Nov 20, 2012

Soft Mozart clarifications

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Nov 16, 2012

Soft Mozart Scholarship Program!

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Nov 13, 2012

A Thomas Jefferson Education- My review

As my 5-year-old becomes school age and I have yet to start an earnest Kindergarten program for him, I have been researching different homeschooling methods to find what is best for my family.  This review is simply a reflection of part of that research.

I first heard about “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by Oliver DeMille (henceforth “TJed”) when I was in high school.  I admit their sales pitch sounds fantastic.  “A Leadership Education for the 21st century”.  “An education like the founding fathers had”, and an education based on reading great classics and finding good mentors to help in your education.  As a teenager, I was thrilled during DeMille’s lectures at the homeschooling conventions I attended, surrounded by other homeschoolers and feeling the momentum in the room.  I was inspired to want to become a leader myself.  As a youth I had great mentors in my musical studies, and they had a profound influence on my life.  I was proud to have an education that wasn’t “on the conveyor belt” of public school, and the basic premises of TJed rang true to me.  As a college student I stumbled across “A Thomas Jefferson Education” the book, read it, and felt inspired to read more classics.  I have many good friends who do TJed, and I admire them and their children.  My own siblings have benefitted from “Liberty Girls” and “Knights of Freedom”, local homeschooling co-ops started by TJed proponents.

Overall, I have had a good overall impression of TJed.  I preface my review like this because I have always tried to offer my criticisms sandwiched between compliments.  That’s what I will be doing with this post, so stay tuned for the appropriate praise of TJed at the end.

 After some of my disenchantment with “A Well Trained Mind”, as outlined in my previous post, I started looking for a more Christian approach to classical education, with the particular search for “LDS classical education methods”.  (or something like that)

I found this forum thread, and wondered why there seemed to be such negative comments about the method.  I read through a few different blogs, and I especially found "Why I don't do TJed" to be the best researched, referenced, and articulated argument against it.  I read the entire blog as well as most of the comments, and this author makes sense to me.  I won’t reiterate everything that he says in this post, but I will say that I agree with him in the entirety.  I found myself connecting the dots from a few encounters I have had with TJed proponents that struck me as odd.  For example, my early-learning approach with Doman’s methods have received some harsh criticisms, with the argument given that I should wait until they are eight to deliberately teach my children to read.  Why would a method that encourages the kind of scholarship Jefferson had object to early education?  I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder from that incident, so I’m glad I don’t remember who the discussion was with.  I only know that Oliver DeMille was quoted as a reference, in the effort to prove that my approach was incorrect.   

This didn’t change my positive outlook of TJed at the time, but when I read the blog’s post "The Learning Phases are from Modern Child Development Theory", it just made sense to me.  I have since re-read the main TJed book, as well as “A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion”, and “Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning”.   I have also done a deeper study of Dewey, Vygotsky, Erikson and Piaget, whom DeMille does indeed call “the four gospels of modern education.”  I admit that I found my study of Piaget to be particularly interesting.  I read most of “Understanding Piaget” by Mary Ann Pulaski, available at the Logan library if any of my local friends want to check it out.  It was interesting.

After looking at the phases from all of these perspectives, I have to agree with the critical blog.  I think he was spot on.

Whether you agree with DeMille’s phases of learning or not is a mute point.  He may be right.  The phases might work for your family, and that’s great.  We could debate that issue.  But I think it’s a bait and switch to say that these phases of learning were what every great leader of the past had, because it’s simply not true.  These phases were drawn from modern theory.  Demille references these authors himself.  While they may reflect the education of a few of our great leaders, they certainly weren’t applied to all of the great leaders, least of all the method’s namesake, Thomas Jefferson.  As a side study, I compared Jefferson’s actual education to DeMille’s phases, and, because I am currently interested in Queen Elizabeth I, I did a comparison of her life during each “phase” as well.  If anyone was given a “leadership education”, ie, educated to be a leader, it was she.  If anyone loved learning, had wonderful learning opportunities and great mentors, and grew to be a well-educated, great leader, it was she.  Naturally I cannot provide such an amazing education for my children, but I can also benefit by modeling her education for my children as much as possible, so I reference her childhood for that reason.  If all great leaders of the past learned through these phases, Elizabeth I is as good of an example as any, and represents the female perspective well.
Without further ado, here is my own little chart:  (Click for larger view)

The early core phase is the example I find most disturbing.  While the “scholar phase” may resemble Jefferson’s and Elizabeth’s youth with the time intensity of their study, a child who has not mastered the three ‘R’’s, who has not had a solid foundation in them, will not be as prepared as Jefferson and Elizabeth to benefit from the 12-18 year-old stage of intense study.  I don’t think the scholar phase is an event that we should wait for.

This leads me to my second criticism of TJed for this post, which is “Inspire, not Require”.

I disagree.  My goal is to “Inspire that which I Require”.

Let me explain.  I don’t believe that reading a classic book in front of my youth will inspire them to read a classic book too, any more then I think wearing clothing in front of my 5-year-old will inspire him to get dressed in the morning.  He may get cold, see my clothes, and decide that he should get dressed too (hurray for winters!), but it is more likely that he will get dressed because it is what I require of him.  Certainly I should set the example.  If I went around half dressed, it would be hypocritical of me to demand that he get dressed when I am unwilling myself.  How do I inspire him to get dressed?  I might ask him if he’s cold.  I can tell him the story of Adam and Eve.  I can teach him the importance of modesty.  I can appeal to the comfort of clothing over rough material like carpet.  I may provide him with a variety of awesome clothing with “Lightning McQueen” or “Star Wars” characters on them, clothes so cool he will certainly want to get dressed.  All of these methods of inspiring my children might work, and indeed they often do.  But when push comes to shove, I REQUIRE that he get dressed in the morning.  He is not going to the store in nothing but his underwear.  And in the hubbub of the Sunday morning rush to church, I have on occasion resorted to pinning him down while I button up his Sunday shirt and tie his shoes.

If then, I may require my 5-year-old to wear clothing, to be polite, to brush his teeth, and to help out around the home, why is it so unreasonable that I should require him to practice his penmanship?  I was required to brush my teeth as a kid despite my rebellious wishes, and as an adult, I still brush my teeth.  I didn’t want to do my English lessons in those A Beka books as a young child, but my mother made me do them anyway, and I’m a better person for it.  I was well prepared for college, and I doubt my writing skills would have been sufficient without my mother’s loving guidance.  I wasn’t inspired enough to pursue the basic mastery I do have on my own.  My mother required, and I rose to her expectations.

I reflected on this principle when I read the conference talk “Becoming Goodly Parents” by Elder Tom Perry a few weeks ago.  The following relates to our study of the gospel.

“President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “It is the duty of parents to teach their children these saving principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that they will know why they are to be baptized and that they may be impressed in their hearts with a desire to continue to keep the commandments of God after they are baptized, that they may come back into his presence. Do you, my good brethren and sisters, want your families, your children; do you want to be sealed to your fathers and your mothers before you … ? If so, then you must begin by teaching at the cradle-side. You are to teach by example as well as precept.”

Certainly that quote does nothing to disprove TJed, since the “core phase” revolves around teaching our children right from wrong, I do not dispute that.  I only wish to point out that I think it is very interesting that we “are to teach by example as well as precept.” (emphasis mine).  Could this be rephrased to say “we are to inspire and require”?  I like to look up words when I am studying a concept, so here I offer the Webster 1828 definition of “precept”:

PRE'CEPT, n. [L. proeceptum, from proecipio, to command; proe, before, and capio, to take.]
1. In a general sense, any commandment or order intended as an authoritative rule of action; but applied particularly to commands respecting moral conduct. The ten commandments are so many precepts for the regulation of our moral conduct.
No arts are without their precepts.
2. In law, a command or mandate in writing.

