Kodály Lightbulb Moments by Matt Brewster

Matt Brewster InsertMy journey into the world of Kodály began because I had the chance to be a ‘stay-at-home Dad’ for the best part of a year. I had been taking my one-year-old son to his ‘Mini Musicians’ class, initially thinking it would just be nursery rhymes. After a couple of weeks, I realised that there was something unusually clever and structured going on in these classes, and the older toddlers in the group had some quite amazing skills for their age – such as being able to beat a drum in perfect time to music – both crotchets and quavers! This had me intrigued, and when I was told that there was a shortage of teachers on the Isle of Man to run these groups, I jumped at the chance to learn more.

The Summer School was recommended to me by a couple of people who were involved in those groups. The reports I had received from those who were previous attendees were that this was to be a very intense, brain-melting week and I would be utterly exhausted – but that I would enjoy it.

As a result, I journeyed to England with a large degree of trepidation. I had looked at the timetable issued to me and it looked extremely full, including optional classes in the evening! I made a decision to just try to launch myself into everything, and just power through the tiredness. I am so glad I did.

The first thing you notice at Summer School is that you are suddenly surrounded by truly inspirational people, staff and students alike. There is so much talent that the music just seems to burst through the seams of the buildings and fill every space, including outdoors. Musical groups seem to materialise out of thin air and all of a sudden you are playing jazz (for the first time) with an ensemble of people you’ve never met before, but it feels like you’ve known them forever.

Our Early Years sessions were great fun, and really got us to think carefully about the reasons why we teach in a particular way, and to critically evaluate whether or not it is working. I came back with a huge raft of ideas for my toddler group!

I had a go at conducting for the first time (absolutely terrifying!) but through some excellent teaching I was quickly put at ease and since the summer school I have even conducted a church choir – something I never thought I would be able to do.

Matt MusicianshipI learned all about the science of the voice, how the vocal cords work and how to use different techniques to safely achieve the notes and volume required. Did you know that singing at full volume requires far less breath than singing quietly, because your vocal cords spend more time in their closed position? Fascinating!

There were some truly moving moments. Singing ‘The River is Flowing’ with all of the students during James Cuskelly’s session was an almost spiritual experience.

‘Lightbulb’ moments
But for me, the true highlight of Summer School were the musicianship sessions. They provided some extremely taxing mental exercise, challenging me to totally rethink how I approached my understanding of music. These sessions have huge potential to cause your head to spontaneously explode from all of the intense concentration, but Cyrilla did an incredible job of guiding us through it with immense patience. I looked forward to every single session, and at the end of it all I came out with a very good idea of every gap in my musical understanding. I discovered a lot of gaps! But rather than this being frustrating, I found it utterly inspiring. Things I had found difficult for years suddenly clicked into place like a light being switched on, and there were so many ‘lightbulb moments’ I lost count. I got so used to saying the words ‘Wow… of course, that makes so much sense!’ that I drew a picture of a lightbulb so that I wouldn’t ever forget that Kodály feeling.

I returned to the Island utterly exhausted and my brain had melted as I was promised it would – but I also felt like a child who had been taken home after a week at Disneyland. I really didn’t want to leave. I could have stayed in that environment for months and never got tired of it!

Since returning, I have started using Kodály in my own violin lessons, I’m now leading my toddler sessions on my own, and have noticed that my sight-singing is improving immensely.

I am very much looking forward to returning to another Summer School soon!

Matt started learning the piano at the age of four, before beginning a lifelong relationship with the violin aged five. After completing his degree he spent nearly four years working at Avid Technology on the market-leading score-writing software, Sibelius. Since moving to the Isle of Man he has worked as a secondary school teacher, a private violin teacher, and a teacher of Kodály-based toddler classes, while managing to fit in four different choirs and running a public board gaming group!

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies 1934 – 2016

With deep sadness we report that Sir Peter Maxwell Davies died on Monday, 14 March. The BKA has been honoured to have him as one of our Patrons.

Sir Peter was a great composer of music for children. From 1959 he taught music for three years at Cirencester Grammar School, where he wrote specific pieces for the pupils.

In 1981 the International Kodály Society commissioned Sir Peter to write for the centenary of Kodály’s birth. The resulting set of songs, to texts by the composer, was given its world première performance in Budapest on 13 December 1982, by a Hungarian children’s choir conducted by Janos Remenyi.

On that occasion Sir Peter’s description of his songs included homage to Kodály:

“Seven Songs Home was commissioned by the International Kodály Society and first performed in 1982 in Budapest on the occasion of the Kodály centenary. The work is a tribute to the great composer of music for children. It is scored for unaccompanied children’s voices, and the story line concerns events and adventures experienced by an island child between leaving school and arriving home for tea.”

For more details on Sir Peter’s life please visit his website at http://www.maxopus.com/resources.aspx

An Appraisal of Sarah Glover’s Norwich Sol-fa Method by Celia Waterhouse


Much of this methodology was carried forward through John Curwen’s
Tonic Sol-fa method, to have an influence on Zoltán Kodály

by Celia Waterhouse
Independent Music Teacher based in Cambridgeshire, UK

Presented at the 19th International Kodály Symposium in August 2009, Katowice, Poland

Sarah Glover’s method for music education has a special value in the history of the Kodály movement, as the first example of a systematic programme of practical musicianship training through unaccompanied singing and relative solfa. Much of this methodology was carried forward, through John Curwen’s Tonic Sol-fa method, to have an influence on Zoltán Kodály.

Sarah Anna Glover (1786 -1867) was the daughter of the curate of St Lawrence’s church Norwich. As a young woman she began directing the music in church, and teaching with her sister at local parish schools, charity schools and Sunday schools. At that time Sunday Schools were schools for poor children who had to work on weekdays, when the more fortunate children attended regular school. She was well educated, had a lifelong interest in many subjects and was familiar with contemporary educational philosophy, scientific theory, scholarly treatises and histories of music. An accomplished amateur musician and pianist, Sarah Glover was also a gifted and inventive teacher.

The singing of her young pupils soon gained a reputation, and she began to receive requests to train others to teach music. Studying music at the time consisted of fact learning, with various devices to facilitate stave reading. European methods favoured, numbers to represent degrees of the scale, or were based on fixed-do solfa. In England an old gamut-derived solfa, far removed from Guido’s original concept, and probably more of an obstacle than an aid to learning, was still in use.1 Over the next twenty years Sarah Glover experimented with teaching methods and materials, rejecting traditional methods, and devised her own adaptation of Guido’s solfa, extending it to a full relative solfa system. This was published anonymously in 1835 as Scheme for Rendering Psalmody Congregational.2 Glover used the term Psalmody in her title to refer to the singing of hymns in church worship.

Introduction to her Scheme
Sarah Glover was deeply influenced by the words of Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London, in his Charge to the diocese of London, written in 1790, and reprinted in 1811, when Sarah was twenty-five years old. She was just starting to take responsibility for music in church and in various schools. The Bishop exhorted the clergy to promote singing, and suggested that much could be achieved by training charity children and Sunday School children to sing.

Of all the services of our church, none appear to me to have sunk to so low an ebb, or so evidently to need reform, as our parochial psalmody.3

In her Prefatory Remarks,4 Sarah Glover commented on

the lamentably low state of psalmody in most of the churches belonging to the Establishment. Summarising the general lack of musical skills and singing ability amongst what she referred to as the superior orders of the community, she noted that Psalmody is therefore usually abandoned to the care of the illiterate, some of whom derive aid from a degenerate species of sol-fa-ing. 5

She outlined her vision:

Let singing become a branch of national education, not only in schools for the children of labourers and mechanics, but in academies for young ladies and gentlemen, … A very little practice well directed, would soon produce a sufficient degree of skill, to render this employment highly attractive to the pupils.6

She stated that two things were needed to achieve a better standard: a general acquaintance with notes, and practice in not only melody but harmony, so that all voices could take part. Her New Notation was designed to help beginners to learn, but in addition, she believed that those who could already read music would benefit from:

the practice of sol-fa-ing, so favourable to the production of accuracy in tune and so convenient to the practitioner who desires to avoid attaching sacred words to an air till all mechanical difficulty is surmounted. 7

The Scheme includes a teachers’ manual, as well as two pupils’ books of beginner repertoire in solfa notation. The first of these is a book of “German Canons” 8 providing a set of progressive lessons for teaching intervals, if sung merely in unison; but, when performed in parts, exercise the pupils likewise in harmony. The second is a book of Psalm Tunes in two-part arrangement, for the cultivation of harmony in schools for children. She also mentions an edition in preparation, with solfa in parallel with stave notation, to assist stave readers to study the new notation.

Sarah Glover writes that the Method’s effectiveness is proven:

I think I may assert from experience acquired in a school consisting of more than sixty poor children, that vocal powers are very generally attainable, and the art of singing at sight from the sol-fa-ing notation easy.9

Glover reasons that if musical people learn her method in order to teach others and cultivate their own voices to lead singing in church, psalmody will be much improved. She suggests that parents should engage a nanny who knows solfa in order to give their children the benefit of an early start. She acknowledges the effort and discipline required to achieve good psalmody, but states that this could bring many collateral advantages. She proposes that such learning exerts a good moral tendency, promoting health and recreation, and unites students with their leader, their school, and each other. Music, she says, composes while it raises the spirits, refines the mind, and under judicious regulations, is calculated to favour piety.10

Piety apart perhaps, we in the Kodály movement in the 21st century can still connect with many of Sarah Glover’s aims, beliefs and values:

  • Singing should be for all, as a part of national education. Everyone can sing – it is possible to achieve good results with regular appropriate practice.
  • Musical literacy, like linguistic literacy, should be available to all.
  • Music education should begin at an early age.
  • Music provides positive, uplifting, recreational and unifying values.
  • Music teachers must be well trained.

Her practical solutions to address the task also resonate with those of the Kodály Movement. She proposes:

  • A method to facilitate reading from the stave, develop harmonic hearing, improve tuning and intonation, and enable learning of music to take place before text is added.
  • Learning material organized in a progressive from simple to complex.
  • Materials that include singing in unison, in canon, and in parts
  • A curriculum designed for the needs of children rather than for adults

Arguing the case for Solfa
Sarah Glover summarises the limitations of stave notation:

  • There is no differentiation between tones and semitones.
  • There is a bewildering array of key signatures, though the construction of a scale is always the same
  • A change of clef turns the same symbol into a different note
  • Different symbols denote the same note – she cites all the C’s on the piano-forte. In contrast she asserts that Solfa needs no key signatures, clefs or ledger lines.

In contrast she asserts that Solfa needs no key signatures, clefs or ledger lines. She lists its other advantages:

  • It defines Rhythm more clearly.
  • It characterises each Interval within a key.
  • It marks the Mode.
  • It expresses the relationship existing between keys where Modulation occurs.
  • It renders Transposition easy.
  • It furnishes a set of syllables favourable to good Intonation.

The tendency of these improvements is …. to lead the pupil to sing better in tune, sooner at sight, and to imbibe more correct notions of the theory of music.11

Glover goes on to add one further advantage of solfa over stave notation highly relevant in the 1800s. It could be printed in common type, bringing down production costs and making printed music affordable and accessible to all. She suggests that the principal objection to her method is likely to be that students taught through solfa will be unable to read stave notation. However, she insists that solfa is a good introduction to stave notation, and that it enables students to make more rapid progress than they do if starting with the stave. Later she gives instructions for the transition from solfa to stave reading.12

She asserts that those who need music only for church psalmody will find solfa notation ample enough for all the purposes of social and congregational worship. The implication here is the lower classes, and given the social context, this is not a surprising statement. She was already breaking with convention by offering a practical means for all social classes to learn music, an opportunity previously available only to the wealthier.

