The Kodály Approach
Kodály's approach to music education is based on teaching, learning and understanding music through the experience of singing, giving direct access to the world of music without the technical problems involved with the use of an instrument. The musical material, which has proved to be the most potent and effective is a country's own folksong material and the finest art music. Music is heard first of all and then learned using relative solfa, derived from John Curwen's Tonic Solfa and rhythm solfa, inspired by and simplified from the French rhythm solfa system of Cheve, Gallin and Paris.
The Kodály approach to music education is child centred and taught in a logical, sequential manner. There is no "method" – more a series of guidelines. Tools used according to Kodály guidelines are relative solfa, rhythm names and handsigns.
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© L. Geoghegan 2006
Why is singing so important?
The singing voice is nature's in-built musical instrument. We all have one, and Kodály educators believe it is the birthright of every child to learn how to express him/herself musically through the singing voice. Musical development can in this way begin from babyhood, with no one excluded on grounds of cost. Singing is a joyful and sociable activity feeding the spirit as well as the mind.
Singing gives direct access to music without the technical difficulties of an instrument. Singing and active participation is therefore the fastest way to learn and internalise music and to develop musicianship skills. It is also the proof of accurate internalisation of the rhythm and melody.
Through unaccompanied singing and active participation a student can begin to acquire skills essential to all musicians: musical memory, inner hearing, true intonation and harmonic hearing.
Kodály-trained instrumental teachers regard these skills as pre-requisites for instrumental study at every level. Teachers who spend time preparing musical material through singing and other musical activity find that pupils play successfully and musically when they reach the final stage of performing the music on their instrument.
Engaging in singing and Kodály oriented musical activities leads to a marked increase in the powers of concentration, a rise in levels of achievement and an increase in social harmony in and out of the classroom. Projects conducted by the Voices Foundation, who rely on teachers and trainers who are successful graduates of BKA educational programmes, have borne this out.
How does the teaching progress?
The approach is very effective with young children who will learn, unconsciously at first, all the musical elements, which musicians need, through playing and singing of musical games and songs of their mother tongue. As with language learning, it can happen very spontaneously and naturally when parents and carers sing to young children as a part of everyday life, especially if this singing approach is continued through Primary School.
At an appropriate stage these musical elements and skills are further developed by being made conscious and then, later, reinforced. In the process of reinforcing, new elements are introduced – again unconsciously by the teacher, thus continuing and developing the cycle further. Central to this work is the development of the Inner Hearing (the ability to imagine sound) though a potent combination of singing, rhythm work, Solfa and hand-sign work, stick-notation, memory development, part work, improvisation and so on.
But I am an adult!
Kodály's approach to learning can be used to develop musical skills at any age. Anyone, whatever their age or ability may aspire to the highest levels of musicianship. The training starts with the simple and progresses to the more complex by logical steps and is one of the finest approaches to music education yet devised and therefore suited to all ages and stages of musical development. There are always adult beginners at the annual BKA Summer School and many come back year after year to extend their musical skills. As well as helping beginners to develop musicianship skills, the training also extends to those working at an advanced level.
But I am an instrumentalist!
When music is taught or learned using Kodály's approach skills vital to advanced music making such as “inner hearing”, rhythmic co-ordination and harmonic hearing are strongly developed at an early stage. The approach is therefore relevant for instrumental teachers as well as class teachers and amateur and professional singers and musicians.
Through Kodály training teachers come to realise that all pupils need a core of musicianship training which is relevant to all instruments. Instrumental teachers therefore need to develop skills and material for musicianship work with their pupils, and to acquire repertoire and insights for applying this to their own instrument. Training is available in courses run by the BKA.
But I am not a singer!
You do not have to be a trained singer to enjoy or benefit from this form of music making. If you can draw breath, you can sing in such a way that the musical world will become accessible to you. The teaching and learning of music through the use of the singing voice enables the most direct of musical responses and provides the opportunity for musical understanding at the deepest level.
All students are taught to work with rhythm, structure and style in music – and to understand pitch by using a relative pitch system, which uses pitch syllables (e.g do, re, mi, fa etc) to develop keen aural discrimination. This is central to Kodály training and provides a stimulating and challenging means of improving personal musicianship and musical awareness.
But I am a non-specialist teacher!
It is possible to learn basic musical skills as an adult, which can then be transmitted in the classroom in singing games and other musical activities requiring only the use of your voice. The BKA runs courses and workshops throughout the year, in addition to its annual Summer School to provide this training.
Read 'Key elements of the Kodály Concept' an essay by new Trustee Benjamin Westley which he submitted as part of the Springboard HE1 Certificate Course 2010 – 11.
Read/download "The Kodály Concept" – a clear, concise description by BKA President, Gillian Earl, author of "With Music in Mind".
Read 'The Kodály Experience' by Cyrilla Rowsell - an illuminating discussion by a gifted teacher.
Read 'The Importance of Inner Hearing' an essay written by Becky Welsh as part of her double bass studies at Trinity College of Music.
Read key findings from 'Making more of Music' an evaluation of music in schools by Ofsted (2005-8).
Read/download Sarah Glover’s Music Education Scheme - a paper by Celia Waterhouse outlining the work of the British music educator that inspired John Curwen and ultimately Zoltán Kodály.
See also: Kodály Archive
"The organic connection between music and physical movement is expressed in singing games. These, particularly in the open air, have been one of the principal joys of childhood from time immemorial." Zoltán Kodály