The final point I will address in this blog is my concern about the “You, not Them” principle of teaching.  I agree that I should set an example to my children.  I read and they see it.  I play the piano and they see it.  My husband and I don’t talk down to our children, we expose them to as high of a vocabulary as we are able.  I should never neglect my own personal development.  

However, I will never do this at the expense of “them”.  It’s ALL about them.  I don’t want to become the best person I can be so that they will have more to aspire to.  I want them to surpass me, preferably big time.  It’s all about creating an environment appropriate for their learning.  

If it was all about me, I would be reading more of Jane Austin’s novels, systematically making a list of new vocabulary words.  I would have a blog focusing my reviews of classic literature, instead of on how to be a professional mother. But because it's about them, my area of focus is on reading books like “A Well Trained Mind”, online reviews of homeschool curriculums, and education forums like “BrillKids”.  The books we bring home from the library are mostly to enhance my children’s education, not mine.  

Guess what?  I’m learning a lot too.  To teach my children about the world, I must be one chapter ahead.  At least that’s the goal.  I’m quickly realizing that ultimately my role will soon enough be to open as many doors as possible for my children.  I must have the perception to help them continue to progress one chapter ahead.  This takes a lot of time, effort, and work.  If it was about me, not them, I doubt I would be able to fill my role in this regard.

I suggest that if you focus on them, you will in turn become a better parent, you will become better educated, and your ability to fill your role as their parent and guardian will be increased.  A few years ago I wrote a song entitled “The Making of a Queen”, of which I will share the last phrase,

“Will they live happily ever after?
Am I helping them to see
The way they should be living?
What the Lord wants them to be?
And then a voice within me whispers
Something I never had foreseen,
With this prince and little princess
Comes the making of a Queen.”

This seems like a good time to switch gears and offer praise where praise is due to the TJed movement. There is a strong emphasis on moral character, and I honor them for that.   

I love the idea of “Youth”, not “Teenager”.  The word “teenager” is relatively new, and is associated, in many ways with the rebellious follies of the high-school drama queen, the high school jock, or the ditsy cheerleader obsessed with makeup and the upcoming date on Friday night.  (I’m not implying that all cheerleaders are ditsy, rather than trying to portray the quintessential image that a cheerleader who is ditsy brings to mind.)  A teenager is in a phase of development that is isolated from the rest of their life.  Youth, on the other hand, are young adults.  We don’t want to raise our children to be kids, we want them to grow up.  A family with youth recognizes that this transition is coming, and prepares for it.  In my church, we have “Young men” and “Young Women”, ages 12-17 inclusive.  Now at 18, a young man may serve a full-time, honorable mission.  This is the potential the church sees in him, while the world still gives him the “lofty” aspiration of continuing his “teenager” years.  I want my children to become “youth”.

I will also say that I gained a lot of good advice from “A Thomas Jefferson Home Companion”.  I do recommend this book.

One of the valuable insights I got from this book is the importance of having an educational master plan.  They say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I agree!  I’m trying to get a good plan in place so I can follow that blueprint, and it’s changed a lot over the last couple of months.

The 9 key elements to an effective master plan are as follows:

  • Classics – YOUR list (ie, make your own with the books you want to study)

  • Cultural literacy, breadth, and depth (includes your family history)

  • Academic Programs (your specific curriculum)

  • Adult skills (how will you teach baking, how to check the oil in the car, etc.)

  • Organizational programs (such as Boy Scouts, 4-H, and choir)

  • God (be specific about how you want to teach religion)

  • Family Relationships (family traditions?  Will older siblings tutor the younger ones?)

  • Experience (ie musical performances, gardening, animal care, etc)

  • Places to go (nature walks, museums, in addition to family travel)

The Home Companion has a beautiful chapter about how a free society should develop the traits of Liber and Public Virtue.  Demille then goes on to define “Liber”.  It comes from the Latin root for true, or tree bark, which was used for contracts and writing.  Liber was associated with the elete who could read and write.  There were two classes of people in ancient Rome, the slaves, and the liber.  Liber is the root of Liberty, Library, and liberal arts.  I add that God gives liberally to those who seek wisdom from him.  He then goes on to describe Public Virtue, which is not the state of having a public with individual virtue, or electing officials with personal virtue, as much as it is having a society that is willing to voluntarily sacrifice personal benefit for the good of society.  DeMille shares the inspiring stories of Robert and Mary Morris, Thomas and Lucy Nelson, and  Samuel and Eliza Adams, among others.  It was a beautiful chapter that touched me.

DeMille points out that it is a fallacy to think that finding “balance” in our lives means that we should balance work with entertainment.  The correct balance for our lives would be 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, and 8 hours of leisure time.  Leisure ≠ Entertainment.  As a matter of fact, entertainment was something that the elite of ancient Rome created for the slaves to keep them pacified.  This idea had a great influence on me.  Now when I find myself wanting to waste time on Facebook, a little voice says “Entertainment is for slaves.”  Hopefully I’m improving, and am filling my leisure time with more worthy pursuits.

The Home Companion has some fantastic appendixes, such as suggestions for how to teach homemaking skills, and suggestions for book discussions with older children.

So there you have it in a nutshell, my review of TJed.  This study has been a long process, and I’ve delayed the process of typing out my feelings and sharing them publically, as I know some of my local homeschooling friends may see it and it is not my intention to offend.  I think I have looked at the method as a whole objectively, and fairly.  I read criticisms, but  turned to the primary sources (Demille) before drawing my own conclusions.  I feel like I should share those conclusions, and this blog post is it.

I doubt that there is a perfect homeschooling method that would work for every family, so, as always, the best thing to do is to take what we want and leave the rest.  This is what I have done with TJed.  I’m “leaving” most of it, but I do think my study of DeMille’s books were worthwhile.  This is especially true as I now have a better understanding of how TJed works, and my local homeschooling community is overall prone to it.  If this approach is working for your family, more power to you.

Nov 10, 2012

John Thompson Review

I highly recommend John Thompson as a method.  There are a lot of piano teachers that ultimately recommend the piano series they were taught with as a child, and, well, I guess I'm no exception.  However, when I first started teaching piano lessons, I told the parents that I would use whichever method they wanted to use, it didn't matter to me.  I knew that a lot of parents already had piano books, and I wanted to help them save money.  I figured that I was the same teacher, and it wouldn't really matter which method I used.  Well, that was a good learning experience for me.  Because of that approach, I got to see and use a variety of different methods, from Bastian, Alfred, Thompson, and Schuam.  For some reason I never did use the Faber piano method, which I have heard great things about.  After a few years of teaching like this, I realized that method books really do matter.  (surprise!)  I also realized that if a parent is willing to pay a teacher to teach their student, an extra $7-10 for the right piano book is just pennies in the bucket.  Ultimately, most parents will need to buy more piano books anyway, as their students progress.

So with that introduction, here are a few reasons I love John Thompson:

  • He doesn't shy away from key signatures besides C, F, and G major.
  • He doesn't shy away from requiring the hands to move out of "home base" position.
  • He uses primary sources early on in the series.  Soon, if it doesn't specify "Arranged by J.T.", you know it's the original music by the composer listed.
  • There really is something new every lesson.  For students who actually practice (we all know there are plenty who don't!), the John Thompson method will be an accelerated course.  "Grade 5" for John Thompson is much harder than "Level 6" in Alfred (the last book in each series)  There is less busy work.
  • I like the history blurbs that many of the pieces have. (I admit other methodologies have this perk too)
  • J.T. has endured the test of time.  I'm old fashioned like that.
  • I really like the duet book for the primer, "Teaching Fingers to Play Ensemble".  The local stores didn't carry this, so I ordered it online.  This is a fantastic resource if you play!
  • (Most importantly) I really like the songs in his books.  They are cute and often clever.  They are real music.  I loved them as a child, and as an adult who taught for a few years from several other methodologies, I found that charm lacking.

