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    la-based minor

    Do any of your departments use la-based minor in your sight-singing/aural skills training? Please respond privately.

    Best wishes,

    Peter Kaminsky

    Professor of Music

    University of Connecticut

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    • 12 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
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    • Mind if I ask the reason behind asking the question (though we don't use la-based minor at IU)? I'm quite interested in the subject and its music-theoretical implications. 

      I often have students express their frustration coming into our skills class that use scale degrees. They often come from la-based minor pre-tertiary programs and/or have la-based minor training in music ed or choral depts.

      Nathan Lam

      PhD student

      Indiana University


    • Peter, please contact me directly. Nathan, I am including the following comments for you. At Millersville University of Pennslyvania students take a five semester integrated Music Theory/Musicianship theory and aural analysis sequence where singing, reading, writing and improvisation is at the heart of the learning process. Each theory course focuses on a particular style of music.  Students become fluent in la based minor, singing with scale degree numbers and absolute letter names in the beginning theory classes and learn how to sing Romantic music examples using do minor. This music theory sequence is followed in Class Piano and  in the Music Education courses. (It appears that la minor is the system of choice for elementary, middle and high school teachers.) In Fundamentals of Music, students are taught how to sing and notate the building blocks of la based minor (pentachords, hexachords, pentatonic, extended pentatonic and diatonic scales), scale degree numbers and absolute letter names. (this includes singing major folk songs with a lowered third or lowered sixth.)  In Theory1, students begin the study of harmony as it relates to Folksong Harmonizations, Popular music and easier Classical Music Art Songs ( Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven). In Music Theory 2, students learn to perform and analyze melody and chords in Renaissance Music using moveable do. Students also analyze Bartok harmonizations of folk songs as well as pentatonic and modal scales in Jazz music and modal harmony.  In Music Theory 3, students study Baroque Music and more complicated Classical Music examples. In theory 4,  students learn to perform and analyze Romantic Music and 20th Century. 





    • May I ask, as an aside, what "la-based minor" (or, for that matter, "do minor") might mean, in the messages above?



    • @Nicolas:

      I'm assuming you're asking the question just about the concept in U.S. aural skills pedagogy (and not a deeper ontological question about "what this might all REALLY mean").

      In U.S. pedagogy, "movable Do" systems are pretty common.  "Fixed Do" tends to be popular at some conservatories, but there's a lot of "movable Do."

      In a "movable Do" system, there are two common approaches to treating minor keys.  In one system, you keep the tonic as "Do" -- whether major or minor.  Hence the "natural minor" scale is "Do Re Me Fa Sol Le Te Do," using the accidentals Me, Le, and Te for the lowered scale degrees.  Others choose a "La-based minor" approach, which treats the minor scale as a modal variant of the major scale, hence the natural minor scale is "La Ti Do Re Mi Fa Sol La."  (So-called melodic minor would still include accidentals generally, i.e., "Fi Si La" for the raised 6th and 7th degrees.)

      Some schools also adopt a hybrid approach when it comes to dealing with other modes of the standard heptatonic scale.  They use "Do-based" minor with the solfege accidentals for standard common-practice style, but when it comes to other "natural" modes (e.g., Dorian, Phrygian), they adopt an approach without "tonic" fixed at "Do."  E.g., Phrygian would be "Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do Re Mi" rather than "Do Ra Me Fa Sol Le Te Do."  That would also apply to a more modern Aeolian mode piece, too, which might not adopt the raised leading tone and other conventions of common-practice minor.

    • @jzmckay

      Thanks, John. My question indeed concerned the concept in US pedagogy (even if, at some level, I didn't succeed in untangling it from the "ontological" question). I wasn't aware that movable DO could use DO as tonic in minor, I thought minor would always be LA, as in 18th-century seven syllables solmization.

      One advantage of the LA-based minor/DO-based major is that the key signature alone determines the solmization. This was a well known and a much used fact in the 18th century. I must have mentioned this here several times before, but I find it so fascinating that I cannot refrain from repeating it once again.

      In a piece with sharps in the signature, if one uses DO-major/LA-minor, the last sharp in the signature always is SI (or TI): 7th degree in major, 2d degree in minor. And in a piece with flats, the last flat always is FA, 4th degree in major, 6th degree in minor. 18th-century singers therefore often were unable to say where the tonic was on DO or LA, nor whether the piece was in major or minor, but they actually did not need to know. Rameau deplored this situation, but could do nothing against it.

      Do your students at times use the trick?



    • @Nicolas

      Oops - accidentally submitted this post before writing my reply. (Having "enter" just submit on a comment seems like a bad choice.)

      Anyhow, yes I do use that "trick" with students too. By the way, my experience with U.S. students is that no matter which approach you use, some will find it more confusing than the other option. Some students seem to really like the idea of using a lot of solfege accidentals and thinking of the "tonic" always as "DO" no matter what mode. (To them, singing "DO" tends to "feel" like the tonic/home, even when it isn't, so moving the first scale degree elsewhere is confusing.) Others seem to latch on more intuitively to the placement of half steps in the standard pattern -- which, as you note, is clearly the historically preferred choice -- and are happy to move the "tonic" elsewhere.

      I'm sure the actual aural skills pedagogues here will have more insight into this, but my sense is that "DO-based minor" is actually quite common in the U.S. in collegiate teaching, though I don't really have a sense of what percentage of schools might use each system.
    • Well, we in French (and Italian, and Spanish) speaking Europe (and maybe Dutch at least in Belgium) prefer fixed solfège, as you certainly know. We use the syllables as if they were letters (DO, to us, means C). We have no syllables to denote sharps or flats (such as your Ra, or Le), so that we name all degrees as if diatonic (we sing SI for Bb, FA for F#, etc.). This helps some of us remind the origin of the accidentals as mere inflexions of an essentially diatonic system, but those who do usally also have a good knowledge of solmization (I am not thinking here of undergraduate students). Yet, I remember that in a discussion of this in SMT-Talk, there were advocates of fixed solfege even in the US.

