Ever since I was an undergraduate, and that was thirty years ago, I’ve been steadfast in believing that moveable do was the only sensible way to teach sight singing. Fixed do confused me, and having the tonic on different syllables bothered me. In spite of this, I like to think of myself as open minded, so I recently decided to give fixed do another try. Before teaching it to my students, I began practicing it. After two weeks, I noticed it was not so confusing after all. Even better, I noticed that my pitch memory was improving when reading music. I somehow knew what note to start on more than half the time while reading.I also noticed that I was much more honed in on intervals that included a flat or a sharp. Because I was not using chromatic syllables, sharped or flatted notes were sung on the same syllable as the same letter-named note without the sharp or flat. This had the effect of focusing my attention on singing the interval altered from C major correctly, and resulted in improving my intonation. These were encouraging signs, and enough for me to decide to go ahead and begin using it with my students.
I began with songs in C major and D dorian so that nothing would appear to be different at first. My first test came when we began reading a song in D major. One of my students asked why D was not do. I explained that there are two ways of reading music, and that in the other system, called moveable do, the D would be do, but in the system we were using today, D re, and C is do. I then continued on. The student seemed, at least for the moment, to be satisfied. As we progressed through the next few classes, I stuck with just two songs for them to read–the one in D major, and another one in D natural minor. These fifth grade students liked the consistency of the syllables always being in the same location on the staff, and began to gain a proficiency they had not attained using moveable do. Classes that were struggling to read moveable do were now having enough success with fixed do to gain confidence, and enjoy sight singing.
Having unrolled fixed do to fifth graders, I now began using it with my second grade classes. These children were better versed in moveable do than the fifth graders, so I was interested to see how they would adjust. I began with a song in C major, so again there was not adjustment to make initially. After sight singing the song, I taught them the letter name equivalents so they could sight play on Orff bared instruments. This was not a difficult transfer, although some students needed time to practice hitting the right bars. Then I re-wrote the same song in F major, and began the teaching sequence over; first they sight sang using fixed do. Once they learned the new notes involved (la and high do), the second graders easily sight sang the song. The transfer to instruments went smoothly too. They already knew that do was C, so the high C was just a higher one, and they already knew so/G from the C major version, so they only needed to learn fa/F, and la/A. One of the boys noticed that fa begins with the letter f, and the class agreed that was a good way to remember it.
In the past, doing similar activities where a familiar song was played in a new key required additional teaching to acclimate the students to the new locations of the tonal syllables. The need for that teaching was eliminated by using fixed do. From this experience, I have confirmed a conclusion that colleagues have advanced to me before: moveable do is useful in teaching children to sing, and fixed do is useful in teaching children to read. I have yet to start a class with fixed do when they are at the singing only stage, so I cannot attest to how successful that would be compared to using moveable do in that situation. But I am encouraged with the success my students have had so far using it to improve their sight singing and sight playing proficiency.