We today value the same basic components for teaching music:

  • A teaching system to facilitate sound musical progress.
  • An affordable method readily accessible to all.
  • Simplified notation that allows musical understanding to develop, while paving the way to mastery of the stave.

Sarah Glover’s Solfa Notation
Most of Sarah Glover’s Anglicised spellings of the solfa names are still common in Britain:

Doh Ra Me Fah Sole Lah Te

In notation these were abbreviated to capital initials: D, R, M, F, S, L, T. She invented Te instead of Si for the seventh degree (to avoid confusion with Sole/S), and Bah and Ne for the sharpened sixth and seventh of the minor scale, also distinct from other solfa letters.

Lah Te Doh Ra Me Bah Ne

Curwen’s adaptations of these are summarised in the Appendix.

A chromatic note was indicated by a vowel change, to oy for a flat, and ow for a sharp. Modulations used a series of vowel-changes, the most frequent being u for the dominant and i for the subdominant.

A change of octave was shown by an accent over a note: a grave accent ( ` ) for the lower octave, and an acute ( ´ ) for the octave above. She made Lah the lowest note of the range,13 but later changed this to Sole, giving Doh central position in the scale.14

The tetrachordal view of the scale has led me to alter in some measure the arrangement I made of the accents in the two former editions of this work.

She credits various sources, but insists this change is the result, not of imitation, but of independent thoughts and experiments.15

Rhythm notation
In Sarah Glover’s approach, rhythm notation consisted of the careful spacing of notes, with punctuation marks showing beats.16

  • A vertical line ( | ) is shown for 1st beat, and dots ( . ) for subsequent beats. In quadruple meter, an exclamation mark ( ! ) is used for the 3rd beat.
  • A horizontal line is used to lengthen notes. Shorter notes are set closer together between dots.
  • A plus sign (+) represents a 1-beat rest. Longer rests are counted backwards from the overall number of beats down to 1.
  • The ‘foot’ at the head of the music indicated metre and the basic form of each metric unit (upbeats, slurred beats etc).

This simple system worked well with the rhythmically regular repertoire it was designed for. In addition, pupils always beat time together, tapping beat 1 on a wooden book-rest, and marking subsequent beats lightly on the arm. It may well be this technique which defined rhythm more clearly, as she claimed, rather than the rhythm notation itself.

Inventions and classroom aids
Sarah Glover invented a pitch classification system for the twelve keyboard pitches using letters, distinct from both the note letter-names (A – G), the solfa names, and from the letter I, which could be confused with a Roman numeral. Her solfa music had a code at the top giving the classification name for do and the starting pitch. 5

Note Letter Name   Norwich Solfa Classification
A#                               J
B / Cb                        K
C                                 O
C# / Db                     P
D                                Q
D# / Eb                     U
E                                 V
F                                 W
F#                               X
G                                 Y
G#                              Z

Most churches and schools had no piano or organ, and, in any case, few teachers could play. Glover invented a didactic musical instrument, which she named the Solfa Harmonicon. It was cheap to manufacture, like a small glockenspiel with chime bars of glass. Each semitone step was aligned and equally spaced, with a range of two octaves from G below Middle C,the complete range of children’s singing voices. Each pitch was labelled with letter name and classification name. Its purpose was solely to give keynote and starting pitch. Singing exercises, canons and psalms, even two-part singing, were unaccompanied from the start.

She devised a chart, showing solfa scales set out horizontally in twelve positions, which fitted on a roller inside the harmonicon. This was turned until do was lined up with the correct pitch. She also made a Pianoforte Card to fit behind the piano keys, indicating classification names for each key. Even a non-player could thus find do and the starting pitch, or any note of the scale, on either instrument. These practical solutions made it possible for ordinary teachers in parish schools and churches to use the Scheme.

A large chart, the Table of Tune, showed all the keys in columns in solfa, tones and semitones in proper ratio, following circle of fifths order. As time went by this was simplified into the Compound Ladder or Norwich Solfa Ladder, depicting only three solfa columns, the home key in the middle, the dominant on the right, and subdominant on the left. The Ladder was a crucial visual aid for practising solfa singing and simple modulation. Sarah Glover explains its importance:

Sol-fa-ing may be viewed as the Art of calculating the sound of an unperformed musical interval from one that has just preceded it. This power is obtained mainly through a familiar acquaintance with the perpendicular succession of the sol-fa syllables,… of which the diatonic scale is composed, & also of the horizontal succession of the sol-fa syllables which may be termed synonymous, being notes the same in pitch but differing in name. 17

Beginners sang exercises on the tonic chord of D major.

If the children have been much unaccustomed to singing, they will at first perhaps not be able to reach more than Doh, Me, Sole, if so, the upper Doh must be omitted for a time. 18

Once pupils could sing the tonic chord, simple harmonic exercises were begun, as a preparation for the German Canons. These are similar to the first exercises in Kodály’s Let Us Sing Correctly. Glover suggests hearing each child’s voice individually when the timidity and merriment, usual on these first efforts, have subsided, and putting the most competent children together to gain confidence from each other. These more able singers later became group leaders when dividing into voices – this was a great strength of the method, enabling part-singing to begin at an early stage.

Directions for instructing a school. 19
Sarah Glover sets out many enlightening guidelines showing her practical approach to teaching melody, harmony, rhythm, beating time, tone and expression. These contain much that is familiar to Kodály practitioners, and reveal her inventive and practical approach.

For experiencing metre and feeling the beat, she suggests:

Strike the palms together to express a loud beat, bend the hands into fists and strike them together for a soft beat. She begins with 2-time, the teacher counting and the pupils imitating the actions of her hand. … The Teacher might sing what she intends to teach the children (next), while the beating continues.

For initially teaching a canon:

She will herself dictate alone, half of it, and then require the class to imitate and join her in the repetition of it; the same with the latter half.

For teaching two-part singing:

When the pupils are capable of performing it well alone, the instructress may add a second part softly, with the syllable ah, then louder with the Sol-fa syllables. The same process happens when introducing a third or fourth voice ‘till all the four parts are distributed amongst four companies; one girl in each company should beat time as soon as it is the turn for her company to begin.

For beginning two-part songs:

When they are able to sing (the second part) without the aid of their instructress, she will insinuate the upper part with the syllable ah, increase the sound by degrees, and in due time add the Sol-fa syllables.

For intonation:

Care must be taken to prevent a tune from degenerating. … The principle defect will probably be flatness; and the flatness will chiefly occur at Me and Te; especially in the descending scale. … Practise Me with the Doh below, and with the Sole above; Te with the Sole below; then with the Ra above.

For varying the activity and keeping the energy flowing:

Let the tune be read in turn by the girls who compose each company. … Let small portions of a tune be sung in turn by the companies.… Let one half of the scholars beat time, while the other half sing, and vice-versa.… Let them write the words of a psalm and insert the bars. … Those who are more advanced, might transfer tunes from the old into the new, and from the new into the old notation.

Sarah Glover writes at length about the character of the music and the importance of the text. The principal perfection of music consists in speaking a language more refined than words can convey. 20

She wanted the spirit of the music to be fully accessible, and therefore gave performance directions in English, avoiding use of foreign terms, which might confuse pupils. Some succinct examples are: Soothing, Dignified and Plaintive, Spirited and Triumphant, Spirited and Dignified, Expressive of Holy Awe.21

Sarah Glover did not teach only children from the middle class, but also poor children from charity schools, some of whom had never sung before. Her method used unaccompanied singing, with activities and repertoire appropriate for beginners. The teacher played a crucial role as a model of good singing. She stated, a female’s voice is more easily imitated by children than a man’s.

Her fundamental principle was:

In teaching children music, I think it best to instruct them on the same principle as they are taught speech; that is by deducing theory from practice rather than practice from theory. 22

Sarah Glover’s school was one of the very few to receive positive comments on music teaching when the first national school inspections took place a few years after the Scheme was published. In spite of this endorsement, her method was not chosen for England’s first national school music teaching programme. Instead, a method using fixed-do, with a massive following in France, was adapted for use in England.

John Curwen and the start of the Tonic Sol-fa Method
Because his work so closely followed Sarah Glover’s, a brief summary must be included here of the work of John Curwen (1816 – 1880) and of Tonic Sol-fa.

Curwen took up his first post as a Congregational Minister in 1838. He was a brilliant Sunday school teacher with a reputation as a progressive. He took a keen interest in educational method, and was familiar with Rousseau and Pestalozzi, among others. As a result of his writings and lectures on education he was invited to write some articles outlining his approach to teaching, including the teaching of vocal music, and to become editor of a new nonconformist publication, the Independent Magazine.

With no musical training, he embarked on self-study in order to teach music. He was soon leading singing with large groups of children, and quickly realised the limitations of the fixed do method. In 1841 he was commissioned by a conference of Sunday school teachers to find the best method to teach music. When a friend showed him the recently published Scheme as a possible answer to his quest, he was astounded by its sound methodology. He describes his moment of realisation:

I now saw that Miss Glover’s plan was to teach, first, the simple and beautiful thing, music, and to delay the introduction to the ordinary antiquated mode of writing it, until the pupils had obtained a mastery of the thing itself. Her method was, beyond all controversy, more deeply established on the principles of the science than any other; and ….. I became convinced that it was also the most simple of all – the most easy to teach, and the most easy to learn. 23

He began to appraise the method and experiment with modifications. He compiled a children’s hymn book in solfa notation incorporating these modifications, and prepared a series of articles to present this adapted notation in the Independent Magazine. In October 1841, just before publication, he wrote to compliment Sarah Glover on her method, explained the modifications that he was convinced were improvements, and told her of his forthcoming publications.24 This was the start of the Tonic Sol-fa Method. Curwen chose this name to distinguish his use of relative sol-fa from the prevailing fixed do method.25 He saw no need for either Sarah Glover’s note classification system or for her ingenious harmonicon. He indicated key by giving the fixed pitch letter name as doh at the top 8 of the tonic solfa music.

He adopted the Ladder, and re-named it the Modulator. It became a standard feature of primary classroom walls in schools up and down the country, and remained a key component of the Curwen Method until after 1950. Curwen wrote:

The Modulator is used in teaching tunes. The teacher points to the pattern, both while he gives the pattern and while the pupil imitates it. This measures to the eye the exact intervals which the voice is taking. And the constant use of the solfa syllables in this connection always with the same intervals, helps the mind to recall those intervals with greater ease. 26

It is interesting to note that although Kodály did not adopt the modulator, many Kodály practitioners use classroom exercises and visual aids that perform a similar function.

Tonic Sol-fa became Curwen’s life’s work, spread by means of his publishing firm, by the Movement’s magazine The Tonic Sol-fa Reporter, and by the training of teachers. Sarah Glover’s Scheme had been preoccupied with a very limited style of music, church music, for a particular purpose, congregational singing. However, Curwen saw a much wider purpose, and greatly extended the repertoire. He continued to refine the Method and to incorporate new ideas, such as the French Time Names, 27 which first appeared in a revised version of his Standard Course in 1872. He always meticulously acknowledged his sources.