I also want to address some of the criticisms I have heard of the John Thompson method.  Some say his books are too hard.  Boo hoo. 

Some are rightly concerned of the excessive fingering in his books, stating that the student will develop a dependency on finger numbers.  Well, that really is the case sometimes.  Some students get very comfortable with the finger numbers in the Grade One book, and have a rude awakening when they get to Grade Two and they can't rely on the finger numbers anymore, since there is a lot of thumb-crossing under, etc.  Even so, the First Grade book does introduce a lot of different key signatures, and it helps the student play proficiently sooner.  I'm using a color-coded method for my 3-year-old to help her play proficiently sooner, so obviously finger numbers isn't a big issue for me.  I think this concern can be avoided by starting flash cards when they start the "First Grade" book.  I didn't just require my students to say "A", they had to say the name, and play the correct "A" on the piano, whatever the octave.  I personally never developed a dependency on finger numbers as a child, and I credit my teacher for her consistent use of flash cards at every lesson, as well as sight-reading exercises out of other books.  Besides, being able to follow fingering is important. 

The other concern some have with J.T. is that the theory lessons incorporated in the book are sparse.  This is true.  I think Music Theory is very, very important.  I don't think I had a lot of theory in the beginning grades, but when I was older, my 3rd piano teacher had me go through a course and it was extremely helpful to me.  I will probably find a separate theory book for my children when they finish the primer.  I highly DON'T recommend Alfred.  Unless you know music theory well yourself and can correct the errors to your students, stay away.  I had some very interesting discussions with my students when, again and again, I had to tell them why the book was wrong, and why the authors might have tried to explain things the way they did.  Thankfully, I am confident that my students weren't scarred by Alfred.  I'm not ready to offer a better solution yet because I haven't done my shopping, but I assure you, Alfred isn't it.  I was sorely disappointed that such a popular series could get away with having so little scholarship.  95% of what Alfred teaches is correct, but if you don't know better, that 5% that is wrong can come back to haunt you later.   I'm pretty sure the Bastian books are good, but I haven't taught with them past the 1st grade level.

Currently, I am simply requiring my children to practice every day, but I am not requiring them to sequentially work through the book.  Yet.  They have skipped around a lot, playing the songs that tickles their fancy.  They can choose to practice from the primer book, or the nursery rhymes from The Solfege Train.  I am starting to require that they play songs with both hands.  The songs in this primer book are already familiar to my children because I have been playing them for them for years, and we have a separate piano book upstairs with our story books.  It's one of their favorite bedtime story books because they know I'll sing to them.  Because of this early exposure, they are playing the rhythms correctly on their own, so I haven't addressed rhythm as much while we are at the piano.  We have separate rhythm exercises that we do away from the piano, independent of piano practice, so I am letting them focus their piano practice on the mechanics of playing the piano.  I require them to practice with the fingering in the book, and in the key the music is written.  (that's a side effect of having the "movable do insert" and the color-coded notes.  My son wants to transpose everything back to "C".  Too bad!  Oddly enough, my daughter will play the songs in keys like F# major if the insert has been left there, without batting an eye.)  Separate of the "Do, Re, Mi", my children are learning to identify and play "C, D, E" for me.  I always preface a new song by pointing out, "This song is in F major, so we need to move the "Do" behind the "F".

Anyway, this is our piano program.  I am planning on getting them finished with the J.T. primer by the end of the school year, and then mastering one of John Thompson's grade books every year after that.  If they move faster than that, great, but I'm not going to require more than that.  I've decided that the Grade 4 book is what I am going to require of each of my children, as if they finish that book, they will have the basic piano literacy I want them to have.  I will supplement John Thompson's books with my church's published music, such as the Primary book and the hymnal, as well as popular music my children may be interested in.  I bet if I bought "Tangled" music, my daughter would eat it up!  Note to self.

Overall, the John Thompson series is a great course.  Alexander Schreiner, world class organist (and my great-great-uncle) recommended this series, and his advice gives me more confidence in recommending this series to you.

Nov 6, 2012

Review- The Well-Trained Mind

“The Well-Trained Mind, A Guide to Classical Education at Home” By Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.

My oldest is kindergarten age, so I have been revisiting popular homeschooling methods in an effort to find one that will fit my own homeschooling style, as well as meeting the needs of my children.  I have heard Susan Bauer speak twice in person, and I originally read this book 6 years ago, before I was married.  Now I re-read most of it, and have overlooked some of the curriculum choices that she recommends in the 1999 edition. 

I have not read the newer edition, although from the reviews I have read online, I feel little desire to.  Apparently, the new edition highly recommends the learning materials that these two women (mostly Susan) have created to accompany the trivium.  If I decide I am interested in their products, I know where to look, but I prefer to see what these women recommended as the cream of the crop before they became biased towards their own materials.  I can’t blame them for it, but I’m content to study and review the 1999 edition.
Overall, I think that this is a great book.  I am confident that following this methodology would produce great results for my kids.  I appreciate the author’s candid remarks about the hard work that will be necessary to give children a superb education.  It is intense and complete, and I like that.  I want something that will challenge my children and this book fits the bill.

My 5-year-old struggles in his handwriting because he wants to write his circle letters clockwise.  Bauer recommends starting preschoolers in writing by letting them draw lots and lots of counter-clockwise circles.  Case in point of the good advice this book has to offer.

This book outlines in great detail the author’s top picks for all of the academic subjects, from pre-K through 12th grade.  She gives her full review of what she thinks the pros and cons are for these top picks.  Her subjects include the “three R’s”,  History and Geography, Science, Latin, Religion (stating only that your family’s religion should be taught) Art and Music, Logic, Languages, Rhetoric, and Computer Skills.
In a nutshell, the authors recommend that you rotate through the subjects by spending a full year in each of the following categories:

  • Ancients (5000 BC- AD 400)
  • Medieval-Early Renaissance (400-1600)
  • Late Renaissance- early Modern (1600-1850)
  • Modern (1850- present)

Most subjects, not just history, reflect upon this division.  Science during "Ancients" reflects on what the Ancients could see, and so on.  These four eras are divided into the Trivium, “Grammer”, “Logic”, and “Rhetoric”.  “Grammer” is taught during 1-4 grades, and is a time for learning the basic facts in each subject.  This is where you memorize your parts of speech, spelling, multiplication facts, etc.  During the “Logic” phase (5-8 grades), a student covers the materials again, but learns how to evaluate what is logical, and how to recognize fallacies.  Finally, during the “Rhetoric” stage (9-12 grade), the student learns the art of persuasion, as they develop their own opinions and gain the ability to defend their world view.

Overall, I really love this broad overview.  I do not want my children to be passive in their understanding of how the world works.  I will train them in rhetoric, as I believe this skill to be essential to leadership.  Many great leaders of the past were trained in rhetoric, such as Queen Elizabeth I and Thomas Jefferson, and I can see that this training served them well.  Such a study was unfamiliar to me until I read “The Well-Trained Mind”, so I am grateful to the book for that.

I highly recommend reading this book, with the understanding that you take what you want and leave the rest.

