C or Do?

The title of this certainly is challenging to read.

I can assure you that I do not mean ‘see or do’.

The question I am asking is whether or not we call a note ‘C’ or ‘Do’, or anything else for that matter.

This raises so many questions for people. We live in a world where we belong to schools of thought. Are you Kodaly trained, Orff trained, Suzuki trained? Or do those names make your eyes hurt?

I have received extensive training in aural studies, sight singing and piano/music teaching. And what I have arrived at is that it is important to know what other people think, and why they think it.

The programs I have listed have lasted for a reason; they are effective.

So then why doesn’t everyone do it exactly the same way?

The short answer to that is that music is a cultural product; it is intrinsically connected to language, communication and, in many cases, national identity.

I learned the music notes as C,D,E all the way up to my final years of school, where suddenly we were attempting to sight sing using a system I only knew from the Sound of Music. And I am happy with the way I was taught. But it is no longer the way I teach.

Apart from being a music teacher, I am also a general classroom practitioner, meaning that I also (very happily) teach maths, reading, writing, science… the list goes on. I’ll never forget my first lesson in teaching students how to read, when I realised how confusing it must be for a 5 year old to be told that the letter C says ‘k’ by one teacher, only to be told it makes a pitched sound by another.

And I have changed the way I teach ever since. To a certain point.

You see, the problem with only ever using one program is that music is always going to be bigger than one program. Movable Do has many instances where it simply doesn’t work, as does Fixed Do. As do tuning systems, as does staff notation. To be an effective teacher, you need to be willing to expand your vocabulary and understandings to suit different situations.

When I teach students how to read music, I often use the names ‘do, re, mi’. But I also tell them that they have more than one name. Because that is all it is; a name. A name that helps us to know what we’re talking about.

So then which name is best?

All of them. And none of them.

The note is not the name. The note is the sound it makes.

So when I’m teaching students who are learning to read, I use ‘do, re, mi’. When I’m teaching older students, I use both. Because the names are only the labels that make the sound easier to understand.

So back to our first question: C or Do?

Simply put, the answer is up to you. Just remember that no system is perfect, or absolutely right all the time.

(And please remember that children can also be learning how to read).

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This post was originally published September, 2021.

2 responses to “C or Do?”

  1. […] Thirdly, there is a consistent use of both solfege (in fixed do for the resources currently available) and alphabet names. Sometimes there are separate worksheets with either option, or there are both options printed. The simple reason for this is that both systems work (in their different ways), and both can be used to wonderful effect. There is a more extensive post about this here. […]


  2. […] And don’t even get me started on how difficult that is for our smallest students – I’ve already written about that enough! […]


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