The hand signs, one of Curwen’s few original features, were not invented until 1870. 28 In spite of their practical application in the classroom, he wrote:

But these signs do not give that picture of interval and the relation of keys which is supplied by the Modulator, and can never take its place. … The Tonic Sol-fa method has three assistants in the teaching of tune – first, the hand signs; second, the memory-helping syllables; and third, the Modulator. 29

Tonic Sol-fa made a huge impact on musical literacy and music teaching throughout Britain and the Empire. By 1891, two and a half million British children were learning through Tonic Sol-fa in elementary schools. Curwen always acknowledged Sarah Glover as the founder of the Movement. A foundation stone in her memory was laid when his Tonic Sol-fa College was founded in 1879. Curwen’s fundamental educational precepts, set out and described in Chapter I of The Teacher’s Manual of the Tonic Sol-fa Method, are:

  • Let the easy come before the difficult.
  • Introduce the real and concrete before the ideal or abstract.
  • Teach the elemental before the compound and do one thing at a time.
  • Introduce, both for explanation and practice, the common before the uncommon.
  • Teach the thing before the sign, and when the thing is apprehended, attach to it a distinct sign.
  • Let each step, as far as possible, rise out of that which goes before, and lead up to that which comes after.
  • Call in the understanding to assist the skill at every stage.

The Method was still prevalent in Britain when Kodály visited fifty years after Curwen’s death. What he saw in English schools deeply influenced his thinking. According to Bernarr Rainbow:

Upon discovering the systematic method of training the inner ear which formed the basis of Curwen’s teaching, Kodály determined to make it the basis of a system designed to meet the special needs of Hungarian schools. 30

For Sarah Glover the religious and moral value of music gave rise to her mission to build a musical church community. Her insights into teaching children inspired her fresh and practical approach. Bernarr Rainbow wrote:

….whatever refinements Curwen added to her original system, the unique character of her basic method and the understanding of a child’s problems which it demonstrates are sufficient to justify for her an honoured place in her own right in the history of musical education. 31

Curwen found Sarah Glover’s method fundamentally at one with his own purpose and enlightened educational values. Through his vision and genius as a teacher, his position in society, and the opportunities he forged to spread his message, he developed the method on a much wider scale than she could have imagined, enriched with inspiration from many other sources.

Kodály acknowledged the inspiration he found in Curwen’s legacy: 32

In the course of a number of visits to England since 1927 I observed the highly developed singing in schools. To this I am indebted for much stimulation, which helped me gradually to complete my work for children. I am now very pleased to return to the English what I learned from them, and was able to adapt to our needs in Hungary.

Something of Sarah Glover’s practical insight into teaching music in the classroom has indeed been passed down, from Sarah Glover, through Curwen, to Kodály. For the benefit of mankind, these universal values of good music teaching continue to inspire us today.

1 Old English solfa, Lancashire Solfa, or ‘Fasola’, in The Land Without Music, by Bernarr Rainbow, (Novello, 1967), pp 14-28
2 Scheme for Rendering Psalmody Congregational, 1835, by Sarah Glover. Republished in the series Classic Texts in Music Eduction ed. Bernarr Rainbow (Boethius Press 1982)
3 The Life of Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London by Robert Hodgson (1813): from the Bishop’s 1790 Charge to the diocese of London, reprinted in 1811.
4 Scheme, pp 5-14 (Boethius Edition: 23-32).
5 Scheme, p 6 (24)
6 Scheme, p 7 (25). The emphasis is Sarah Glover’s.
7 Scheme, p 8 (26)
8 Musikalisches Schulgesangbuch von Carl Gläser, cited as source of her German Canons in an article on Scientific and Unscientific Singing in The Teacher’s Visitor (1848), an educational magazine ed. William Carus Wilson. (Strangers’ Hall Museum, Norwich). Further reading – see article Early 19th century music pedagogy – German and English connections by Jane Southcott (BJME 2007).
9 Scheme p 12 (30)
10 Scheme p 14 (32)
11 Scheme pp 17-18 (35-36)
12 Scheme, Appendix pp 69 (87)
13 Scheme, pp 34-35 (52-53) She was fascinated by Newton’s discovery of the analogy between the proportions of prismatic colours in the light spectrum, and the divisions of a musical 10 string in the ascending minor scale. She cites Newton’s analogy as her reason for choosing la as lowest note for the purpose of accents. For further reading, see Glover’s Intellectual Odessy by Jane Southcott (1995).
14 A Manual of the Norwich Sol-fa System for teaching Singing in Schools and Classes, Glover, 1848, pp 27-31
15 Ibid, p 31.
16 Sarah Glover’s rhythm notation is not unique and bears resemblance to Proposal of a Musical Short Hand or Literal Notation by J. Marsh (1822), which is among the books in the Strangers’ Hall collection. In 1827 Sarah Glover sent an unpublished version of the Scheme to Marsh for his comment. Several of her early manuscripts have pencil annotations and comments made by Marsh.
17 Unpublished hand-written book Rules for Sol-fa-ing, in the Strangers’ Hall collection.
18 Scheme, p 40 (58)
19 Scheme, pp 38-68 (56 – 86)
20 Scheme p 62 (80)
21 Solfa Tune Book, 3rd Edition (1939) pp. 10-23 (108-121). Republished with the Scheme (Boethius Press 1982 op.cit.)
22 Glover, 1848 op.cit. p 66.
23 Reprinted in John Curwen – A Short Critical Biography by Bernarr Rainbow (Novello 1980) pp 17-18
24 The letter is reprinted in The Land Without Music, Rainbow 1967, p 175. Sarah Glover’s reply to Curwen has been lost. He always acknowledged her as founder of the Tonic Sol-fa Movement and Method. They met amicably on several occasions, he visited her school, and they corresponded on cordial terms. Sarah Glover and her sister were invited to the first Tonic Sol-fa Jubilee in London in June 1857. Fuller discussion of the discord between John Curwen and Sarah Glover after he published her modified method – see Rainbow, and articles: Sarah Glover: A Forgotten Pioneer in Music Education by Peggy Bennett (1984), and “Dear Madam” – the letters of Sarah Glover and John Curwen by Jane Southcott (2003).
25 After Curwen began to publish books and articles about the Tonic Sol-fa Method, Sarah Glover published The History of the Norwich Sol-fa (1845) and republished her Scheme in 1848 as A Manual of the Norwich Sol-fa System for teaching Singing in Schools and Classes.
26 The Teacher’s Manual of the Tonic Sol-fa Method by John Curwen, 1875 (4th edition) p 100, § 330
27 La Langue des Durées by Chevé, Galin-Paris
28 Memorials of John Curwen by J. Spencer Curwen (1882), p 58-9.
29 Curwen 1875, op.cit. p 96 § 319.
30 Music in educational thought and practice Bernarr Rainbow with Gordon Cox (Boydell Press 2006), p 309
31 Bernarr Rainbow’s Introduction to the re-published Scheme (Boethius Press1982) op.cit.
32 Foreword for a publicity brochure following publication of the first English version of Kodály’s Choral Method in July 1962, in Rainbow 2006 op.cit. Appendix p 386.

The Kodály Concept by Gillian Earl

The Kodály Concept of music education is not a method as such, neither are there any Kodály instrumental methods. The Concept is unique in that Kodály combined elements from existing approaches to music education, (Dalcroze, Curwen, the Galin – Paris – Chevé movement etc.) and in that he initiated a comprehensive system of music education from nursery age to high levels of professional training. It began to evolve and to be put into practice during the 1940s by some of Kodály‛s colleagues and teachers working under his guidance.

The Concept embraces a philosophy; it came about mainly for the following reasons: – Kodály‛s harmony students at the Liszt Academy could not hear in their heads: he considered that Hungarian culture needed to be re-established following a long period of the dominance of German culture: concerts were not well attended – audiences, who did not understand the music, stayed away. At the heart of it was Kodály‛s belief that, “Music should belong to everyone,” because, “Music is the spiritual food for which there is no substitute . . . . there is no complete spiritual life without music . . . . there are regions of the human soul, which can be illuminated only through music.” The only way that music could belong to everyone was to make it accessible by teaching musical literacy throughout the schools from the nursery schools through to teacher training and conservatoire levels. Kodály thus set out to train the nation to become the audiences as well as the teachers and professional musicians of the future.

When the Concept emerged after the Second World War its success was seen as phenomenal. Consequently, since the ‘sixties‛, Kodály societies have sprung up worldwide and an international network of Kodály educators is held together through the International Kodály Society. In 1975 the Zoltán Kodály Pedagogical Institute of Music was opened in Kecskemét, Kodály‛s birthplace, offering a variety of courses and attended by people from all over the world.


These Principles are an integral part of the Kodály Philosophy and Concept. There is no special significance in the order in which they are listed here. Each can be likened to the spoke of a wheel, starting with music at the hub, and leading out to the ever expanding circumference of the wheel as the understanding of the language of music increases with progress.

1. Begin with the music – the joy of the experience. Music is taught in the way children learn naturally, experiencing the music first. Taking child development into account it is recognized that children do not learn through intellectual abstractions. Musical elements are absorbed unconsciously before being made conscious, after which they are practised, (through singing), read, written then reinforced further by being presented in new contexts: all is done in a carefully pre-determined pedagogical order.

2. Begin in the kindergarten. Although the concept can be adapted to apply to any age, the age from three to seven years are the most important. “. . the first steps are the same for everyone..” Z.K *

3. The first musical instrument is the voice. It is not possible to sing anything which has not first been imagined in the ‛inner ear‛. Singing is the proof that the music has been assimilated and understood. “A child who plays an instrument before he sings may remain unmusical for a lifetime.

That is why we encounter so many skilful pianists who have no idea of the essence of music” Z.K*

4. Relative Solfa is used. The solfa is the sound. It renders the sounds tangible and memorable; it expresses their relative pitch and tonal functions. It is never used as just ‛another verse‛ to a song. It defines melody, modulation, intervals, harmonic progression and chromaticism. It aids transposition.

5. Handsigns are a visual aid used to express the solfa. They provide the link between the sounds and the written notes. They have an effect of producing a reflex action in the vocal cords.

6. Notation is, initially, in rhythmic solfa, or stick notation. This is never completely discarded. Reading from the stave, with most do positions (there are seven) is learnt before fixed pitch is taught. Reading with G and F clefs and, later, the C clefs follow.

7. Music should be of good quality, – initially the musical mother tongue. It should be given time to take root before another musical ‛language‛ is introduced.

“Folksong is the school of good taste; those who develop a taste for what is good at an early age will become resistant later to what is bad”. ZK* The reverse is also true.

8. Pentatonic music is used in the early stages. The distinctive shape of the pentatone, d r m s l in which any of the sounds can be the final, makes it easier to acquire tonal orientation. Also, tunes without semitones are easier to sing in tune. The roots of much our common musical heritage spring from pentatony. From this starting point greater insight can be gained into modal music* and thus a better understanding of the historical development of music.

*this is why Relative Solfa is so named and used in this context rather than Tonic Solfa.

9. Intonation. Voice tunes with voice. Two different sounds sung simultaneously and tuned, acoustically, with each other enhance the perception of both their relative pitch and tonal functions. The sounds are re-created through the ‘inner hearing‛ and are not supposedly supported or prompted by a piano which has tempered tuning and a timbre with which it is not easy for young children to identify. Good intonation is vital in maintaining tonality. One of the main aims of the Concept, Musical literacy* – cannot develop without secure intonation and ‘inner hearing‛.

*The ability to ‘hear‛ what you see (read) and see (write) what you hear.

10. The rhythm of the music of a nation, (its folksongs) is borne of its speech rhythms. Rhythm is inseparably bound up with the other principles of the Concept. From the outset the elements of the music are taught within phrases, or motifs, never in single sounds or notes. The aim is for developing a sense of rhythmic continuity and to acquire a sense of phrasing. Mistakes in reading should not be allowed to interrupt performance; they can be corrected afterwards and will often, on repetition, self correct.