I have a few criticisms of the book, which prevent me from tackling this approach head-on.
First is the effort the authors make to appeal to the secular crowd.  In and of itself, this is not a bad thing, but the constant apologetics of how the Christian material in some curriculums may offend some readers, while ignoring how secular materials may offend Christians, seemed inconsistent to me.  To her credit, she does recommend some Christian materials, such as A Beka, and I appreciate that.  She gives excellent secular alternatives, which I think is great.  Here is an example of her inconsistency:

For 1-4 grade history, she recommends "The Usborne Book of World History".  This book is to be used by reading 1-2 pages a week, and then going to the local library and checking out several books on the topic presented.  I LOVE that approach, as our family already has a solid library routine, and I want my children to learn from living books as much as possible.  However, if you read the reviews of this book on Amazon, the consensus is that there is a lot of nudity in the pictures.  (I am not implying that Christian parents are the only ones who might be offended by this.)  Gory depictions of throat slitting, gladiators crushing heads, and pubic hair are all among the charges brought against this book.  This book is to be the core history book for little children, no alternatives are suggested, and no mention of this potentially offensive material (I’ll say!) is mentioned.  If she mentioned it with an apologetic approach, saying you will have to decide for your family, the recommendation wouldn’t bother me.  But she doesn’t.  I admit I haven’t personally seen this book, but if there were several parents who took the effort to give it a negative review because of this issue, you would think that this material would be on par with mentioning that a potential curriculum choice contains a scripture reference here and there.  If this is an issue for you as it is for me, I recommend that you carefully read reviews of her recommendations before purchasing.

Another criticism I have is that Susan Bauer is undoubtedly a strong feminist, strongly opinionated, and, in my opinion, condescending in her writing approach.  Her religious views, while Christian, are also very different from my own.  For these reasons, I will not be choosing any of Bauer’s products with my children.  I read about half of her “Story of the World, Volume 1, Ancient Times”, and I didn’t finish it because this was my perception.  I’m only giving my opinion on this matter, but this is my blog, my review, and I’m entitled to share it.

I have been looking for history alternatives, and aside from checking out lots of books on the subject, I’m leaning towards “A Child’s History of the World” (the updated one with a boy blowing bubbles on the cover), and “The Mystery of History”, although I have not made a final decision on this matter yet.
I also do not agree with Wise/Bauer’s insistence that Latin be included in the curriculum.  In the days when knowing Latin was the only way to study the Bible, certainly an understanding of Latin was of great benefit.  I also understand that many of our modern words have Latin roots, which makes this study valuable today.  However, many of the founding fathers studied Latin, and straightway abandoned the study as soon as they left school.  I think a study of modern, living languages would be of much better use for my children.  My husband’s English vocabulary was dramatically improved when he learned Spanish, because words that sound similar have the same Latin or Greek roots.  I’ll ask him what a word means, and he will often use a Spanish word and its meaning to help explain the English word to me.  He also uses his Spanish when conversing with members of our community who struggle with English.  Wise/Bauer further argue that Latin teaches a child’s mind to think logically, to organize, and to build vocabulary.  Knowing a foreign language guards against arrogance as a child comes head-to-head with the reality that his language is not the only, or even the best, language in the world.  Well, these are good arguments, but I don’t think that Latin is the only, or even best way of teaching my children these principles.  Learning piano will certainly teach my children to think logically, and it most certainly requires organization of thought to play with both hands.  Any foreign language can accomplish the other goals of Latin.  These notes are not to discourage anyone from studying Latin, as such knowledge would certainly be useful.  Rather, I hope to convey that a family should not feel that Latin is a requirement.  I see it as an elective, while a foreign language of the family’s choice would be a requirement for a classical education.  Again, that’s my opinion, but take it with a grain of salt.  I have not personally studied Latin aside from “Dies Irae”, and foreign language was never my forte.

In summary, I will simply reiterate that “The Well-Trained Mind” is, for me, a great reference book that I am content to allow the library to store for me, although I am sure I will be checking it out again and again as we approach each stage.  I see the benefits of having a classical education, and I want this for my children.  I am still in the studying phase of my own learning, as I do not believe that Wise/Bauer are the ultimate source.

On the BrillKids forum, "A History of Education in Antiquity" has been recommended as a great source to understand what a classical education really entailed.  It isn’t easy reading by any means, but I find myself wanting to tackle it for my own education.  Such information could only help me as I teach my own children.  “The Well-Trained Mind” is only one great book of many to help me give my children the education I desire for them.  It isn’t the ultimate “bible” for me.

Oct 29, 2012

Overall Education, Depth vs Acceleration

Two threads inspired this post, and

Actually, they inspired a lot more than this post, I've been reading and re-reading a lot of homeschooling books lately, and charting out the next chunk of our education.  The people at BrillKids really inspire me.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  My husband recently asked me what's next for Peter (our oldest, 5), and it's been so hard to answer that question!  I have a 5-year-old that is reading on a 4th-grade level.  How do I go about teaching this kid?  It's time for him to start school!  He's got a couple of really smart siblings tailgating him too.  This is uncharted territory for me, and I am both terrified and thrilled with my responsibility to my children.

I'm grateful for the Moshe Kai thread that inspired me to get going and focus on Math.  I bought my Saxon textbooks on e-bay, and we're prepared now!  But what about everything else?  I've been reading "A Well Trained Mind" by Wise/Bauer, and I am attracted to the depth such an education would provide.  So, thinking along the acceleration track, my overall plan is to do a grade level's worth of material every semester.  Then I charted out everything she says to do, and I realized that I'd be setting myself up for failure trying to keep on top of all of the busy work in the textbooks, especially with multiple children.  I'm not that organized, and I don't want to give my children that much paper work at a young age.  I don't want burn-out for them or me.

Then I realized that I'm looking to the wrong source for advice on how to do an accelerated education.  Bauer's outline was designed for a 12-year education.  So I started googling, and I came across a very interesting family, the Swanns. 

Joyce Swann is the mother of 10 children, and they all received their masters degree by the time they were 16.  Her mini-articles on are very interesting.  She had a strict schedule, doing school from 8:30-11:30 every day of the year unless their dad had the day off.  The children still had plenty of time to play after those hours, but school time was at the table, and was very focused.  Aside from her strict schedule, however, I can't apply her method in my own home because frankly, our family can't afford the route she chose.  Still, I am planning on reading her book, as well as her daughter Alexandra's book "No Regrets".  Joyce had a very linear approach, which she herself summarized as, "elementary school, high school, university, graduate school".  The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

However, on the WTM's forum thread on accelerated education, classical education advocates bring up a good point, which is that while certain academic studies can be accelerated, it is hard to accelerate the depth subjects of literature and history.  I once heard Susan Wise-Bauer argue against early college by saying that academic education can be accelerated, but there is a certain maturity that only happens when you go around the sun a few times.  She asked, "Have they read the great books?  ALL of them?"  That was my attitude too until I read the Moshe Kai thread.

Many education methodologies share learning phases, but they do not take Early Learning into account.  Here is the rough outline I have come up with:

Phase one, 0-5. The sponge phase. (what Peter has just finished) During this period, children learn to read well, and learn to love to read. They go to the library and read lots of books about lots of different things. They are introduced to math and music, etc, but all according to Doman's advice "Always stop before your child wants to stop". Learning is a big game.

Phase two, K-11. The academic phase.  Here my children learn how to study with "deliberate practice".  This period ends with a basic high school education. Each semester will cover one grade's worth of material. (We may go faster, but not slower). Our children will be awarded with a laptop computer, or other large item such as an instrument upon graduation.

Phase three, 12-18. The Scholar phase. There is a part of me that has been enticed by the benefits of "child-led learning", where a child can study in depth something they are interested in without having to do other academic work. Some argue, "If they study motercycles for 8 hours, there is bound to be math in there somewhere." I say, "Really?" Um, ya, I'm not going to risk it. However, AFTER they have a high school education, they will have more academic maturity.  They will know how and what to study. They will have a broad background in a variety of subjects. My true academic responsibility to my kids will have been fulfilled, and so my only requirement for my kids during this phase will be to be productive. I will require that they do some kind of academic work of their choosing.  We will highly encourage our children to start getting college credit, especially when they are high-school age since it's free.  The boys will be required to get their Eagle scout award, and the girls their YW award, which is the work-equivalent in our Mormon church.  They may choose to practice an instrument, be involved in 4-H, develop a skill such as woodworking or pottery. They may be involved in a lot of musical productions. They may take high school AP classes. They might tutor their siblings. They might start a business. They might become truly well-read. They might be in a variety of different clubs. They might secure an internship or become an apprentice. It's up to them. 

