in Gregorian chant - do refers to the finalis of whatever mode is currently in use.
  • Thank you for writing that out Schonbergian. I've only been doing chant for a couple years, and this conversation is so much easier to follow. I've always learned fixed do, so I was confused by movable do. I feel like the solfege is easier with fixed do because you only deal with ti and te. With movable you have to introduce other chromatic syllables.


  • I use whatever is easiest, and usually both systems within the same chant. Often times a different modality is established for short sections, so I change "do" to whatever scale degree makes singing the intervals easier.

    For instance, in Mass I, I would start on "mi", and then at the "Pleni sunt" I would do "do-sol-le-sol-fa-me" and then at "-ria tua" I would sing "re-re-mi-la-sol-sol."

    I would do the same for modern keys and switch up solfege if it makes it easier to sing phases with alternate tonality, secondary dominance, etc.

    I don't think "movable do" is a term that quite encapsulates solfege for chant, since tonal harmony has only the named key or its relative minor, whereas in chant there are usually more than these 2 tonal scales that roughly approximate the mode. For instance, in the Lydian mode, usually the easiest thing for me is to call scale degree 5 "do", since Lydian approximates G major.


  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 988
    I thought that fixed do was used to refer to C on the scale and moveable do meant the tone for do can change
  • Yes, in a fixed do system "do" refers to the pitch of C, no matter the key; whereas in a moveable do system "do" refers to the tonic pitch.
  • madorganist
    Posts: 755
    Some here seem to be confusing fixed do with absolute pitch, such as A=440. As noted above, there is a "minor do variant" for movable do, in which the tonic is called do.
    It’s tempting to want to pretend that it is in “fa major” perhaps, but then you are confusing the two systems. [and it’s not actually Fa major.])
    But in fact the tonality is major, not Lydian. Some theorists call it mode XI.
  • madorganist
    Posts: 755
    Restating the question as clearly as possible:
    With a key signature of one flat, if we call F fa, B-flat te, and C do, is that an example of fixed do or movable do?
  • With a key signature of 1 flat, the key is F major or d minor. The tonic pitch class in F is "F." The example above would be fixed do, whereas "F" would be do in moveable do.
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  • This misses the forest for the trees, though. The modes denote scales and their inherent pitch relationships. For me, the most valuable tool of solfege is the aural recall of intervallic relationships between scale degrees. The problem is that the majority of my training and the vast preponderance of my aural exposure has been to tonal harmony and mode I, the tonal scale. Thus it is far easier for me, and I would expect for many, to relate the intervallic relationships between the other modes to mode I, with tonic as "do."

    When there is clear aural recall of these intervallic relationships, it becomes easier to apply a mode 1 mental frame of reference to short sections of music, and to call any pitch class of convenience "do" where its tonicity has been established
  • madorganist
    Posts: 755
    The modes denote scales and their inherent pitch relationships.
    fa sol la te do re mi fa = whole whole half whole whole whole half = do re mi fa sol la ti do
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  • I try to chant Vespers (in the middle of the week) and keep a fixed do when I do that, across all the chants of the particular hour.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,730
    What I have always understood by these terms is what Wikipedia says :-
    In Movable do or tonic sol-fa, each syllable corresponds to a scale degree. This is analogous to the Guidonian practice of giving each degree of the hexachord a solfège name, and is mostly used in Germanic countries, Commonwealth Countries, and the United States.

    In Fixed do, each syllable corresponds to the name of a note. This is analogous to the Romance system naming pitches after the solfège syllables, and is used in Romance and Slavic countries, among others, including Spanish-speaking countries.
    however they then add ...
    In the United States, the fixed-do system is principally taught at The Juilliard School in New York City, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and the Cleveland Institute of Music in Cleveland, Ohio.

    So we have two great gulfs to bridge -
    1/ between speakers of Germanic languages including Low Germanic varieties like English, and Romance & Slavic language speakers, and
    2/ between singers/cantors with variable pitch, and among us often reading from monophonic four-line notation, and organists with an instrument with set pitches reading polyphonic multi-line music in a different notation.
    Everybody seems to have their own phraseology, a veritable Tower of Babel. The Hungarian (András Ránki) who taught me sight reading found the whole terminology so confused that he had devised his own set of "solfege" names.
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