11. Two-part work in all its possibilities of combinations and permutations has high priority. Such things as ‘question and answer‛, performance in two parts simultaneously or antiphonally by two people or groups – this includes activities such as tapping the beat or an ostinato with another part, canon, independent parts; the possibilities of various combinations are endless. Ideally a minimum of three people is required – two to perform and the teacher to act as ‘referee‛. The practice of silent singing (in the mind) develops inner hearing. Two-part music making trains not only concentration, memory and awareness, it also trains the ability to listen polyphonically and the powers of co-ordination. This paves the way for the development of harmonic hearing leading to the study of form. „

Gillian Earl, 1998. Revised 2004

“If, through the reading of music, a child has reached a stage where he is able to sing a small masterpiece in two parts with another child, he has acquired a hundred times as much music as if he had thrashed the piano from sunrise to sunset. Many people are looking for the door to the treasury of music in the wrong places. They obstinately keep hammering on the locked gates and pass right by the open doors that are accessible to everybody.” *Zoltán Kodály 1882-1967.

Questions about 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 Chevé, 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.

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.

Download a simple pdf summary of the Kodály Approach by Lucinda Geoghegan 

Key elements of the Kodály Concept by Benjamin Westley

An essay submitted by Ben Westley as part of the Springboard HE1 Certificate Course 2010 – 11.

What are the key elements of the Kodály Concept and how has what you have learned and experienced affected your own musical development?

According to the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, the ‘Kodály Method’ is:

‘A way of training children in music, devised by Zoltán Kodály, which is based on giving them a thorough grounding in solfeggio (using a ‘movable doh’ system), aimed at developing aural ability with emphasis on sight-singing, dictation and the reading and writing of music; a progressive repertory of songs and exercises, based on Hungarian folk music, is used.’ (p.430)

This essay will be an attempt to both elucidate the ideas within this definition and to consider some ways in which ‘Kodály’ is reconsidered and understood by music educators working across the world in the twenty-first century.

Zoltán Kodály’s (1882-1967) dissatisfaction with the state of Hungarian music education stemmed from his observations of students entering the Zeneakademia – the music college at which he taught in the 1900s – who appeared to have no genuine ‘feel’ for the music they were attempting to play. Further, they could not sing in tune or accurately sight-sing simple melodies, despite arriving at the academy as accomplished instrumentalists. Kodály felt that music must be felt internally before being played on external instruments and that the way to cultivate this musicality was through singing, which would provide a more direct experience of music than, for example, learning to mechanically play sequences of notes on a piano. Through singing, students would develop a better ‘inner hearing’ and consequently increased musical understanding and sensitivity.

Kodály (1952) claimed that keen pitch discrimination cannot be cultivated by students simply singing melodies in groups:

‘Those who always sing in unison never learn to sing in correct pitch. Correct unison singing can, paradoxically, be learned only by singing in two parts: the voices adjust and balance each other.’ (p.2)

A direct result of this conviction was an emphasis on the importance of choral singing in two and more parts. Although not mentioned in the Grovedefinition, choral singing must be viewed as an indispensable part of Kodály’s Concept for music education.

Kodály believed that authentic folk music in the mother tongue should be the material with which children’s experience of music should begin. Through the experience and study of folk songs and games, access would be given to examples of Western art music. Kodály was keen that a reclaiming of folk music should take place as children would become primarily aware of their musical and linguistic heritage: this, he felt, was necessary before moving onto ‘music’ in a wider sense, a movement from the known to the unknown.

Our original definition of the Kodály ‘Method’ hinted at the centrality of Hungarian folk music and this is a site at which a significant misconception about the nature of Kodály’s vision occurs. DeVries (2000), writing about his experiences as a primary music teacher in Queensland, Australia, explains how he regarded a Kodály approach irrelevant and ‘unrealistic’ for his students because of the way the curriculum was constructed:

‘It’s just too far removed from the sort of music (children are) hearing a lot of the time. English folk songs and… Hungarian folk songs… it’s just a little bit far-fetched for them.’ (p.169)

This understanding of Kodály education is glaringly incomplete. Kodály believed Hungarian children should be schooled with Hungarian folk song precisely because this was their cultural heritage: the idea was not to transmit Hungarian culture across the world. Australian children would need to sing authentic Australian songs so that they may equally become well-versed in their own musical heritage. The apparently misinformed Australian attempt to recreate the Hungarian model precisely was doomed to failure: after all, as deVries goes on to point out, Australian folk songs do not lend themselves to precisely the same sequence of musical skill development, as many are in 6/8 time (a rare meter in Hungarian music) and are not necessarily dominated by pentatonic melodies. It would be in keeping with Kodály’s concept that teachers working in countries with a significantly ‘different’ musical heritage to Hungary would need to work out their own priorities and progression of understanding with the material they have at their disposal. From this, access to other music, including art music, should still ultimately be possible.

Another charge levelled against a Kodály-based music education is the somewhat postmodern argument that the approach necessarily seeks to privilege Western music over music of other, potentially marginalised cultures. Mansfield (2002) writes of a ‘politics of representation’ (p.191) in which music education is viewed as incomplete if it does not seek to give equal access to music of all cultures and to view these as artistically equal. However, just as it would be illogical to teach a child a different alphabet (or a mixture of alphabets) before they learned their own, it makes little sense to begin a child’s musical education with only passing reference to their country’s musical traditions. Access to other ‘musics’ is by no means precluded by this: in fact, it is more than likely that access will be opened up through a general appreciation of ‘music’ that this progression – beginning from the ‘known’ – involves. Further, the ‘prioritisation’ of Western art music – of Handel, Haydn, Beethoven and others – provides a vehicle through which other music may be understood. Popular music is not studied because it is simply pedagogically less valuable for teaching about the features underpinning the whole of Western music such as harmony and form: the fact that the above-named composers’ works endure is surely testimony to their aesthetic – as well as their historical – significance. Rather, through such study an understanding of a much wider range of music (including popular music, if desired) is arrived at.

The approach Kodály advocated is thoroughly child-developmental in its design and, as such, follows a careful, logical progression. In the early stages, a bank of songs and related games is built up, largely from authentic folk material, which gives children a thorough ‘feel’ for the rhythms and melodic nature of their musical cultural background. A lot of time is spent working on concepts of pulse, rhythm and pitch before more advanced work on pitch names and literacy.¹ Once children are ‘enculturated’ into these ideas and can relate to and use the terminology accurately, they have established necessary foundations for future learning in music.

Games are vital throughout, as the movement activity links together the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic elements that result in a deeper understanding of the material and development of musical memory and, consequently, the ‘inner hearing’. Teachers make conscious certain elements (such as rhythm or pitch names) only after the actual element has been experienced directly in different song contexts. Once made conscious, the new concept is reinforced through practice and children become able to apply their learning independently; for example, through improvisation, dictation or sight-singing. Having progressed in the earlier stages from a basic understanding of ‘high’ and ‘low’, children will learn songs involving solfa pitch names, initially so and mi. They will learn physical handsigns to support and reinforce their experience of these pitch names and positions before learning ways of notating these and then recognising the interval between the pitches as a minor third by singing solo and chorally and through listening exercises. This will be carefully built up over several years and the result will be a deep understanding of these musical elements that would not be derived from technical instrumental study alone.

Kodály methodology can be seen as an amalgamation of best practice from different systems of music education. Key elements are modified French rhythm names (for example, ta and te-te or ti-ti to represent rhythms commonly known as crotchet and quaver) which match the duration of each rhythmic element; relative solmisation (using the syllables do, re, mi etc. for degrees of the scale in which the position of do, the tonic or ‘home note’, can move depending on the key or tonality of the music being sung) and handsigns relating to each pitch syllable. Combined, these elements result in a powerful ‘tool kit’ for the teaching of music and the physicality of the actions involved ensures deep musical understanding and memory development.

It must be remembered, however, that these are the teacher’s tools: the overarching aim in employing these tools is thorough musical sensitivity and understanding. Writing a Marxist-informed critique of Kodály teaching, Benedict (2009) argues that the ‘strict and unmindful’ use of solfa and handsigns that she perceives constitute ‘Kodály teaching’ makes Kodály work an exclusive and self-perpetuating system that is detached from other forms of music making in education. Her assumption is based, however, on the idea that solfa and handsigns are an end in themselves, rather than intermediary tools for developing musicianship.² A system that prioritises such tools might well be detached and exclusive, but Kodály methodology is simply not this: as Gillian Earl (1992) writes, ‘handsigns should indicate legato singing,’ (p.79) not a robotic punching out of pitches devoid of musicality. Benedict’s misunderstanding of the place of musicianship tools in Kodály-based training highlights well the problems that can occur if this type of education is viewed as a strict ‘Method’, rather than a flexible set of guidelines to develop high-order musical understanding: this results in a similar problem to the scenario evidenced in the Australian example above, and is perpetuated by narrow or incomplete definitions of the Kodály Concept in seemingly authoritative texts.³

Benedict’s confusion about the real purpose of Kodály-based teaching means she perceives it as esoteric and élitist. In fact, Kodály’s hope was that with musicianship development through singing – using the tools described above – the people who would most thoroughly benefit would be the future audiences of music, not just the élite performers. His claim that ‘music should belong to everyone’ has perhaps become the maxim of Kodály educators in their drive to raise the standard of musical appreciation and literacy. So, in fact, Kodály’s principles can much more convincingly be read as serving the needs and interests of the many and not, as Benedict’s politicised agenda would have us believe, the few.

It is difficult to give an overview of Kodály’s concept without making reference to the historical context in which he was working. Hungary had been politically and culturally oppressed for centuries and the emphasis Kodály placed on national folk material is clearly a nationalistic move, seeking to empower the Hungarian people. This also has an ethical dimension, however: by uniting the people through a common cultural pursuit, music is seen as a ‘socialising agent’ (Gifford 1988, p.123) and the choral experience becomes one of social solidarity and collective action for the common good. This interesting idea gives rise to the question of linguistic and cultural diversity in modern times: if there is indeed an ethical dimension to social singing based on cultural solidarity, what implications does this have for today’s teachers? While we may find ourselves in a more ‘global’ context, it is perhaps more important than ever to seek ways of connection and inter-cultural understanding and exchange. Someone teaching a class made up of children from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds must work hard to find authentic material from the different cultures. Rather than having a detrimental impact on children from the dominant culture, music can be seen as offering a way to unite rather than divide and this is surely in keeping with Kodály’s ethical imperative.⁴

My own musical education seemed to involve three seemingly unconnected activities: playing, listening and an abstract and unconnected thing called ‘theory’, a list of facts to be memorised and which I had to learn from a book. Discovering the Kodály approach and working on my own musicianship has led me to realise that these elements are all much more fundamentally connected. For example, my sight-reading has improved as a result of developing my inner hearing through singing and the use of solfa syllables to highlight the tonal function of each note within scales. My hearing and understanding of musical intervals is much improved in both listening and playing and I find it hard to believe that these were never ‘taught’ in the course of a musical education which went up to diploma level.

¹ This is important, as terminology used in musical discourse relating to, for example, pulse as ‘heartbeat’ and pitch as involving ‘high’ and ‘low’ are ultimately metaphors: music does not literally have a heart that beats in the way that humans hearts do, and we talk of high and low pitches that do not necessarily involve an object moving physically up or down (a cellist’s fingers, for instance, might be perceived as going down the fingerboard towards the floor as the pitch goes up). Children therefore need a significant amount of time to absorb these difficult ideas on a practical level.

² Just as Cecilia Vajda criticises Bernarr Rainbow’s understanding of ‘Kodály’ as ‘only solfa and hand signs.’ Vajda (1991, p.73). The point is neatly summarised by Kodály himself: ‘The more ardently we use sol-fa at the beginning, the sooner we can abandon it.’ (quoted in Kocsár 2002, p.29)

³ Such as the Grove definition with which this essay began.

