Lesson 1: The Principles of “Movable Do”

Most people do not realize that all songs (not just Gregorian chant) can be sung starting on any pitch:

Middle Starting Pitch (Mp3)  •  Low Starting Pitch (Mp3)  •  High Starting Pitch (Mp3)

In these three examples, notice that even though I started on different pitches, the song did not change. As we will learn (below), the point to grasp is that the intervallic relationships stayed the same. Another way to say this would be: you can choose any pitch you like as a starting pitch, but you must never change the relationship of the intervals. If you want to sound really smart, you might say, “The intervallic relationships must remain inviolable.”

Singers with high voices will normally choose a higher starting pitch. Low singers will normally choose a lower starting pitch. Furthermore, our voices become higher as each day progresses. For instance, when I wake up in the morning, I can sing all the way down to a low G. But as the day progresses, my voice warms up, because I start speaking (I tend to talk too much!). As the voice warms up, it gets higher and higher. Therefore, if you pick out your starting pitches in the morning, but the Mass you’re singing occurs during the evening, you might find your pitches to be on the low side. On the other hand, if you decide on your starting pitches the night before an early morning Mass, you will probably be asking yourself, “How could I have chosen such high pitches?” The answer is that your voice was in a different condition when you chose those pitches.