Education is one of the most, if not the most, determining factors in our lives. Education provides us with knowledge, but it also determines how we socialize. What is more, it can enable or inhibit sensitivity and empathy in the human mind. The education we receive does not only content knowledge but also ideologies, ideals, morality, etc. Therefore, we ought to think and critique the way we are educating children. We must ask ourselves philosophical questions such as: What kind of society do we want to build? What kind of citizens do we want to form? How do we put education at the service of the social good? Among others.
For a long time, education, rather than an exercise in the formation of virtuous citizens, has become a rigid paradigm. It is more a process of indoctrination than a process to develop critical thinking and emotional intelligence in society. I hope we agree that this is highly dangerous. Notwithstanding, there is hope. There have been thinkers who go so far as to question the status quo and reform how we do things. That is the case of Zoltán Kodály.
☝🏻 Today I want to talk to you about this outstanding music educator & philosopher and the method he invented, the story behind it, principles, and its relevance.
Who was Kodály?
Zoltán Kodály was born in 1882 in Hungary 🇭🇺. He started in music at a very early age and decided that this would be his professional path. In his many trips, his perspective of the world and music education expanded. After many years, he returned to Budapest and settle. He became a music professor at Liszt Academy, where he stayed for most of his remaining life. He was a great thinker, a philosopher, a music educator, and a prolific composer ✍🏻.
He was a curious person and was very interested in folk music. Understanding that this type of music is a big part of a culture, he saw great potential in it as a tool for music education. He understood the value of teaching music through folk music because the students had been exposed to those songs from an early age, making teaching music literacy and ear training simple, intuitive, fun, and effective.
With time and experience, he developed a very successful educational method that today bears his name: the Kodály method. He took inspiration in many techniques he found to be the most interactive and engaging. For him, the goal is to develop expressive and creative skills, rather than the theory or instrument skills, as had traditionally been done until then.
"With its folk foundation and its creative integration of movable “do” solfege, sounded-out rhythms, hand signals, and collaborative exercises, the Kodály method can be adapted to suit children’s music education worldwide, and nicely complements more traditional and orthodox approaches to music education. And more and more adults are discovering the great benefits of Kodály" - Music U
Kodály's method was introduced into the educational curriculum in Hungary, demonstrating its effectiveness and impact on music education. In the 1970s that the Kodály Institute was founded. Since then, the method has spread rapidly all over the world 🌎.
What is the Kodály's method?
Kodály was motivated by several factors. First, a need to preserve Hungarian culture and a dissatisfaction with the educational system of his context. He felt that music should be taught better and at an earlier age. Kodály dedicated himself to reform music education, creating an innovative teaching method. By analyzing different pre-existing methods, he concluded that the best way to teach music literature was through the music of a child's culture (folk music) and the mother's tongue.
The philosophy behind this is a quest to make music education universal, accessible and intuitive, breaking the paradigm of putting the teacher at the center of education. With Kódaly's Method, the student becomes the center of education. Therefore, the curriculum must adapt for the benefit of the student and not the other way around.
Likewise, another valuable lesson from Kodály is the importance of rescuing our own culture, which is fundamental to create historical memory through local art, which has enormous social implications.
"The goal of Kodály music education is to give students a first-hand connection to music and to never make it seem like a dry academic exercise. Even fairly advanced topics like syncopation, counterpoint, and improvisation can be taught via the Kodály concept" - Itzhak Perlman
Kodály Method Principles
🎙️Since the voice is the most accessible, universal instrument, Kodály believed it should be central to musical training through sung solfege using a moveable-do system (we will talk about this later).
2. Folk music and mother tongue
Teachers must emphasize folk music in a student's mother tongue to create a deep and emotional connection to music.
3. We must teach music from a young age
4. We must teach music in a logical and sequential manner
👯 We must make the learning process easy and fun, both for you and your students.
5. Music education must be satisfying
There should be pleasure in learning music; learning should not be torturous.
Creativity & Collaboration
Kodály faithfully believed that it was necessary to teach music literacy and theory, not with the idea of imposing rules and limit the students, but on the contrary, to enable and encourage creativity. Creativity is an exercise in freedom.
The main idea is to focus on interacting, collaborating, and creating together. It is only fair to say, this generates a sense of belonging and community in the children, fundamental the development of empathy, a sense of ethics of caring for others, and sensitivity.
Kodály designed certain tools for teaching music through his method with an emphasis on intuitive and interactive learning.
Basically, this is a solfège system in which the notes syllables may be transposed to any key. The key is to help the students to understand the musical role and distinctive sound of each note in the scale, not only memorizing information. Therefore, it would be easier for the student to identify the notes by recognizing where they fit in the musical context. It becomes intuitive and logical for the student.
Kodály proposed to use hand signals to provide a visual aid for the students. The distance between the hand signs of different pitches corresponds to the size of the interval. This practice enables a connection between the mind and body, facilitating the understanding of musical concepts. It also offers more learning resources to students.
"The student associates each pitch not only with a memorable syllable, but also with a specific hand motion made at a specific level. The hand signs complement and strengthen solfa learning" - Musical U
Here you can find some fund exercises for practicing hand sings.
😰 Rhythm can be one of the most challenging parts for students when studying music. Kodály proposes to engage with rhythm visually and physically. The main idea is to assign some syllables to the different values and count out loud or singing, the rhythmic patterns that the students are studying.
Where can I study the method?
🤓 First, you can do it in an autodidactic way. Kodály Today and An American Methodology are great books you can start with. Also, in this link, you will find a series of recommended biography. Also, you can undertake formal studies and become certified in one of the following institutions 🏫:
- The Kodály Institute
- The Organization of American Kodály Educators
- The British Kodály Academy
- The International Kodály Society
Kodály was a great thinker who came to reinvent music education. His challenging mind generated a method so successful that it is now one of the benchmarks in education. His reach is not only to music education but leaves relevant lessons for education in general. For example, he calls for us to be critical of the way we are educating children. It also calls for fostering creativity and collaboration from an early age. Undoubtedly, we have much to learn from Kodály and his method.
Finally, I would like to call on all teachers to be challenging and committed to their work that is so essential to society.
🙏 Thank you to all the teachers who have dared to do things differently and improve the way we understand music education in the world!