⁴This idea is seemingly evident in a number of authoritative British Kodály-related publications such as Waterhouse et al (2007) and Vinden and Vinden (2008). A cursory glance through these books reveals a wealth of non-native material for use in musicianship classes, including music from Japan, Ghana, Poland, Virginia and Congo and elsewhere, as well as English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh material.

Benedict, C. (2009). “Processes of alienation: Marx, Orff and Kodály.” British Journal of Music Education vol XXVI no 2 pp 213-224
Choksy, L. (1974). The Kodály Method: Comprehensive Music Education From Infant to Adult, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall
DeVries, P. (2000). “Learning how to be a music teacher.” Music Education Research vol II no 2 pp 165-178
Earl, G. (1992). “Letter to the Editor.” British Journal of Music Education vol IX no 1 pp 79-80
Finney, J. (2000). “Curriculum stagnation: the case of singing in the English National Curriculum.” Music Education Research vol II no 2 pp 203-210
Gifford, E. (1988). “An Australian rationale for music education revisited: a discussion on the role of music in the curriculum.” British Journal of Music Education vol V no 2 pp 115-140
Houlahan, M. and Tacka, P. (2008). Kodály Today: A Cognitice Approach to Elementary Music Education, New York: Oxford University Press
Kocsár, I. H. (ed.) (2002). Zoltán Kodály: Music Should Belong to Everyone, 120 quotations from his writings and speeches, Budapest: International Kodály Society
Kodály, Z. (1952). Let Us Sing Correctly, Boosey and Hawkes
Mansfield, J. (2002) “Differencing music education.” British Journal of Music Education vol XIX no 2 pp 189-202
Naughton, C. (1996) “Thinking skills in music education.” British Journal of Music Education vol XIII no 1 pp15-20
Rainbow, B. (1991). “Letter to the Editor.” British Journal of Music Education vol VIII no 2 pp 183-184
Rainbow, B. (1990). “The Kodály Concept and its Pedigree.” British Journal of Music Education vol VII no 3 pp 197-203
Sadie, S. (ed.) (1994). The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, Bath: MacMillan
Stock, J. (2003). “Music education: perspectives from current ethnomusicology.” British Journal of Music Education vol XX no 2 pp 135-145
Vajda, C. (1991). “A reply to the article by Bernarr Rainbow ‘The Kodály Concept and its Pedigree’.” British Journal of Music Education vol VIII no 1 pp 73-76
Vinden, Y. and Vinden, D. (2008). Songs for Singing and Musicianship Training: Introducing the Kodály Concept of Music Education London: Kodály Centre of London
Waterhouse, C. et al. (2007). How Can I Keep From Singing! Songs and musical activities from around the world for 8-13 year olds London: British Kodály Academy

BBC Radio 3 interview with Gilbert De Greeve

BBC Radio 3 interview with Gilbert De Greeve, then President of the International Kodály Society
Interviewer: Ms. Rachel Hopkin

In the following interview, Mr De Greeve addresses important questions and concerns facing Kodály educators in the 21st century. The future of Kodály music education is just one of many topics for discussion scheduled during the 17th International Kodály Symposium and 24th BKA Summer School, 13th-20th August 2005.

How did Kodály’s ideas come to international prominence?

The first question is WHAT does that mean: Kodály’s ideas? In fact, it is a “vision” (or it can also be called a “concept”) that ‘music ought to be an integral part of universal human knowledge” and that a thoroughly trained teacher, using the best available materials, should teach it on a daily basis as a normal school subject. It is very important to understand that the Kodály concept is not ONE specific method.

In 1964, when the world congress of ISME was held in Budapest, the international music world witnessed with growing astonishment the incredible results of Kodály’s vision on Hungarian schools and on the humanitarian upbringing of Hungarian children and youth. From then on it became a renowned example for the rest of the world. 1964 was 14 years after the first so called music-primary school had started in Kecskemét.

Immediately afterwards many musicians and music educators from abroad started to come to Hungary and to observe and study the, in the meantime, so called Hungarian Model. It resulted in study-groups staying in Hungary for a whole year and in the first Kodály programs outside Hungary. It also, necessarily, led to the first adaptations. To assist in these programs abroad very often so called Hungarian “master-teachers” were engaged for a certain period or sometimes even on a permanent basis.

That process emerged into the organization of the ‘First International Kodály Symposium’ in Oakland (California) in1973, followed by the ‘Second International Kodály Symposium in Kecskemét (Hungary) in 1975. It was at that Symposium that the foundation of the International Kodály Society took place.

Since then an International Kodály Symposium has been organized every two years: (1977 Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1979 Sydney, Australia, 1981 Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, 1983 Antwerp, Belgium, 1985 London, United Kingdom, 1987 Kecskemét, Hungary, 1989 Athens, Greece, 1991 Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 1993 West Hartford, Connecticut, USA, 1995 Assisi, Italy, 1997 Manila, Philippines, 1999 Kecskemét, Hungary, 2001 Helsinki, Finland, 2003 Newcastle, Australia.) In the past 30 years many books about Kodály and his music education vision were published and numerous articles appeared in scientific- and music magazines.

The International Kodály Society is a worldwide forum bringing together all working in the fields of music, musical research and music education. It supports their efforts to ensure children and youth the so necessary, and too often lacking, balance between the development of intellectual potential and emotional growth, through education in general and through music education in particular. At this moment the International Kodály Society has members in 34 countries, but the concept is applied in many more.

A very important factor in the success of the concept is of course Kodály’s fame as composer and researcher.

How relevant (or not) are the ideas in the ‘global classroom’ today?

The methodological concept (the use of folksongs, good materials, the teaching always starting from the musical source, etc.) is used worldwide and on a large scale. Unfortunately the philosophical vision (that music ought to be taught on a daily basis and as a normal school subject) is less relevant, due to educational options, subsequently budget cuts for art education, of governments.

Are any cultures particularly suited (or not) to the ideas? It is again a matter of making a distinction between the philosophical and the methodological side of the concept?

Philosophically the concept is not at all Hungarian. It is simply ‘universal’ and suitable for any culture. However, the methodological part is so to speak “local”, the result of research on the specific elements of the culture. But that issue is a “technical” one that only requires capable authorities to draft it. I think that it is rather a question of “society” circumstances. For instance a society focused primarily on the material and the vocational, won’t be interested much in adapting an educational system that requires time and space for a daily music lesson.

And there is also the misunderstanding that the Kodály concept would not be suitable in countries that use the so-called “absolute solfege”. It is not correct but it is hard to convince those that do not want to or cannot understand.

With the right attitude and the professional know-how the Kodály concept is adaptable to any culture.

Difficulties encountered by trying to use the ideas internationally (for example, the mother tongue issue, particularly in mixed classrooms)?

The mixed classroom is a real challenge, but again, it concerns the methodological side and not the philosophical vision. In Hungary, great attention was paid from the beginning to introduce the children also to songs from other countries as well as to the “great” music.

By the way, the extensive report of the First International Conference on “The Role and Place of Music in the Education of Youth and Adults”, held in Brussels in 1953, sponsored by UNESCO and the International Music Council, already mentioned the following: ‘as a step towards understanding between the peoples, school songbooks should contain songs selected from all over the world’.

Thus it is a matter of finding the greatest common devisor among the various cultural traditions present in the class. As I said already it is a real challenge because it requires great craftsmanship of the teachers and their principals, as well as the flexibility to adapt their materials every year again. But it is not an insuperable problem.

Difficulties encountered by trying Kodály’s vision in modern music?

Well, the Kodály concept is not used IN certain kinds of music. It USES music to start up a process of music education. However, I assume that with modern music you are referring to the different kinds of pop; rock; etc., the so called “entertainment music” and that the question is whether this music (in fact we should rather speak of “musics”) can be used as materials to teach the Kodály concept. Strangely enough, and many may be surprised, I would say yes. But, for a number of reasons it would not be “wise” to use entertainment music for teaching purposes. For instance, because even the best of these “musics” are usually very “time-linked”, containing often one aspect of a fugitive musical expression. Besides these musics are usually conceived following commercial intentions and, certainly nowadays, rather focusing on rhythmical patterns than on genuine emotional expressions.

So, the question should not so much be whether it is good or bad to use modern music but rather how “suitable” this music is in a music education program. And then the answer is that much better materials can be found in the folk music and in the so-called “serious” music.

How do you decide what is good music?

Music nor art in general are exact sciences. It is impossible to define in a formula what is good and what is bad music. On the contrary music is subjective and whether it is experienced as good or bad is a matter of taste. It is perfectly possible – how unthinkable it may be – that someone does not like Beethoven, or Mozart or Bach, not to speak about Schoenberg or Hindemith.

The only trustable judge is time. We often seem to forget that Mozart and Haydn, for instance, to name just a few, had hundreds of colleagues’ composers. Yet their colleagues creations have not sustained the time in the same way. Folk music, however, often passed on orally before it was finally produced in written form, has been purified by the time. On top of it, it mostly has texts referring to historical, social or professional happenings, introducing the children to the history of their own culture and many of the songs for the very little children are also plays, facilitating the learning process. That is why they make so good materials.

So, I would not dare to say that this is good and that is bad music. In every genre are good and less good. And although there are certain criteria that cannot be neglected, it remains a matter of personal taste.

What kind of opposition does face Kodály’s vision?

Every creation always also creates opposition. If I would list the major reasons for criticism I would say that the top three are “ignorance”, “misunderstanding” and “envy”.

– For instance the thesis that Kodály’s vision could only prosper in a totalitarian regime, which is, of course, completely wrong.

– The discussion about what is the best, “relative so-fa” or the “absolute solfege”. There are even people who think that Kodály “invented” the relative so-fa or the so-called “hand-signs” or “rhythm-syllables”.

– One of the most incredible statements I recently heard is that the Kodály concept is an “historical” one that is not suitable for the modern time.

So, to answer your question, to my knowledge there is no opposition that is grounded on scientific research or that should be taken seriously. By the way, what opposition could there be against the idea that music should be a part of the general education of every human being? Opposition is nothing to worry about. The greatest danger for the Kodály concept, as far as I can see it is in its permanent evolution. Many outstanding ideas have been ruined at the end through so called “amelioration” and “personal interpretation”. The challenge will be to never loose sight on the sources of the concept, which can be found in the Selected Writings of Zoltán Kodály and, in a simplified form, also in ‘Music Should Belong to Everyone’, a recently published book by Ildiko Herbóly-Kocár and the IKS.

Where next?

Unfortunately that is a question that is depending on the statesmanship and brightness of many. It is not a favorable time for the arts and certainly not for art education. That is a great pity because the most important remains of any civilization are its expressions of art.

So, if “where next” means “quo vadis musica” I would like to quote one of my dear friends, the late Professor Alexander Ringer, who once referred to the famous sentence “can art save the world” as being totally wrong. It should be, he said, “can the world save the arts?” It will be an enormous responsibility for politicians and other responsible in the educational field to care for programs that not only develop the brains but also the human feelings. If that will be their concern, which it should be, the arts and music in particular will have to be taken as seriously as the ancient Greeks did it.

But if “where next” is referring specifically to the Kodály concept, I am convinced that the musical world will continue to have great interest in his compositions, in his unique research and in his humanitarian vision on the importance of music as a cornerstone of the entire humanistic enterprise.

The Kodály Experience by Cyrilla Rowsell

This article by Cyrilla Rowsell first appeared in Libretto, the journal of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, in May 2003.

‘How many of you know anything about Kodály?’

The group of around 35 students on the CT ABRSM course look blank, except for one brave soul who lifts his hand and volunteers, ‘It’s all that handsign stuff?’