This last phase is still a bit vague because I'm not ready to tackle it yet, but I do know that if they get their basic high school education by 12, it will open a lot of doors for them during their transition to adulthood.  That's what my husband and I really want for our children.  There are so many leadership opportunities during the teenage years, and I would love to open as many doors to them as possible.  I would love for my children to get a college education, but I also recognize that there are a lot of great alternatives if they choose something else during these years.  College will still be waiting for them when they are older, should they wait, and if they have a lot of leadership experience under their belt, the scholarships will be waiting too.

Anyway, that's a lot of rambling, but I wanted to share my thoughts.  I do think that no matter how smart the kids are, as parents we should push our kids for greater learning.  Does accelerating our kids mean that we sacrifice the depth we could otherwise go into any given subject?  Is faster better, or is deeper better?  I would argue that "better" is better.  I'm just trying to figure out what "better" is for our family.  I have a few more posts in my head on this subject that I'll be sharing soon.

What does "better" look like to you?

Oct 22, 2012

Review of Little Reader Deluxe materials

Little Reader is available only at

Get 10% off with coupon code BKAFF13180

In a previous post I reviewed the Little Reader software, which is the meat and potatoes of this program.  It was $150, and for $100 more, you can get the Deluxe version with the physical products I review in this video.  We have been using Little Reader for a couple of months now, and we are seeing some amazing results.  I love the convenience of the software.  It takes much less screen time to do Little Reader then it did to watch DVDs, while being more effective.

The story books are very cute.  They are my favorite part of the whole program.  The start out very easy, but even the easy versions are stories.  Children know the difference between readers and real story books, and these books have the feel and quality of the real thing.  In the first video, you can watch my 1-year-old read one of these books.  This was 2 weeks after we got Little Reader, and it was his first book.  However, he already knew his sight words from "Meet the Sightwords", and most of the animals from "Your Baby Can Read".  Learning individual words is fairly easy, but putting it all together for story reading was one of the most challenging parts of teaching my oldest to read.  This becomes even more challenging when you consider that my little boy is still speaking with 2-4 word sentences.  In essence, he can read better than he can talk.  Reading full sentences has really helped him with his speech development.  The BrillKids Little Reader storybooks have made that process of reading full books easy.  The practice from these storybooks has helped my 3-year-old expand her reading abilities, as well has develop her confidence to do so.

Here is more detail about what is included in the Deluxe package.

Oct 5, 2012

The Solfege Train

This product will be part of a new membership site as I relaunch my website.  Please check out our Kickstarter Campaign.

"The Solfege Train is an e-product with more than 150 pages of printable materials and a 48 page instructional e-book, all in pdf format.  CD Data disk coming soon.  Here is a video tour to see most of the contents:


And here are a few pictures:

Solfege Circles Game
 Musical Stairs (previously sold separately)
Six different piano inserts to choose from.
 Note magnet activities.  Includes color or black and white, solfege or note names, as well as plain black notes.

 Eleven nursery rhymes in six different formats, including solfege or nursery rhymes, color or black and white, and different keys.

Pre-reading exercises.

 Beginning rhythm activities.
Activities to teach the basic music opposites of high and low, loud and soft, and fast or slow.

The price is $25.00

Now available as a data CD!  $25.00 plus shipping.   (Sorry, this product is currently unavailable)

Oct 4, 2012

Movable "Do" Piano Insert

This insert will help you play in any key, reminding you where the sharps and flats are.  My 3-year-old can transpose simple melodies into any key with it!  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth much more.

Here is the printable:

Movable "Do" Piano Insert

Here is a simple melody to get you started.

Rainbow Castle melody

Please note: If you think this printable is worth sharing, please do!  But I ask that you share this page's URL (web address), and not the actual file.  Thank you for understanding.

**In the video I called it "well tempered", but I should have said "equal tempered".  Oops!  It's sort of a joke relating to old tuning systems on the piano.  Each half-step is spaced evenly.  So in this printable, instead of spacing the chromatics to match where the black keys are on the piano, this printable is designed to move around.  Hence the even spacing was more desirable.  They don't match up perfectly, but they are certainly close enough.**

Oct 2, 2012

Movable "Do" vs Fixed "Do"

(and why I like Movable “Do” better) 

Before I dig into the debate of “Movable” vs “Fixed” solfege, let’s address the elephant in the room.

Um, what is solfege?

“Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do”.  They are names given to the notes in the scale.  In many countries, these are the names of the notes.  In others, they are assigned to the scale degrees.

Okay, I’ve seen “The Sound of Music”.  Why should I learn solfege, or teach it to my child?

Do you need to learn solfege to become a proficient musician?  In a word, no.  There are many conservatories that do not use solfege at all.

What a musician does need is a system for developing relative pitch, and absolute pitch.  They need it to operate their instrument, for analysis, for comprehension, memory, and dictation.

Although solfege is a popular tool to achieve this, some prefer instead a numbering system.  Students sing the scale degrees as “one, two, three, four, five, six, sev, one”.  (“seven” shortened to ‘sev’ for the sake of only needing to sing one syllable.)  This method is especially popular for conservatories with many international students.

Others prefer solfege for some of the following reasons:

  • Solfege has specific syllables for different scale degrees, for example, a raised “Fa” becomes “Fi” instead of a “4” becoming a “raised 4”.
  • Solfege sounds more musical than numbers or letters.  The one-syllable names all end with a vowel, making intonation easier.
  • Solfege allows musicians to reserve numbers for fingering and counting.
  • Solfege is the traditional way of learning to sight-read.
  • Solfege adds precision to the thought-process of ear training.
  • Solfege is an effective short-hand for dictation.

I realize that this article will have a varied audience, and I give fair warning that if you are a parent with no musical background, the fierce debate musicians have about which one is better, “Fixed Do” or “Movable Do”, may seem irrelevant and ultimately, yes, it doesn’t matter that much.  Ultimately it would be good for a musician to be able to use both.

I’m going to dig into some deep music philosophy and theory here, and if you get lost, I apologize.  I’ll give you the cliff-notes first and let you skip the rest if you wish:  They both have their benefits, but I personally prefer “Movable Do”, and that’s what I’m teaching my American kids.  The only reason why I delve into the deeper theory is to give you a road-map of where each method will take you.  For beginning purposes, it really doesn’t matter which you use, but as the student advances, it does matter, and because it matters later, I hope to be able to explain why you may be better off with Movable “Do” now.

In “Fixed Do”, “Do” is always “C”, no matter what key you are in.  With “Movable Do”, “Do” is the tonic note.  For example, in the key of “C Major”, “Do” is “C”, but in the key of “F Major”, “Do” is “F”.  There are various syllables used throughout the world, such as “So” or “Sol”, and “Ti” or “Si”.  I use “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, (Do)”.

Some countries don’t even have letter names (“A, B, C”), there are only solfege names (“Do, Re, Mi”).  For citizens of these countries, there should be no debate.  If there is no “C”, only “Do”, then obviously you would want to teach “Fixed Do”, that’s what your country does!  The conductor of your local orchestra will ask you to tune your violins to “La”.  You don’t want 12 versions of “La” to confuse your child!  But if your local orchestra tunes their violins to “A”, then this debate is applicable to you.

Which is better?  Well, that depends on what your goal is, and what your local music conservatory or community classes are teaching, if you have plans on sending your child to them.  What do you feel more comfortable teaching?

