What is the Kodály approach to music education?
The Kodály approach to teaching music is based on the model created by prominent Hungarian, composer, philosopher, and educator Zoltan Kodály, who lived from 1882 – 1967. As a young music student in Budapest, Kodaly became interested in folk music, and believed that it was important to expose people to the music of their heritage. Along with his contemporary Bela Bartok, Kodály began collecting music throughout Hungary. While collecting, he came to realize that musical skills of the population were lacking, and began thinking about the importance of music education. Kodály wrote, “It is much more important who is the music teacher in Kisvarda than who is the director of the opera house in Budapest…for a poor director fails once, but a poor teacher keeps on failing for thirty years, killing the love of music in 30 generations of children.”
The Kodály approach is less a method than a philosophy. The main tenets include:
- music education is the right of every human being, not just the musically gifted;
- music should exist at the core of the curriculum;
- students deserve only the “best music;" (an important question in today's classrooms!)
- the voice is the best teaching first tool because it is “free and accessible to all;”
- music literacy is essential to creating life-long music-makers;
- music education should be a participatory, experience-based endeavor, one that is highly sequential;
- teachers should be the best possible musicians and the best possible educators.
Out of these philosophies grew some specific methodological tools, such as:
- solfege, using moveable do;
- handsigns, created by Sarah Glover and John Curwen;
- rhythm syllables based on a French counting system by Cheve (ta ti-ti, e.g.).
Kodály-inspired educators today use an approach to teaching music literacy characterized by three distinct instructional phases: preparation, presentation, and practice. During the preparation phase, children are introduced to repertoire containing the specific melodic or rhythmic component to be introduced. After learning the songs, children are asked to deduce certain things about the note patterns contained in the repertoire. Is there a new note or rhythm in relation to those that are already known? Is it higher or lower/faster or slower? How different is it? Iconic representations are often used to represent the new learning. Preparation steps only take up small portions of a given class period, but are drawn out over many weeks or months. In the presentation phase, the sound is tied together with the written symbol and is given a name. This occurs in one lesson. The practice phase is the time period in which the children’s understanding and skill with using the new element solidifies and deepens. Initially, the new learning is experienced in familiar contexts, gradually moving to more difficult, unknown contexts.
In an elementary lesson taught by a Kodály-inspired teacher, one is likely to see many different activities in the same class. Singing games and play parties often open and/or close the class, and in between one will find activities with objectives including part work, inner hearing, improvisation, listening, solo singing, instrument development, composition, and relaxation, along with many opportunities for group singing. However, there are as many different ways to plan a Kodály-inspired lesson as there are Kodály-inspired teachers, as each teacher takes the philosophies and applies it to his/her situation in the most appropriate manner.