This is representative of the general response from any group of instrumental teachers faced with the same question. However, 1½ hours later, I see many happy, inspired faces and I leave with the sound of other questions ringing in my ears – ‘WHY have I never heard of this before?’ ‘WHY isn’t this taught in all schools?’

So how did this approach come about?

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) was a deep-thinking man who became increasingly concerned about music education in Hungary. He found that his harmony students at the Liszt Academy, whilst technically proficient, could not hear the music in their heads. He felt that a musician should have a well-trained ear, intelligence and heart as well as well-trained fingers – and that the student would eventually have problems if the latter raced ahead of the others (which, in my experience, is often the case!).

Kodály believed that ‘Music should belong to everyone…music is a spiritual food for which there is no substitute…there is no complete spiritual life without music…there are regions of the human soul which can be illuminated only through music.’ He was impressed by the Galin-Paris-Cheve movement and by the work of John Curwen; he realised that rhythm names and solfa were powerful tools with which to develop musical literacy and incorporated these into his overall concept. During the 1940s many of his colleagues and students began to put his ideas into practice and developed a methodology which can be used from birth or before (Kodály said, ‘Music education begins nine months before the birth of the mother’!)to high levels of professional training – conservatoire and beyond.

Kodály identified three stages of learning: unconscious experience, making conscious and reinforcement.

In other words:

Preparation, Presentation and Practice

Young children do not learn through intellectual and theoretical abstractions. We would not teach a child to read who has not yet learned to speak – and yet we often try to teach music in this way. I remember my very first piano lesson, at the age of six. I was shown a symbol and told, ‘This is a crotchet. It lasts for one beat.’ If a child has no experience of beat or pulse this is useless information!

In Kodály lessons children learn many songs and rhymes, initially by imitation. Gradually what they have assimilated unconsciously is made conscious and children learn both the appropriate vocabulary to describe their experience and the symbol which represents it. In this way, musical literacy is taught in a practical and logical sequence. Kodály teaching is structured so that students progress from the simple to the complex in a series of logical steps. The steps are very small (‘Children learn best that which they already know’) so that success is guaranteed. Success breeds confidence and the desire to learn more.

The music used should always be of the best quality, initially one’s mother-tongue. Kodály felt that ‘Folksong is the school of good taste…those who develop a taste for what is good at an early age will become resistant later to what is bad.’

Most of the repertoire consists of natural children’s singing games. Many of these originated in the street and playground – a repertoire which, sadly, many children do not know today. Children of all ages love these games; it is very gratifying to see mature, streetwise 11-year olds revelling in them and, through them, being allowed to be children again. At a later stage, composed songs and art music are also used – but always, the musical knowledge comes from the song material.

The voice is the primary instrument used in Kodály training. Singing has a profound effect upon the child’s physical, social, emotional and intellectual development and is the most direct way of making a musical response. Not only is this instrument free and portable, but because it is part of our bodies anything learned through singing is learned more deeply and thoroughly. Learning through an instrument is an external skill, as the pupil makes something else make the sound; singing, an internal skill, is deeply personal as YOU make the sound. Singing is also vital for developing that essential part of a musician, the inner hearing. It is not possible to sing anything which has not first been imagined in the inner ear; therefore singing proves that the music has been assimilated and understood. Kodály felt very strongly about this:

‘A child who plays before he sings may remain unmusical for a lifetime. That is why we encounter so many skilful pianists who have no idea of the essence of music.’

Songs used in the early stages have a small range and simple rhythms. Many of the games and activities encourage solo singing, which is helpful for the teacher’s assessment as well as breeding confidence in the child.

‘Growlers’ gradually learn to pitch accurately by singing on their own and imitating the teacher’s voice. Incidentally, I have never found anyone (child or adult) who is unable to pitch a falling minor third, which is the first interval to be made conscious through solfa (‘soh-me’) – although I was challenged o­nce by a four year old whose natural pitch for this interval was the E-C# below middle C! (He is now 10, in my choir and sings like an angel!)

Pentatonic music is used initially as it is easier to sing with good intonation without semitones. I find children who have a good pentatonic grounding learn the diatonic notes quickly and easily and their intonation remains good. Two-part work is an important part of the training; voice tunes with voice and the natural tuning enhances the pupil’s perception of relative pitch and tonal functions.

Children first experience pulse, then rhythm; they are taught to differentiate between the two before they are introduced to rhythm symbols and rhythm names. An awareness of pitch (moving higher, moving lower, staying on the same pitch) is developed before the children begin solfa training. New pitches are gradually introduced and the children learn songs in various tonesets. Solfa is learned with accompanying handsigns, which provide a physical link with the sound heard and produced. Solfa not only expresses relative pitch but also the tonal function of each note. Handsigns are a powerful tool in that they can also be used for the child to read from, thus quickly and easily reading new music or recognising known material. Music is always dealt with in phrases or motifs, never in single sounds or notes; this develops rhythmic continuity and a sense of the shape of the phrase.

Children learn to read and write music initially with stick notation (the rhythm with solfa symbols underneath) and then on the stave. Stave reading is firstly done without a clef so that the children learn spatially the positions of the intervals without having to worry about sharps or flats. Gradually pitch names are introduced and eventually pupils learn to read in all seven doh positions.

Kodály’s aim was to teach musical literacy to all. He saw literacy as the ability to ‘…hear what you see and see what you hear…performance reveals whether the instrumentalist understands what he is playing.’

‘Aural training’ is an aspect of instrumental teaching which I know worries many teachers. Fitting it in to a half-hour lesson already crammed full is difficult, and several teachers I know feel ill-equipped to teach it as their own pianistic skills are lacking. However, I perceive that maybe the major problem is that many teachers do not know HOW to teach aural awareness. It would appear that aural is not TAUGHT, only TESTED.

I cannot have been the o­nly child who dreaded having to stand by the piano and sing. I found aural petrifying and difficult; I could not sight-sing accurately and ‘O’ Level chord analysis and dictation were impenetrable, terrifying mysteries. As a result, I grew up with the unshakeable belief that I was ‘not musical’. When I discovered the Kodály way of teaching in my mid-20s (having no musical qualifications other than Grade 7 piano and a very poor ‘O’ Level) it was a true road-to-Damascus experience. It was a total revelation to me that here was a way I could learn to sight-sing, write dictation, train my musical memory, hear and understand intervals and chords.

What would a teacher do for a child who is having trouble learning to read? He/she would allocate more time to the child, trying different strategies in order to make a breakthrough – not say, ‘Never mind you can’t read, dear; let’s make sure your maths is extra good instead’. But this is precisely what happened to me – make sure your pieces and scales are good to compensate for the poor mark you’re going to get for your aural! Kodály felt that ‘before we rear instrumentalists… we must first rear musicians’. How many more musicians we would rear if all children who are going to learn an instrument had a minimum of a year’s Kodály training before they started, and continued this training alongside their instrumental studies!

Children who are taught Kodály thoroughly and systematically become joyful, rounded, confident musicians – not just instrumentalists.

Kodály tapped into the essence of music and of pedagogy: ‘If, through the reading of music, a child has reached the stage where he is able to sing a small masterpiece in two parts with another child he has acquired a hundred times as much music than if he had thrashed the piano from sunrise to sunset. Many people are looking for the door to the treasury of music in the wrong places. They obstinately keep hammering on the locked gates and pass right by the open doors that are accessible to everybody.’

How many of us – how many of our pupils – are still hammering on locked gates?

Cyrilla Rowsell worked as a Primary class teacher for 11 years. During this time she became increasingly interested in the Kodály approach, and attended many courses, including Summer Schools in Britain and Hungary. She gained the BKA Advanced Musicianship Diploma with Distinction in 1991, and since then has taught for the BKA at Summer School and o­n part-time Elementary and Intermediate Musicianship Courses. She now teaches music at Primary level in Bromley and for the Guildhall’s Junior String Training Programme. She gives courses and workshops for organisations including the Associated Board, the Dalcroze Society, and for various schools and LEAs. Cyrilla runs a 150-strong junior age choir, whose most experienced members recently performed at the Royal Festival Hall in the Music for Youth Choral Day.

The Importance of Inner Hearing by Becky Welsh

Essay written by Becky Welsh’s as part of her double bass studies at Trinity College of Music. Reproduced here with her kind permission.

‘Discuss the Importance of the Inner Hearing to a musician and describe the ways in which Kodály musicianship develops this.’

In my opinion developing our inner hearing is o­ne of the most important and valuable things we can do as musicians. The ability to inner hear enables us to develop our musicianship skills; in particular our listening, aural and ensemble playing or singing skills. Music education through the Kodály method develops inner hearing skills through singing and associated exercises. As the Kodály method is mostly taught through use of the voice, this immediately means that our inner hearing is being accessed and therefore developed, as the two are inextricably linked.

As I understand it, inner hearing is basically the concept of being able to hear notes or music inside our heads without the need to play or sing. If a musician is looking at a piece of music they should be able to accurately hear how it sounds inside the head (if their inner hearing skills are good), with no need to play or sing it. Included in this, is the ability to pitch intervals inside the head, thus making sight singing much easier. This skill is developed predominantly through singing and the use of the voice, which is strongly emphasised in the Kodály method of teaching.

For a performing musician the development of inner hearing is extremely important. Not o­nly does the ability to inner hear improve sight reading skills, it is also essential for orchestral or ensemble playing. o­ne of the most important things an orchestral musician has to do is not o­nly to be able to play as a section, but also o­n a larger scale, they must be able to blend with the rest of the orchestra. This must be achieved through good intonation, as well as solid rhythm. Without being able to hear in our heads how the music should sound, it is impossible to play it in a professional way. If o­ne or more members of the orchestra are not using their inner hearing skills, the chances are they will be out with the rest of the orchestra, either rhythmically or harmonically. This means that the overall performance would lack polish and finesse. It is therefore essential that each member of the orchestra (or any other group of musicians i.e. choirs, chamber groups, strings quartets) is aware of what they are playing and how it is sounding at all times, and they can achieve this through inner hearing how the music should sound.

In addition, as a solo performer, inner hearing is also a very valuable skill. In my opinion, through inner hearing we can achieve relative pitch. This means we are able to hear accurately how a particular note should sound, with regard to intonation. I find that as a string player it is especially important to have a good awareness of pitch. As we are required to ‘find’ the notes o­n our instrument it is necessary to hear what we are aiming for. There would be little point in trying to find a note o­n a stringed instrument if we did not know how it should sound. If our inner hearing (and therefore relative pitch) is well developed, it is much easier to play with good intonation, and therefore to play more convincingly as a solo performer.

Zoltan Kodály developed a system of music education in order that inner hearing could begin to be developed in children from a young age. His theory was that if children began their musicianship training using his method from an early age, by the time they reached adulthood the system would be so ingrained in them that it would be second nature. Sightreading or sightsinging would not be a struggle, nor would difficult enharmonic keys. Memorisation would be taught from an early age, first through simple folk songs, so that later it became a natural progression of learning music. Pitching any note or interval is also simplified, as the musician will be able to hear inside the head how it should sound.

The musical education system that Kodály used and taught consists of many different elements. Predominantly the system is taught through the use of the voice. This is because Kodály believed that the natural way children express their musical ideas is through the voice. Therefore many of the ideas taught in the Kodály method involve singing, for example singing games, sightsinging and improvising. The use of the voice automatically accesses the inner hearing skills, so through the development of singing, inner hearing is also being developed. In recent studies there has been increased musicality in the children taught using the Kodály method.