      DO-based minor solfege at first thought seems to me to loose most of the advantages of either system.



    • @Nicolas

      Do-based minor is simply translating scale degrees into solfège, so that ^1 is always do. It's quite confusing to map many different concepts to a single set of syllables! Earlier, you mentioned 18th-century usage of la-based minor. I'm familiar with the 19th-century popularization of English Tonic Sol-fa system (Glover to Curwen to Kodaly etc.), but I know only a few sporadic French sources for 18th (&17th) century la-based minor. Were there any milestone treatises that popularized la-based minor at that time?

      John, just for my own curiosity, do students find learning all three systems confusing (la-based minor, scale degrees, fixed-do)? And are they required to use all three, or can they choose their favourite one or most appropriate for the rep at hand? Thanks for the replies.

    • @nllam

      The ancient solmization was not linked with keys, but with the diatonic system itself. When the seventh syllable (usually si ) was added at some date early in the 17th century, the diatonic system as a whole could be described with only one single series of seven syllables. Each diatonic mode (or scale) could then be identified by the syllable of its 'tonic' (i.e. final): Dorian was the re scale, etc, and, more important to us, Eolian the la scale and Ionian the ut (or later do) scale. Any treatise dealing with solmization between about 1600 and 1750 would describe something like that – and, among others, la-based minor. This remained true in almost all languages of Western Europe, including German.

      When Bach wrote the title page of vol. I of his Well Tempered Keyboard,


      Præludia, und Fugen durch alle Tone und Semitonia, so wohl tertiam majorem oder Ut Re Mi anlangend, als auch tertiam minorem oder Re Mi Fa betreffend, "Preludes and Fugues through all tones and semitones, concerning the major third or Ur Re Mi, as well as the minor third or Re Mi Fa,"

      he indicated that for him the major scale was ut-based, but probably also that his minor was re-based (which is not entirely true: see below). This too was rather common: minor often was considered to have two possible models, the Dorian and the Eolian scales. François Campion, in his Addition au traité d'accompagnement et de composition par la Régle de l'Octave, 1730, explains (pp. 49-50) that "the minor scales are divided between the minor and the la minor. That is that those with flats in the signature take the nomination [i.e. are sung with the solmization syllables] of minor: these are Reyennes [i.e. re-based]; and those with sharps in the signature take the nomination of la minor: these are Layennes [i.e. la-based]." [Reyenne and layenne are feminine adjectives applied to the noun "scale"; one could also speak of mineur réyen or layien.]

      Now a Dorian scale is an Eolian scale with the 6th degree raised. And the last flat in the signature of a minor key normally is its 6th degree. That is to say that if you want to raise the 6th degree to make the minor scale Dorian, you may remove one flat from the signature. And this is the reason why minor keys with flats often were written with one flat less than today: these are Dorian scales, i.e. re-based minor.

      Note in addition that with this, the "rule of the fa", the rule which said that the last flat in the signature always was to be sung fa, remained valid for the three cases, i.e. for do-based major and for both la- and re-based minor. Indeed, fa is the 4th degree in major, the 6th degree in la-based minor and the 3d degree in re-based minor. Singers did not have to wonder whether they were singing in la- or re-based minor, nor even whether they were singing in major or minor. They merely discovered at the end of their singing whether the tonic was ut, la or re.

      Bach himself, however, writes complete signatures with flats (i.e. la-based ones). This probably indicates that things were rapidly changing in Germany in 1722 and that the idea of re-based minor was no more than a reminiscence of the past.



    • @nllam, Nathan - I just saw your reply and question to me.  I was speaking generally about pedagogical systems in the U.S. and not of my personal pedagogical choices.  I don't think there are many U.S. schools that do BOTH fixed-Do and movable-Do (at least not in the same class), which I think would be a disaster.  (To reply to Nicolas, yes there are some schools in the U.S. that prefer fixed Do, particularly those closer to a conservatory tradition.)

      As for learning both scale degrees and La-based minor, I think it's a matter of clear presentation.  Just as one can learn to orient scale degree 1, 2, etc. to C or C# or D or whatever, so one can learn to place it differently in solfege depending on mode.  But that potential confusion is one of the arguments against La-based minor for some people.  (To my mind, all of the systems have advantages and disadvantages.)

      To address your last question about whether students get to choose their own system -- my personal pedagogical opinion is that this is a bad idea early on.  Part of the value of any solfege system is not only to help singing, but to provide a common "language" for students in the class to master new aural skills.  If a student uses a different system from the rest of the class, it will inevitably lead to lesser fluency in the main system and thus confusion when new topics are presented.  In more "advanced" aural skills (after students have mastered the primary system and syllables, whatever they are), then there isn't necessarily as strong an argument to insist on a single system other than to avoid confusion among students singing different systems.  If a student is just performing an exercise solo (for example, as part of a sight-singing exam), there isn't necessarily a strong reason to insist on a particular syllable system for advanced students.  From my perspective, the ultimate goal is to sing melodies and read music well, not to attain fluency in whatever system of solfege.

    • John,

      Thanks for reminding me about the larger goal of reading/singing music. My own concern is that students often start university already with their own preferred solfege system. I'm not suggesting that there's an easy solution, but insisting on a 'main' system may just perpetually confuse those who do not use that system.

      Of course, it is imperative that whatever system is chosen, it has to be explained clearly. I usually tell my students that fixed-do = singing letter names; movable-do = singing scale degrees; and la-based minor = singing key signature.