Music Theory

Kodály Method in Music

By Hannah Kendall
Kodály method in music and the heartbeat mat.

What is Kodály method in music? Find out below

There are many different approaches to teaching music. Traditionally, piano students are taught how to read and play notes on a page. In these traditional piano lessons, technical skills are emphasized, however, other skills like learning how to improvise or compose music may fall to the way-side. Zoltan Kodály, creator of the Kodály Concept, felt a need to develop a more well-rounded music education. The result is the Kodály approach, which educates students using kinesthetic, visual, and auditory techniques. His approach focuses on building expressive and creative skills. This article will focus on Kodály’s teachings and the techniques used in his method. 

Who was Kodály?

Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály was a music educator known for his orchestral compositions and ideas on music education. He was born in Hungary in December of 1882 to a musical family. He studied violin, piano, cello, and sang in cathedral choirs. He developed an early interest in folk music and, as a college student, he toured his country in search of folk-song sources for his thesis. The use of folk songs became an important tenet of Kodály’s teaching. He believed music educators should introduce music through traditional folk songs, music that’s in the student’s mother tongue.

Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.

Kodály educated not only musicians but music teachers. He believed that every person should have the right to receive a high-quality music education. Through his teaching philosophies, he helped spread music education across Hungary. 

Listen to Kodály’s “Dances of Galanta”, a score inspired by the folk music from his childhood home in Galanta. 

How does the Kodály method work?

While often referred to as a method, Kodály’s teachings are considered a music education philosophy. The Kodály Music Institute trains music teachers in Kodály’s practices and specifically refers to his teachings as the “Kodály Concept,” rather than a method.

Kodály believed learning music should be a social and cultural experience. For young children, he believed music is best introduced in a group setting where they can experience music first-hand through creativity and collaboration. Here are some of the core principles of Kodály’s teachings:

  • Learning by immersion. Kodály believed students learn best through kinesthetic, auditory and visual immersion. Students should be soaked in music 
  • Using the singing voice. Kodály believed singing should be central in every person’s music education and it should be among the first steps to learning a song. Singing helps students develop inner hearing and musical memory. Students should first learn how to feel and connect to music by using their voice.
  • Developing music literacy with solfège and rhythm. After developing their ear through singing, students learn by using relative solfa, solfège hand signs, and rhythm words. 
  • Teaching music from the student’s mother tongue. Kodály firmly believed students should be exposed to the best music from the beginning. Students should first learn the music of their native culture through familiar folk tunes. Folk tunes usually have memorable lyrics and use repetitive patterns that can be easy to remember and play.  

What are advantages and disadvantages of using Kodály techniques?

Kodály’s teachings give students a rich music education. Students who learn music under Kodály’s teaching develop a strong inner ear. From the first lesson, students are connecting with their singing voice and making associations between patterns, notes, and pitch. Students are more versatile in how they understand music because they are able to do more than read notes on a page. With the use of solfège, students understand relationships between notes not just in one key but in multiple keys. 

Truthfully, there aren’t a lot of disadvantages to the Kodály method. One disadvantage could be if a student is learning in the Kodály method but they’re receiving a different music education in school. The two different systems of learning could confuse a student. For example, if the student is learning different rhythm words in music class at school than in other music lessons, it would be hard to keep the two systems of rhythm words separate. However, this isn’t a disadvantage with Kodály’s teachings itself. Rather, it would be a disadvantage of learning from multiple systems of music at once. 

What are Kodály method activities?

One Kodály method activity, which is used by Hoffman Academy, is the heartbeat mat! The heartbeat mat visually and kinesthetically teaches students about rhythm. Students feel rhythm by singing a song they know while tapping the beat of the song on heartbeats drawn on the mat. Students can also see how notes fit into beats and are taught how to speak the rhythm using rhythm words like ta, ti-ti, and tiki-tiki. This activity makes students conscious of beats in a fun, visual way. To learn more about how the heartbeat mat is used, watch Mr. Hoffman dictate the rhythm of Hot Cross Buns using the heartbeat mat. 

Hand signs for the Kodály method.

Another teaching tool used in the Kodály method is the use of hand signs. A hand sign is assigned to each degree in solfège and provides a visual for students learning new songs. Students are able to see the height of each pitch and how they relate to each other. You can see the use of hand signs in Units 1 and 2. In this video, Mr. Hoffman teaches Hot Cross Buns with the use of hand signs.

Along with hand signs, the Kodály method uses moveable-do solfège. Solfège assigns syllable names to scale degrees (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do) and helps students understand relationships between pitches in a scale. Moveable-do solfège quite literally means the position of do can move depending on the key. In C major, do would be on C. In D major, do would then move to D. In this video, Mr. Hoffman explains how the solfège in C major can also move to D major. 

How do you teach the Kodály philosophy?

To teach the Kodály philosophy, you need to first learn and understand Kodály’s practices. Read about Kodály’s teachings and become educated in his techniques. Then, start practicing the techniques yourself. Once you become comfortable with the techniques, think of ways to integrate the teachings into your own studio. Certain activities like the heartbeat mat can be brought in easily. However, other techniques, like moveable-do Solfège and singing, will take more thought and time to smoothly integrate into a lesson. Courses from the Kodály Music Institute certify teachers in Kodály’s teachings and they also offer degree programs with an emphasis in Kodály’s approach. In the future, Hoffman Academy will also implement a teacher training program that teaches the techniques listed above and certifies music teachers in the Hoffman method.

We hope you feel inspired to learn more about Kodály’s teachings and use them in your own studio!

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