There are many skills taught in the Kodály approach, the majority of which start with singing (and are therefore linked with the development of inner hearing). A large part of the Kodály way of teaching involves learning songs, preferably at first by ear through a ‘call and response’ system. Later they can be sung with the music, then without music, or played o­n an instrument (in the case of our classes, the piano). The songs are taught using a system of naming the notes, or Solfa. Each note of the scale has a name, and as the ‘do’ is variable according to the tonic note of the key of the piece, the scale is the same regardless of the key. This means that there is a much clearer idea of how the music should sound, as it is simplified. For example, it is understood that the distance between ‘do’ and ‘so’ is always a perfect fifth. This idea is also important for the development of inner hearing because it simplifies the pitching of intervals. It does this through the use of Solfa. This means that when singing any interval, the singer has a guide to the sound. The interval is no longer just two notes, it has names, and owing to the concept of the variable ‘do’ or ‘home note’, regardless of the key of the piece the interval has the same names, and therefore the same sound. This should mean therefore, that the singing of the interval is no longer a guess as it is the same, however complex the key of the piece may appear to be. This means the singer should be able to ‘inner-hear’ the pitches of the notes before singing them.

In addition to this, each note of the scale has a handsign that corresponds to the Solfa name. Handsigns are useful for pitching and understanding of tonal relationships, because they are a way of visualising the pitches that are being sung. Again, inner hearing can be developed using handsign exercises. If the teacher or a member of the class is to demonstrate a song purely through the handsigns corresponding to the notes, the class would have to inner hear the notes being shown in handsigns in order to be able to recognise the piece. This exercise is invaluable in the development of inner hearing as absolutely no ‘real’ notes are being used so the inner hearing is forced into use.

As well as the notes being simplified through use of the Kodály method, the rhythms are also made clearer. This is achieved through the use rhythm names, so not o­nly do the notes have names, the rhythms do too. This idea of naming notes or rhythms gives children a much clearer indication of what they have to sing or play as they have something to identify sounds with. It simplifies the theory of music because to say the word ‘teh-teh’ is much easier for a child to understand than saying ‘the rhythm is two quavers’. This idea is used for all the basic rhythms and rhythmic patterns, so there is always a simple way of explaining the rhythms of a song.

Once the basic concepts of notation and rhythm have been introduced and mastered there is much scope for development of these ideas. As the pupil becomes more advanced many more ideas and variations can be used. Singing and playing or singing and clapping songs in canon is an extremely useful exercise that is used. This is because it requires multi-tasking and good co-ordination, and it also means the pupil has to isolate each part (by inner hearing how it should sound) in order to separate them. As well as this, multiple hearing is encouraged through practice of the Kodály method. The class will often sing o­ne part at the same time as another part is being played by the teacher for musical dictation by the class. This means that as well as inner hearing the part that is being sung the pupils must also commit to memory for dictation the part that is being played.

Once the pupils are more advanced, part-singing becomes a fairly important aspect of learning music though the Kodály method. Singing in canon is a strong feature of the method, as well as part-singing taken from musical extracts, such as the singing of Bach Chorales or other four-part songs. The concept of singing more than o­ne part at o­nce encourages good intonation in the singers, and as there is more than o­ne part going o­n at o­nce, intonation has to be even more solid than when singing just o­ne line. This strongly encourages listening and ensemble skills within the group, as well as developing the need for the singers to inner hear their parts.

Another important skill taught through the Kodály method is musical dictation. The teacher plays or sings a melody and the pupil must notate it (often the rhythm is given, so the focus of the exercise is o­n the melody). Starting with simple dictations, confidence can be built so that more complex melodies or ideas can be introduced later o­n. This helps enormously to develop inner hearing because in order to notate the music, the pupil must first be able to hear it in the head. o­nce the pupil can hear the melody in the head, they have the option to repeat the melody sufficient times in order to notate it correctly. Without be able to inner hear, the melody would need to be played by the teacher several times. As the dictations become more and more complex, the inner hearing skills are developed to be able to hear the more complicated melodic or rhythmic ideas.

In conclusion it can be said that the learning of the Kodály method is essential to develop our abilities to inner hear, and the ability to inner hear is essential to our musicianship. Therefore, in my opinion, learning Kodály (preferably from a young age) is essential to us becoming well-rounded musicians. It enables us to access our inner hearing through singing, as well as developing these skills through regular practice of exercises taught in the Kodály method.


Choksy – The Kodály Method


Please note: Becky’s original bibliography contained a number of web addresses which have subsequently been changed or are no longer live. Only those links which remain live are included here (September 2015).

The Gifts That Keep Giving by Sandra L. Mathias

Keynote speech given at the 2005 IKS Symposum by Sandra L. Mathias

Good morning, symposium participants, students, guests, IKS Board members and our gracious British hosts. It is a bit daunting to be the final speaker, following the outstanding keynote addresses that we have heard all week. I wish to express my gratitude to the British Kodály Academy for inviting me to speak at this symposium. It is truly my honor. I hope that you might find some meaning in the words and thoughts that I will be sharing with you.

This keynote speech focuses on my perception of not one, but several of Kodály’s inspirational gifts that, I feel continue to inspire 21st century music educators, students, and parents.

During our time together this morning, I want to explore five of Kodály’s inspirational gifts: his music, his writings, his student legacy, his dreams, and his philosophy. I will present some of Kodály’s words, along my own thoughts. I will also share with you the thoughts of music educators, students, and parents, who feel that they have received one or more of these gifts through their musical experiences.

The gift of ‘music’ will focus on a few of Kodály’s choral compositions, which serve as a rich resource for conductors and aesthetic ‘food’ for performers and listeners.

The gift of ‘writings’ will focus on Kodály’s written words that inspire readers, confirm teachers’ thoughts, and provide insights to us for the future.

The gift of ‘students’ will focus on the lineage of Kodály’s students and how they have disseminated their thoughts on this philosophy around the world, and have, unknowingly, developed an international ‘family tree’ of Kodály music educators.

The gift of ‘dreams’ will focus on Kodály’s courage to dare to dream of a musically literate society of a sensitive and feeling people, who would reflect their culture.

The final gift of ‘philosophy’ will focus on Kodály’s idea of creating a way of thinking about teaching music. This philosophy gives students and teachers a framework upon which to create their curriculum.

Let us first look at Kodály’s gift of music…

I was first introduced to Kodály’s gift of music when I sang ‘Wainamoinen’ in the women’s chorus at the Kodály Center of America in the summer of 1983. His ability to create a beautiful marriage of music and text in his choral pieces has a special quality that lifts the music off the page and into the hearts of its performers and listeners. For the past 20 years, I have had the privilege to share Kodály’s gift of music with young singers as they have ‘unwrapped’ and discovered the excitement while singing some of his special pieces such as – See the Gypsies, Ladybird, Dancing Song, Mid The Oak Trees, Ave Maria, Egyetem Begyetem, Psalm 150, and Christmas Dance of the Shepherds. I can easily recall how excited a group of these young singers was to see the original score of ‘See the Gypsies’ in the Kodály Museum in Budapest. They nearly burst into song in the middle of the museum! Years later, it is meaningful to me to hear students reminisce about the pieces they sang in choir. They said:

See the Gypsies was my favorite of all. I loved all the contrasts within the piece, especially the changes in tempo from the A section to the B section and the harmonies.”

“I used to love to let my voice fly away on my soprano part in Ladybird“.

“I loved singing Egyetem Begyetem in Hungarian, more than in English. Everything fit together and it was actually easier!”

I believe that Kodály’s musical gift to these young singers will never be forgotten. His music will continue to inspire. Kodály’s choral music has a unique quality that gives shimmering beauty to voices, and, satisfaction to the soul of its singers and listeners. This gift of music will only live on into the future if we continue to introduce it to our singers and program it on our concerts.

The gift of Kodály’s words, as found in some of his writings and speeches…

When I first read Kodály’s articles on Music Education in the book, Selected Writings, I thought that he must have wandered the United States listening to all our music educators express their frustrations over the lack of financial and philosophical support for music in the schools, the insufficient class time for music, and the general state of the arts in the country.

In his article: Music in the Kindergarten: he writes: “…the frightening lack of music in our curriculum, indeed the definite anti-music tendency, is gravely detrimental to the education of the nation, too.” He continues by discussing the crucial necessity of singing songs of one’s language and nation to give the child a sense of self and soul. He says: “…most of the texts are completely alien to the emotional world and way of thinking of children…, they do not start from the soul of the child and his view of the world, but impose upon him the author’s own ‘self’.” He further wrote: “Hungarian public opinion does not take schools seriously enough. It believes that school and life are different things. But school, and even the kindergarten, stands for real, full-blooded life. Anyone who is hurt there may not recover from the hurt till the day of his death. And if we sow a good seed in him, it will flourish all his life.” (Selected Writings, p. 148.)

And from his article, A Hundred Year Plan, he wrote: “It was in 1680 that Miklos Misztotfalusi Kis had the idea that every Hungarian should learn to read. It took 250 years for it to come true. With music reading, we shall, perhaps, achieve it in a shorter time. But what curse is upon us that always makes us do things wrongly at first?”

Why is it always the incompetent people that force their way to the scene of action, spoiling things to such an extent that twice as much work is needed to put things right again than would have been required to do them well at the first go!” (Selected Writings, p. 160)

For me, I now realize that teachers, all over the world face similar attitudes and situations. Kodály’s words give us inspiration for the daunting task that faces each one of us as we follow our dreams to educate the soul of our students through the music of their heritage and beyond. For as Kodály wrote: “the purpose of music is not that it should be judged, but that it should become our substance. Music is a spiritual food for which there is no substitute: he who does not feed on it will live in spiritual anaemia, until death. There is no complete spiritual life without music, for the human soul has regions, which can be illuminated only by music”. (Music Should Belong To Everyone – p. 51 from What is the Purpose of School Music Societies)

As a college professor, I assign many of Kodály’s articles for students to read in preparation for their classwork. As they begin to enter their professional semester, they read Who is a Good Musician?. As they begin creating curriculum and lesson plans, they read Music in the Kindergarten. Before they begin making an instrument, they read the small, one page article, I Made My First Instrument Myself. They comment in class on how appropriate Kodály’s words are to them today. His words always reinforce their decision to enter the field of music education.

The gift of Kodály’s words lets us know that we are not alone in our quest to create musical cultures. We are grateful that he put down his thoughts that today inspire us not to give up our goals. How fortunate we all are to be able to be inspired when we open a book containing Kodály’s words. It does not matter how many times we may read the same article, we always receive food for thought and a sense of conviction for our dreams and purpose. As books, such as Selected Writings become less and less available, we are indebted to Ildiko Herboly Kocsar for compiling quotations from Kodály’s writings and speeches in the IKS publication: Music Should Belong to Everyone. If Kodály were alive today, I think we all would want to express our gratitude to him for this gift of speeches and writings. As we read them, they make us feel as though he is alive, teaching us through his word.

The gift of students…

I imagine that Kodály did not realize how he would ‘father’ an international ‘family tree’ of music pedagogues. Beginning with himself and the 13 students from his first composition class at the Liszt Academy, a worldwide tree of extending limbs and branches has grown and continues to grow.

Sustaining the tree from a sturdy trunk is Kodály himself. Extending out on to large supporting limbs we find the first generation of pedgagogues. Next comes another firm limb of the second generation. This is followed by a third limb of the third generation. on the branches of these limbs we find offshoots of locations where Hungarian master teachers have travelled to plant seeds of the Kodály philosophy. on the branches to the North, we find Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway. On the branch bending South, we find Australia, South Africa, and South American. On the branch reaching out to the East, we find Korea, The Phillipine Islands, Taiwan, Japan, and China. On the branch reaching out to Central Europe and the West, we find Poland, Italy, Greece, France, Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland, Mexico, The United States, and Canada.