There are many great musicians who have never been trained with solfege.  Personally, I feel that I was fully prepared to be a music major in college without it.  But upon learning solfege, I realize now that learning to internalize music with solfege is a valuable tool.  It is a part of my music vocabulary that I use all of the time, especially when I am sight-reading a new melody.  If I am looking over a melody in my head, it is easier to use solfege to articulate the pitches than to simply think of the tone.  BUT!  I don’t need it.  You don’t either, really.  I don’t think that not knowing solfege will hurt a musician from becoming proficient in their instrument, or from building a strong foundation in musical understanding, but it certainly can help.

Again, what a good musician does need, is to develop a strong sense of relative pitch, and of absolute pitch.  Solfege is a tool used to reinforce one or the other, but not both.  Dr. Jody Nagel said it well in her article “The Use of Solfeggio in Sightsinging: Fixed vs Movable “Do” for People Without Perfect-Pitch”

It is rather amusing, for the first-time observer, to overhear "theorists" arguing as to whether or not students should be taught Fixedor Moveable "Do" in their course of music study. Musicians need both an absolute and a relative system for pitch. For example, a clarinetist needs to know the correct "fingering" to produce the concert-pitch Middle C. If this pitch is scale degree 1 of C-minor, scale degree 3 of A-flat-major, or scale degree 6 of E-minor, etc., the clarinetist still must be able to produce the pitch Middle C. On the other hand, regardless of the key it is sung in, musicians should be able to recognize that the tune, "Happy Birthday to You," begins on the 5th scale degree. The absolute pitch-system seems to be more appropriate when operatinga musical instrument, while the relative pitch-system seems to be more appropriate for perceiving how various tones function (i.e., where they are located) within a scale…

The "debate" between fixed-Do and moveable-Do is essentially a debate between whether or not to emphasize the operational or the perceptual requirements of music. It is actually an absurd debate, since professional musicians require both operational and perceptual skills.

In other words, when asking yourself which method you want to use, rather than asking, “Which is more important to learn, relative or absolute pitch?”, we should be asking ourselves, “How can I best teach my student relative andabsolute pitch?”  You need the whole enchilada!  Before I can tackle the topic of Fixed “Do” vs Movable “Do”, it is important to understand what relative pitch is, and its valuable application, as well as absolute pitch (perfect pitch), so allow me to touch on these.

Relative Pitch:  A person with a good sense of relative pitch will understand the relationship that notes in as scale have with each other.  The scale degrees are often marked with numbers with a carrot top, as pictured:

Sometimes the scale degrees are also known by the names “tonic, supertonic, mediant, subdominant, dominant, submediant, and leading tone”.  The latter names are valuable for reference in music theory as they accurately describe each note’s function, but they are hardly useful for quick sight-reading.

Perhaps the best advantage of having a good sense of relative pitch is the ability to transpose.  When a pianist is accompanying a singer who has difficulty reaching some of the high notes, the ability to transpose the music into a lower key is very valuable.  Those with that ability have a keen sense of relative pitch.

Absolute Pitch:  In the USA, among other countries, absolute pitch could be restated as the letter names of a scale, as pictured:

In these examples the fourth scale degree of the C major scale is the same as the first scale degree in the F major scale, the note “F”.  If I were to play the note alone without any context, and you could tell me that it is an “F”, then it would be said that you have perfect pitch. 

Perfect pitch is a much desired ability, and we have all heard stories of great musicianship by those who have it.  Consider the prodigies who have notated large sections of music after they arrive home after a concert.  Aside from an incredible memory, perfect pitch was most certainly an asset.

If your child is very, very young, there is the “critical period” for language development.  What that age period is, and whether it is “critical” or only “sensitive”, is not a topic I am qualified to address, but I will express my personal opinion that when children are very young, language acquisition is easier.  In some East-Asian countries where pitch is an important part of their spoken language, there is a higher percentage of citizens that have perfect pitch than in countries where tones in the language aren’t as important.  This is not genetic, it is a cultural thing.  Do I believe that young children, given the right music environment can learn to have perfect pitch?  Yes I do.  I don’t believe they “are born with it”.  I believe that the gift of perfect pitch, or any prodigious gift for that matter, comes from a combination of interest and work on the child’s part, and their opportunity to learn, or in other words, their learning environment.

In my own personal research, I have come to the conclusion that it is not an “all or nothing” ability.  Certainly Pavarotti, with his ability to discern between “A 440” and “A 438”, had an incredible ear.  But the common person who hears a television theme song, and then hums the melody while doing dishes, and consistently does it in the same key, is blessed with perfect pitch too.  I can play basketball enough to enjoy shooting hoops on occasion, but the NBA would never have me, and rightfully so.  Perfect pitch is likewise an ability that all can work on, if desired, but the fact that very few professional musicians have that highly developed ability is a testament to the fact that it is not necessary.  Nor does having perfect pitch guarantee a musician success in their field.

There are some musicians with a very keen sense of pitch, who warn those who seek it that they should be careful what they wish for- life would be much simpler without it.

But I digress.  Having perfect pitch is not as important as having an absolute pitch system.  I remember hearing that Albert Einstein was once asked if he knew how many feet there are in a mile.  He replied that he didn’t, and thought it was worthless to fill his head full of dry facts that would take less than 2 minutes to look up in a standard reference book.  I feel that way about perfect pitch.  Yes, it is a valuable skill to have, especially for piano tuners, but when I lead a choir, I want the singers to be able to match each other, and the instruments that are accompanying them (which may or may not be in tune).  I want them to be able to adapt to the key they are singing in, to understand it and appropriately interpret it.

An Absolute Pitch system is also necessary for an orchestra or band.  Instrumentalists need to know how to operate their instrument well.  They must be able to tune their instruments to each other, and they all tune to an absolute pitch.  A member of an orchestra may have no background in music theory or tonality, and still contribute much to their ensemble simply because of their ability to play their instrument.  They see the notes on the score, they play them in tune and in time.  They are enjoying the music.  Isn’t that the amateur musician’s ultimate goal anyway?

So now that we understand what absolute and relative pitch are, let’s look at the Movable “Do” vs Fixed “Do” debate.

Advantages to Movable “Do”:  If musicians are to learn relative and absolute pitch well, they need to have experience with both systems.  We do have a precise system for absolute pitch, and it is called letter names.  For relative pitch, we also have numbers, but numbers are difficult to sing, especially when accidentals (sharps and flats) come into play.  Michael Kaulkin summarizes the difficulty with using numbers nicely in his blog post “The Case for Movable “Do” in Classroom Musicianship:
Yes, scale degree numbers accomplish the teaching of intervals and function very well. Thumbs up on numbers. Up to a point. What happens when you’re working in a minor key? What happens when it goes chromatic?  Sing me a German augmented 6th chord, please, using numbers.  You can sing “6-1-2-4″, but that comes nowhere near expressing what’s happening in this chord.  At best you can sing “lowered 6 – 1 – raised 2 – raised 4″, but that is unreasonably clumsy.

Movable “Do” has a system for these chromatic notes.  In a nutshell, when a note is lowered, the vowel is changed to rhyme with “day”.  “Mi” becomes “Me”, “La” becomes “Le”.  If a note is raised, the vowel is changed to rhyme with “bee”.  “Fa” becomes “Fi” and “So” becomes “Si”.  There are a few variants, but for purposes of this article, this explanation will suffice.  Ultimately Movable “Do” becomes a precise system of naming the scale degrees that a singer can use to sight-sing a piece of music.  Because the majority of music an amateur musician will come across is tonal (ie, not dissonant or a-tonal), the use of these chromaticisms are greatly reduced.  95% of the notes will be the typical “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti”, and the other 5% will mostly be “Fi” and “Si”.  (I made those statistics up.)

There are two different systems in use for adapting Movable “Do” for minor keys.  They are the La-based minor (the relative minor, which is the minor key with the same key signature as the major key.  A minor is relative to C major, with no sharps or flats), and the altered syllable system, as pictured below.

