Because it focuses on the expressive and creative skills of musicianship (rather than the theory or instrument skills) the Kodály approach is very closely related to the world of musical ear training.
In fact, it could arguably be seen as an approach to ear training, since it is primarily your musical ear which Kodály develops.
There are four main aspects which stand out in Kodály-based music education:
Solfège is a system for relative pitch ear training (i.e. recognising and following the pitch of notes) which assigns a spoken syllable to each note in the scale.
Musicians who haven’t studied solfège often think of it as “the do re mi system”, and while this hints at its nature, it actually vastly understates its power and versatility.
The key advantage is that by learning the musical role and distinctive sound of each note in the scale, it becomes easy to identify (and sing) notes simply by recognising where they fit in the musical context.
By using solfège to teach the pitch side of musical listening and performance skills, the Kodály approach ensures that musicians have a natural and instinctive understanding of the notes they hear.
Rhythm is often a neglected area of ear training and often this is because students simply don’t know how to effectively develop their rhythm skills, or how to connect them to the rest of their music learning.
The Kodály approach provides a clear systematic way to think about and speak rhythms in music which very much complements the solfège system for pitch.
Kodály students learn to speak and sing rhythmic patterns using specific syllables, and so develop a framework for understanding rhythm by ear and performing it accurately.
Although we often think about frameworks as limiting sets of rules, in fact they can provide a structure which gives you confidence to experiment.
This is the case with the solfège and rhythm systems in Kodály teaching: by having clear systematic ways to understand pitch and rhythm, the musician is empowered to be creative and confident in music.
An example would be improvising sung melodies, or changing the rhythm of a song in creative ways. These tasks can seem intimidating to a musician who has been taught in the classical tradition, but with the Kodály approach musical tasks like these are simple and enjoyable.
At its heart the Kodály approach is a very human and social one, involving plenty of musical collaboration. From the earliest lessons, students are encouraged to perform together and play or sing duets, rounds, and other musical forms which allow both collaboration and creative improvisation.
Examples would be students singing together and taking turns to improvise different melodies while the other sings an accompaniment, or playing clapping games where their rhythms interact and synchronise in fun ways.
In all these aspects, the Kodály approach provides tools and rules only as a way to encourage the development of musical creativity and confidence. Students develop their musical ear through not just learning songs, but learning to adapt and extend those songs and collaborate with other musicians.
It is particularly effective when taught from an early age but the Kodály approach is also something which can greatly benefit adult musicians too. It’s never too late to learn!
For more information about Kodály music learning and to find a class near you, visit:
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