Teachers from each generation have freely given to their students, who have, in turn, become teachers who continued to give freely to the next generation of their students, and so on. This sharing of knowledge and expertise has created a world-wide dissemination of the Kodály philosophy. Teachers throughout the world have become excited using ideas learned from their teachers. This gift of students, which spawned this international pedagogical ‘family tree’, will continue to grow on into the future. Because of the grounding of the philosophical ideas put forth by Kodály and his early students, this tree will not wither and die, but remain ‘evergreen’, reaching up and out to touch people in all corners of the world.

The gift of a dream…

Kodály’s dream was to create a Hungarian musical culture in 100 years. As mentioned earlier, since it took 250 years to create a Hungary that could read, Kodály believed it would take less time to achieve music reading for all. The means: as stated by Kodály would be:

  1. making the reading and writing of music general, through the schools.
  2. the awakening of a Hungarian musical approach in the training of both artist and audience.
  3. The raising of Hungarian public taste in music and a continual progress towards what is better and more Hungarian.
  4. Making the masterpieces of world literature public property, to convey them to people of every kind and rank.

Kodaly said: “The total of these means will yield the Hungarian musical culture, which is glimmering before us in the distant future.”
(Selected Writings, p. 160)

Kodály concludes his article on A Hundred Year Plan by stating: “We cannot prophesy, but if the principle of expert tuition comes to be realized in practice by 1968, that is to say a hundred years after the birth of the primary education act, it may well be hoped that by the time we reach the year 2000, every child that has attended the primary school will be able to read music fluently… This, however, will only be an external sign of what will surely have developed by then and will rightly bear the name of Hungarian musical culture.” (p. 162, Selected Writings)

Because Kodály dared to have a dream of creating a musical culture in 100 years, we are inspired to carry his dream along with our own, to every nation, city, school, and classroom. We also, dream of musical cultures in our own countries. We believe as Kodály did that “music multiplies the beauty of life and all its values.” (speech for the Inauguration of the New Building of the Kecskemet Singing School).

He further wrote: “A man who has talent is required to cultivate it to the highest degree so as to be of the greatest possible use to his fellow-creatures. Every human being is worth as much as he can turn to the advantage of mankind and to the service of his country. Real art is one of the most powerful sources for the uplifting of mankind and he who renders it accessible to as many people as possible is a benefactor of mankind.” (Who Is A Good Musician?)

Kodály further helps us shape our dreams for our own countries with these words: “Each nation has a rich variety of folk songs well suited to teaching purposes. If selected and graded carefully, they furnish the best material through which to introduce musical elements and make the children conscious of them. It is essential that the material used should be musically attractive. In some countries, the outdated system is still in use, which employs dry, lifeless exercises for children, which the children hate and very often together with them they also hate the music lesson, and finally, music. If children do not look forward with thrilled expectation to the music lesson, no result is to hope for, if they do not feel refreshed and enjoyed, all labor is lost. It is our firm conviction that mankind will live the happier when it has learned to live with music more worthily. Whoever, works to promote this end, in o¬ne way or another, has not lived in vain.” (Music Should Be For Everyone, pp. 69-70).

I believe that this gift to dream sustains us all in our work every day as we strive to create a musical culture in our own situations.

The Gift of Philosophy…

Over the past 25 years, I have come to realize why Kodály gave us a philosophy for teaching music and not a method to teach music. A philosophy is a way of thinking. This philosophy is a way of thinking about teaching music. A philosophy has basic tenets that provide a foundation for our thinking to develop. Kodály tells us to “teach music and singing… in such a way that it is not a torture, but a joy for the pupil; instill a thirst for finer music in him/her (a thirst that will last a lifetime).” (Children’s Choirs).

He tells us to begin with music of the child’s musical mother tongue, develop music literacy, use the most natural instrument – the voice, and follow the ideas of child-development with age appropriate songs and games that will lead students from the known to the unknown.

Upon this philosophy are built the pedagogical ideas of Pestlazzi, Kestenberg, Piaget and others. Teachers plan kinesthetic, aural, and visual activities around the unknown to enable students to experience it before labeling it. Teachers learn to lead students to discover the unkown through the known. Teachers guide students through practice of the new knowledge from familiar material to unknown material and on to sight-reading, improvisation, and composing. The concepts and skills of music are woven throughout the process in a joyful, positive spirit, enabling the student to be motivated and inspired and develop a love of music.

I asked some singers, parents, and teachers who were attending a summer course, to share some of their thoughts on the Kodály philosophy. They have given me permission to share those thoughts with you.

First, from 2 young singers who are 14 year-old twins from my children’s choir in Ohio: “The Kodály philosophy has been part of our lives since we were 8 years old. When we were in second grade, our elementary music teacher taught using the Kodály philosophy. Our education in this philosophy continued throughout our middle school grades and continues today in the community children’s choir that we sing in. It has had a great impact on how we think about and read music. The Kodály approach goes beyond mimicry and teaches the musical makeup of a song. Instead of listening to a song sung and then repeating it until learned, the Kodály philosophy allows a singer to understand the music through intervals and form. Throughout our years in choir, we have sung several pieces arranged by Kodály. Not only do these compositions stress using the inner ear, they also introduce the singer to Hungarian folk music and culture. Overall, the Kodály philosophy has increased our musical literacy to an extent difficult to achieve with any other technique.”

From their parents: “Our twin 14 year-old daughters have been taught through the Kodály philosophy since second grade. They have always loved to sing, and music class was always a joy for them. They also began traditional piano instruction at this time. We do not know whether the Kodály teaching or the piano instruction is alone responsible for their musicianship. We believe that the combination of the two has made them strong musicians. We do know however, that their ability to read vocal music is far superior to their peers who have not had the same instruction. We are grateful to have had this instruction given to our daughters. Their lives and anyone who hears their musical talents benefit greatly from the teachings of Zoltan Kodály.”

From young teachers:

From a young American teaching in China: “The Kodály training has given me a wonderful system and plan to my teaching. .I can truly see my students improve from year to year and enjoy singing more and more. This approach has made all the difference in my teaching.”

From a young man teaching in a parochial school in Ohio: “I know that the Kodály philosophy is making me a more competent individual.”

From a young teacher in the Columbus City Schools:
“It is much more fun and easier to teach music using the Kodaly philosophy! Taking the known to discover the unknown makes sense to me, as well as my students. Now, my students understand rhythm because it is not made into a math equation, but comes from the music.”

From a young high school teacher in Ohio: “The Kodály philosophy has made all the difference when it comes to my own reading and musicianship. I went from looking at new music as an obstacle, to seeing it as a fun challenge. Teaching from the philosophy makes me truly feel like I am teaching my students something that they can hold onto in the future, instead of just teaching them songs they soon forget, with no real meaning.”

From another teacher in the Columbus City  Schools: “This training has defined how I teach. Before I began these classes, I taught from a music textbook and always sang with CD’s. I was unsure of what to teach and when. Now I teach with my own voice. I have a curriculum sequence that makes sense and my students provide all the music (no CD player). I also feel that I am teaching with much better repertoire.”

From a high school teacher in Illinois: “The Kodály philosophy has helped my students realize their full potential as independent musicians. They better understand their abilities to learn music on their own, while still maintaining an enjoyment of singing.”

From more experienced teachers…

From a middle school teacher in Georgia: “Because of the Kodály approach, I look at singers less restrictively. Before, I was convinced that only the ‘best singers’ should be in my choir. Now, I appreciate more accuracy than natural talent in singers. I try to help everyone who seeks me out. I definitely use stronger literature of better quality. This will be a life-long quest (a labor of love) rather than a mere career.”

From a teacher in a city school system: “I have become a more organized teacher with clearly defined musical objectives. These objectives are now mine, not something handed to me – they are developmental, sequential, and best of all, they work! My children are finally reading and writing music and loving it.”

From a teacher in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio: “The Kodály philosophy changed my life completely. I now have goals and strategies for my teaching. I have a sequence to teach by, a method to use that allows my students to grow to unbelievable heights! I never knew or had enough faith that they could learn so much about music.”

From a teacher in rural Ohio: “My students have benefited greatly from this approach to teaching music. They have become owners of the music.”

From another teacher in rural Ohio: “For thirteen years of teaching, I had jumped from one workshop to another, trying to find a way to teach general music effectively. By a course of luck (or God’s grace), I ended up in a summer Kodály course. All of a sudden a light bulb came on in me, and I realized I was learning about a sequential approach to teaching music. When I returned to my teaching after a second summer of training, I discovered that my students had retained what they had learned the year before. I am proud of my teaching now and I will never teach a different way.”

From a junior high band teacher: “This Kodály training has made me aware of how valuable singing is in any music setting, even band! I am now concentrating more on my preparation of pieces my band will play. This training re-ignited (and reaffirmed) my quest to help every child become a lifelong musician who loves music. My musicianship training has forever opened my ears. These three years of learning have truly been a spiritual experience… to be with so many teachers and students of all ages, who love music and have a passion for sharing the beauty of music with all mankind. This has been a life-changing experience!”

From a teacher in Colombia, South America: “I come from a country full of talented people and loving music teachers who, without any clue about how to develop an effective music program, try their best, in order to transport a passion and love for music, to their students. I wish many music teachers in my country could have the great opportunity to find the amazing pathway of the Kodály philosophy, and after enough training, be able to transform their teaching. My own professional life has a ‘before Kodály’ and an ‘after Kodály’. I wish the International Kodály Society would put their eyes on Colombia in order to give to my country and our children the Kodály philosophy.”

And, lastly, from a teacher at the United Nations School in New York City: “I received the essential words of the Kodály philosophy ‘music is for everyone” in a setting of beautiful music making and dedicated master teachers working to pass the craft on to a new generation of music educators. The year was 1978. I carefully listened to the tales, which chronicled the vision of Zoltan Kodály in Hungary. The best music for children, of course…but I was equally captivated by the possibility of ‘teachers’ choruses’ and ‘workers’ choruses’. Not just the elite… but live, active music making for all. Some 26 years later, in addition to my teaching, I direct women’s choruses, which fulfil my own desire to connect my personal calling to what happened in Hungary years ago. In these choruses, housewives, engineers, students, diplomats, teachers, hairdressers, professional musicians, and local women who never finished high school come to sing great music together. If I only heard ‘the words’ of the Kodály philosophy, it would never have taken root in my teaching practice or the continuous maturing of my own imagination and artistry. I have heard and watched what live music making does to folks, who would never have believed that this experience was intended for them. Music is for everyone. The words are ever new and compelling as we now work to pass the craft on to the next generation. The year is 2005.”

I am grateful to these people for sharing their thoughts.

This gift of philosophy still inspires us and future generations to believe and strive to create a better life for humanity – to know that we are doing something for the human soul in the face of the cheapening of life all around us. What we have to offer is priceless, yet costs so little to disperse.

Kodály’s gifts of music, writings, students, dreams, and philosophy do keep giving – to students, parents, teachers, artists, and audiences. How fortunate we are to have been recipients of these gifts. How fortunate we are to be able to pass them on to others.

If Zoltan Kodály were here today, we all would want to stand and offer him a special ovation for these gifts that truly do continue to inspire. Thank you.


Herboly-Kocsar, Ildiko. Music Should Belong To Everyone. 120 compiled quotations from Kodály’s writings and speeches. International Kodály Society, 2002.

Kodály, Zoltán. The Selected Writings of Zoltán Kodály. Boosey & Hawkes, 1974.

NOTES: With special gratitude to the Hungarian master teachers at the 2005 summer course of The British Kodály Academy in Leicester, England, for their assistance in preparing the first, second, and third generation of Hungarian master teachers for the pedagogical ‘family tree’.