Monday, April 13, 2015

K is for Kodály

In my previous post I made a confession of a unique musical topic that makes me swoon, the study of musical folklore. On a similar topic, one of my many musical brain occupiers, touched upon in the last post, is children's music.

Years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to teach Kindermusik, and even more deeply enjoyed my time as a music teacher for a Montessori preschool and kindergarten. Another favorite was the homeschool class for older children I taught that pulled from  many of my preferred teaching methods, including incorporating historical education in a chronological order that would fit into various eras of history.

Of course, I love teaching my own children music most of all. Today, though most of our audiences are adults, once in awhile we get to present the music to children and I feel as though I've returned home again.

Through my teaching experiences I've had a chance to work with kids in and out of classroom settings and at different ages, sometimes in settings perhaps a bit unique to the usual classroom setting or the world of private individual instruction. I've noticed from this how certain philosophies on educating children flourish in some settings, and when they fall flat. Like any educational method, one size does not fit all children or musical settings.

You may have heard the names of giants in the field of musical methodologies for children, which include names like Orff, Dalcroze, and Suzuki. One of my all time favorite children's music education methods is the Kodály method, developed by Zoltán Kodály. So, today's A to Z challenge about children and music is in his honor. "K" for Kodály.

In a nutshell, the Kodály Method (pronounced ˈkō-ˌdī) uses music natural to children in their culture, using commonly sung intervals and patterns, then presents the musical concepts behind them in an incremental fashion. The use of both rhythmic symbols (ta, ta, ti-ti, ta), and solfege (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do - think "Sound of Music), along with the hand signs (shown in the picture), take the songs and break them down in a way that will later help the child to define the intervals for sight singing and pitch accuracy.

The Orff Approach, developed by Orff Schulwek, has a similar approach in that it is child centered, designed to teach music much the way children play or learn naturally. In an Orff lesson, children learn music by making music, just as they learned language by speaking. Do you remember playing those little xylophones in elementary school where your teacher would remove all of the bars you shouldn't hit and you'd have bars that would fit in perfectly with the music, then you were given a pattern to play during the song? That was Orff.

My teaching education in college included the basics of Kodály and Orff, but not as much from another big name in children's methods, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, though I did see it at work frequently in my Kindermusik classes, which pulls from all of the methods brilliantly. Similar to the others, this method uses a child's natural world, but focuses more on experiencing music through physical movement, such as dance and various forms of kinesthetic sensory expression.

Then there is Suzuki, which started as a violin method but now has instructors using this program for piano, guitar, flute, and more. I have a love/hate relationship with the Suzuki Method, having taken Sean through years of the celebrated violin method, and even starting Mary with the it as well before we started traveling and private lessons were no longer possible. I won't dive too much into it other than to say that it does some things very right, in that it utilizes an old fashioned way of rote learning, allowing the child's ear to develop as he mimics the master until he learns to do it exactly right.

It falls short, in my mind, when it becomes too rigid, not allowing for the natural musical expression of children, which can, when taken too far, create wonderful "technicians", but not very well developed musicians. It also weeds out the children who do not conform well to rigidity in musical instruction, though music is a language that is meant for expression. That said, a conscientious teacher can make great use of this method, always knowing when to let things go and let the child connect with the music, not the method.

On a side note: One possible movement in violin methods that may gain momentum is the O'Connor Method, which is supposed to provide an answer to the objections in the Suzuki Method. Mark O'Connor has strong criticisms of the Suzuki method and is worth hearing out on his blog. Yes, most of this is to promote his own method, but honestly, it stands that he developed his because he thought he had something far better and didn't like Suzuki's method, so I can't fault him there. I have not seen Mark's courses but I have a feeling I'd love them because I do think he is correct that "Twinkles" can be dreadful and there are better ways to start a young violinist. At times Mark takes on the legend of Suzuki and goes after the man not just the method, which is not the focus of my interest in this discussion, but perhaps insightful to some. It is good to also see the response by the Suzuki Association to these charges.

At this point I would like to jump in an give you my thoughts and observations when it comes to working with children and music these different settings, including home settings, where some of my favorite methods fall on their faces. However, I have probably now worn out my welcome on the eyes of the reader, so I will keep this post for "the basics", leaving my thoughts on these programs for a later post.

Someday I hope to write a book that helps parents at home find an organic, natural child-centered method that works for their unique family. This is of great importance to me as I think music can be a powerful tool in helping to foster stronger family attachments in a world that pulls them apart in so many different directions, including music and media.

It's not all or nothing. You don't need a family band like I have. In fact, I started out by including my kids in my preschool music classes, and our first attempts at playing together was in learning music popular during the eras of American History we were studying. We took it further, largely spurred by our desire to travel and do something different, but the ability to sit on the porch and just play good music would have been reward enough had we taken a different path.

Perhaps when my current musical adventure with my own family has come to a close that book will be written. Until then, I do hope to rebuild a website on the subject, complete with sample lessons. I have a few floating around in my head that are dying to be written down!


  1. <3 Kodály ! I don't have kids, but you know how much I love solfège hand signs :-) I wish you much luck with your book!

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