Some prefer the Do-based minor scale because the primary chords remain similar (“Do-Mi-So” becomes “Do-Me-So” and “So-Ti-Re” remains the same).  This reinforces harmonic concepts learned in music theory and form.  Having the “I”(Roman numeral one) or “i” (lower case denotes a minor key) chord begin on “Do”, and the “V” chord always begin on “So” is a great advantage for composition and theory students.

It is also interesting to note that in early sight singing history, the scales’ defining characteristic was not the tonic, but instead the half-step between “Mi-Fa”.  Others prefer the “La”-based minor scale because “Mi-Fa” remains a semi-tone (half-step).  Guido D’Arezzo’s original scale was a hexachord consisting of “Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La”.  There was no “Ti”, and “Ut” has since changed to “Do”.   

Traditionally his hexachord was placed over a broad range of notes, called the “gamut”.  To idium “run the gamut” comes from this part of music history.  A singer who could sing and internalize all of the notes of the gamut with their various solfege names had “run the gamut”.  Now “run the gamut” means to include everything within a group or type.

Traditionally solfege was done with Movable “Do”.  Fixed “Do” is relatively new, and came about when France decided to assign solfege to specific pitches.

Coming back to the different systems of Movable “Do” for minor keys, I will state my preference for the La based minor.  Why?  Simply because it is harder to remember to change the syllable when there is no accidental before it.  My ear will know where “Le” is in the second example, but without an accidental, I intuitively want to sing “La”.  In the first example, the sharp before “Si” helps me keep my solfege on tract.  That’s just my preference.

The “La”based minor also sets the stage for easier modal reading.  Most western music is the Ionian (Major) or Aeolian (Minor) modes [1], but the Dorian[2]and Mixolydian[3]modes are also very popular.  Most singers find it easier to adapt the tonic to a different syllable, such as “La” or “Re”, then to memorize a new set of chromatics for every different mode.  Keeping the primary chords of “I, IV and V” with the same syllables becomes a mute point in modal music because the primary chords are simply different.  The Dorian mode often employs a VII (Major seven chord), which is practically unheard of in traditional harmony.  For your own trivia enjoyment, I have included the seven different modes.  Each mode is written as relative to “C Major” in that there are no sharps or flats.  The first version allows the tonic to move to keep the syllables “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La,” and “Ti”, respectively, as well as keeping the “Mi-Fa” semitone.  In other words, they are all relative to “C Major”.  The second version forces “Do” to be the tonic, and instead alters the syllables.  When considering modal music, which mostly manifests itself in folk music, the La-based minor clearly becomes the preferable method.

A lot of tension can result in music schools over which of these minor-systems to use.  In some schools it will vary from teacher to teacher, and in others, it is the privilege of seniority to decide.  Ultimately, a singer trained in Movable “Do” will get a flavor of both anyway, depending on how the minor passage presents itself.

Going back to the advantages of Movable “Do” (modal music was most certainly a tangent), it removes a student’s dependency on the key of “C”.  It happens all too often:  A beginning piano student begins their study in the key of “C”, and when they start to learn to play in other keys, it suddenly becomes difficult, and many students quit.  Later they join a choir, and all they know is how to play is “C”.  Most other keys are considered “hard”, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Training in Movable “Do” can help this singer branch out and feel more confident with reading in other key signatures, or, in other words, reading with the tonic (key note) located at different points on the staff.  Because all music is not in C major, our students need a learning system that helps establish relative pitch, and eliminates that dependency on “C” major.  Movable “Do” is a fantastic tool to accomplish that goal.

Students trained in Movable “Do” are often able to learn to read on new clefs, like the Tenor Clef, easier than those trained in Fixed “Do”.  Likewise, instruments based in other keys, such as the “F” recorder, or the “B-flat” clarinet are better served by a relative pitch system, as even the letter names become relative to which instrument is used.  For example, a clarinetist on a “B-flat” instrument will need to play a “D” if the orchestra director asks for a “Concert C”.  On an “E-flat” instrument, they will need to play an “A”.  There is the standard “A=440”, which is scientific, and called “Concert A”.

Unless you have reference to that pitch when you practice (there are many ways to accomplish this), you will not be developing perfect pitch.  If you don’t have access to “Concert A”, Movable “Do” may be better for you.  I have a clavinova for my reference, but I like to practice with my children when we walk down the stairs, when we are driving in the car, or any other time that the mood strikes me.  It is nice to incorporate ear training exercises at the same time, without having to use a pitch pipe first.  My children will always have access to their voices, even if they won’t always have an instrument.  This is part of the philosophical foundation of Kodaly- build proficiency in the instrument all citizens will have in their homes, their own voice.  Singing with solfege is a tool to develop the ear and the body (voice), and not necessarily an instrument. 

There may also be cultural advantages to using Movable “Do”.  For example, in the United States, most music programs will use Movable “Do”.

Disadvantages to Movable “Do”:  The biggest disadvantage to a Movable Do system is for those who live in a country where the absolute names of the notes are “Do, Re, Mi” instead of “C, D, E”.  France, Italy, Spain, much of South and Central America, Japan, and Korea are key examples.  It is wholly incompatible for students in these countries, and should be avoided.  Some argue that when a student begins to study a-tonal music, Movable “Do”, with its strong emphasis on a tonic note, become especially difficult to sing.  Me?  I say that a-tonal music is hard to sing no matter which system you use!

A-tonal music does not have a tonic, but it will often have a tonal center, and if there is one, there will be a key signature to show what it is.  Otherwise, there will be no key signature, leaving “C” on “Do” and giving the singer the use of chromatics.  When I was in college, we switched to Fixed “Do” during the a-tonal semester of study, and I was grateful.  Not because a-tonal music is easier to sing with Fixed “Do” per-say, but because I was able to essentially abandon solfege analysis altogether by simply substituting my letter-note-name knowledge with solfege notes.  It was an easy-way out for us, while simultaneously teaching us how to use Fixed “Do” should we ever teach in a conservatory that used it.  I’m sure our musical understanding would have been better improved if we had learned a-tonal music in Movable “Do”, but Aural Skills was only a one-credit course and we all had a lot of other things on our plates.  Besides, how often does a performing musician really need to transpose a-tonal music on the fly?  Yuck.  That’s what music software is for.[4]  Yes, I just offered an apologetic for movable do, but this fixed-do proponents often cite a-tonal music as a plus.  Honestly, I have rarely sung a-tonal music outside of my ear-training courses.  20thcentury music, with it’s sharp dissonances and unusual harmonies, yes, but a-tonal music, not so much.  Acting as an instrumentalist, I find that a-tonal music is much easier to reproduce and enjoy when I use letter-names.  A-tonal music is most certainly easier to plunk out on the piano than it is to sing.

The other disadvantage to Movable “Do” is the need for a different system for minor keys.

Application of Movable Do for young singers:  Back to square one.  I encourage you to emphasize is in-tune singing.  The ideal key for young voices to be singing in is “D” major.  Hence, if you have a piano or other instrument for reference, the best pitches to use is “A” for “So”, and “F#” for “Mi”.  This is because these notes are the easiest notes for children to hear and sing.  Again, Movable “Do” reinforces relative pitch.  This means that a song, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle”, will be sung as “Do, Do, So, So, La, La, So…” no matter what key it is in.  Learning to recognize the intervals between each scale degree is also valuable.  For example, from the first scale degree (“Do”), to the second (“Re”), is always a major 2nd.  As the student advances, the chordal harmony also becomes easier to sing in movable do.  For example, the primary chords of “I”, “IV”, and “V”, would always be sung as “Do-Mi-So”, “Fa-La-Do”, and “So-Ti-Re”, respectively.  Changing keys (a.k.a. modulating) is much easier to internalize when the same syllables and intervals are used.
By catering to the instrument they are learning, we can foster earlier and easier success.  The average child speaks at or around an “F#”.  For this reason, “Movable Do” is preferable for instruments that modulate the easiest, with the voice being the key example.  The Kodaly method uses Movable “Do”.

Advantages to Fixed Do:  Fixed “Do” can reinforce absolute pitch.  If a parent desires to teach a young child to have perfect pitch, Fixed “Do” is a great way to go about it.  Many young children struggle with the idea that the easiest key to play in is “C”.  Why not “A”?  By learning Fixed “Do”, they begin with “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti” instead of “C, D, E, F, G, A, B”.  This is more intuitive, and so it is easiest to learn in the beginning.  There is plenty of time to learn letter-names later.  Also, where Movable “Do” helps with sight-singing, “Fixed Do” can help with music dictation (writing down music that you hear exactly).  Personally, I am better at relative pitch, and so when I dictate music, I subconsciously compare difficult pitches I hear to the tonic note and then reason in my mind what that note must be.  I did well, but the process was more meticulous and slow.  My friend who had perfect pitch immediately knew what the pitches she heard were, quickly wrote them down, and generally scored very well.  However, while her pitches were always correct, she struggled more with how to spell the notes, for example, writing a Gb instead of an F# (different names for the same pitch).  She simply needed to apply more music theory to her assignments for a perfect score, but there is no doubt that straight dictation was much easier for her.

For a vocal student, using Fixed “Do” lets the singer sing with easier syllables than by simply using letter names.  Traditionally, all “C”s are “Do”, so “C#” and Cb” are all simply “Do”.  The sight-singer should know the difference and intuitively make the change in their heads.  This means that they have fewer syllables to learn- it’s simply “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La,” and “Si” (“Ti” is usually only used in Movable “Do”).  The reason why this system is more common comes back to the countries that use “Do, Re, Mi” as note names.  A song in France may be in “Do-sharp minor”.  They name sharps and flats, but for ease in sight-singing, the “sharp” and “flat” is taken off, leaving a simple syllable that is easier to learn.  All of these “Do”s are only a half-step off from each other, and this closeness helps to build an overall pitch memory for those without perfect-pitch.

The other advantage to using Fixed Do is that, while a student may learn to operate their instrument based on absolute pitch, they will not necessarily develop a perfect-pitch memory if they don’t reproduce those pitches with their body.  Consistently singing the same pitch with the same name can help develop perfect pitch.  Because of this, ear training practice should be done with a tuned instrument, whether you use Fixed “Do” or Movable “Do”.

Disadvantages of Fixed Do:  Unfortunately, by eliminating the chromatisisms (names for sharps and flats), the intervallic differences between two notes is no longer consistent.  In Movable “Do”, “Do” to “Mi” is always a major third, but it may be a minor third or major third, and even a diminished or augmented third with Fixed Do.  To eliminate this problem, there are some conservatories and methodologies that apply the same chromaticisims of Movable “Do” to Fixed “Do”.  With this method, “C” is always “Do”, and “C#” is always “Di”.  Now the intervals between the notes, or applicably, the solfege syllables, are always consistent.  “Do” to “Mi” is a major third, and “Mi” to “Fa” is always a minor second (half-step).  However, this creates a new problem; some keys become incredibly complicated to sight-sing by virtue of the syllables used alone.  Consider the difference between the “Ab” major scale and the “A” major scale:

If the singer was using “Movable Do”, the syllables to both would be “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do”, the singer only needs to hear the tonic note and know where “Do” is located on the staff.  If they used unaltered Fixed-Do, both would be “La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La”.  Singing with these chromatics, on the other hand, is a far more advanced study, but certainly one with merit.  They are, after all, different scales.

But while there may be conservatories that use this system in their ear training courses, the fact remains that there is not an actual culture that uses this system.  No orchestra in the world will tell you that your “Fi” in measure 7 is flat.  There are no “Te” clarinets.  In France there are “Ti-flat” clarinets (''une clarinette en si bĂ©mol''), and in the USA there are “B-flat” clarinets.  Fixed “Do” with altered chromatics is easier to learn in the beginning, but it becomes unnecessarily complicated when you start to sing in multiple keys.

Fixed “Do” also builds a strong connection with the key of “C”, but unless they have perfect pitch, a student may struggle with sight-singing in other keys because mentally they are relating every note in every key they are singing back to C, instead of the tonic note.  (In “A” major, the tonic note is “A”).

Ultimately it boils down to this:  If your country uses these syllables anyway, there is no debate, of course you want to use “Fixed Do”.  On the other hand, if your country uses letter names, can you not accomplish the same goals of pitch memory by using them?  Ear training exercises can be done with letter names!  Pitch memory can be built with letter names, and an instrumentalist will get plenty of exposure to them.  “A-flat” is not as easy to sing as “Le”, but it is consistent with what they will be hearing at orchestra rehearsal, and the method of naming the chromatics is more consistent overall.  Consider “C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#, B#” as opposed to “Di, Ri, Ma, Fi, Si, Li, To”.  (“Ma” and “To” occur often for altered Fixed “Do”, and rarely for Movable “Do”) Instrumentalists do not even need to think “A-flat” when they are quickly sight-reading a piece, they only need to build a physical relationship with the black note on the page and the fingering/location of that note on the instrument.

By focusing so much attention on absolute pitch, with letter names andFixed-Do syllables, absolute pitch will certainly be reinforced, but often at the cost of developing a sense of relative pitch.

Application of Fixed Do for young singers:  On the piano, children often begin instruction in the key of “C” because there are no sharps or flats, making it the easiest key to begin with.  Children’s voices are a different instrument altogether, but if you have a piano in your home, Fixed “Do” on the piano can be used to reinforce your music lessons.  “So” is on “G”, “Mi” is on “E”, and “La” is on “A”.  For the beginner, Fixed “Do” has many advantages.  It gets your foot in the door, so to speak, and the value in that should not be understated.

In Summary:  What method should you use?  Well, it depends on what resources your students have, what your goals are, and what you feel most comfortable teaching.  There is no real right or wrong method.

If all of this talk of “Movable Do” vs “Fixed Do” has got your head spinning, I have some good news for you.  For both of these methods and all of their variations, the key of “C Major” is sung the same.  Put simply:

That’s right: No matter which system you use, this scale is correct for all of them.  If you are at all undecided, I recommend you start here.  Within the framework of the “C Major” scale, students can learn and master so many concepts, such as high and low, line notes and space notes, how to read music generally, and a host of other things.  The “C Major” scale is relatively easy for young voices to sing, and it is the easiest scale to play on the piano.

Then of course you can do what my high-school music teacher suggests, and simply use "Play Do".

For Further Reading:
Everything you need to know to teach your young child music (a free e-book by BrillKids, highly recommended)

Solfege Battles (chosen for the lively discussion in the comments section)

Ear Training and Musicianship (written by a Fixed “Do” critic)

Perfect Pitch vs Relative Pitch (I have not used his product, nor do I necessarily endorse it, but this article is perhaps the best explanation I have read on the subject.  His object lesson is especially effective)

[1]Technically, Aeolian only refers to the natural minor scale (no chromatic alterations).  When we raise the 7thscale degree, it becomes the harmonic minor scale.  The harmonic minor scale is much more common because the raised 7th acts as the leading tone.  Resolving that leading tone up to the tonic is very pleasing to the ear.

[2]Think “Scarborough Fair” or “Lovely Joan”.

[3]“Old Joe Clark”, or “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles.  The nerd in me demands that I point out the “Star Trek” theme song as well.

[4] I only say that because I’m jealous of the musicians who can.  If you are one of them, I commend and admire you for it.  I know you put a lot of work into developing that ability.  Did you use Movable “Do” to gain that skill?
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