Saturday, October 31, 2009

Week 3: Four Music Pedagogies and the Elephant

This week’s emphasis on music pedagogy gave me the unique opportunity to compare and contrast four influential philosophies:  Dalcroze, Kodaly, Orff-Schulwerk and Suzuki.  After experiencing all four, I came away wondering why these pedagogies haven’t joined forces.   They all support a holistic approach to music, just disagree over which element is most fundamental:  movement, singing/solfege, improvisation or music-making.

DALCROZE: Even though the other methods incorporate movement as part of their pedagogy, Dalcroze places movement as central to its teaching.  Lisa Parked, Director of Dalcroze Certification and Masters Degree program at Longy School of Music explained the three branches of the Dalcroze approach:
  • eurhythmics
  • active listening
  • improvisation and
  • solfege using a fixed "do" system (read more under Kodaly)
Eurythmics is described as using the body as the “principal instrument of musical expression and response.”  While Lisa improvised on the piano, we responded to her changes in tempo, rhythm and mood by either skipping, running or moving slowly like an astronaut in space.  Lisa made improvisation seem natural.  As a classically trained piano student, improvisation was not an option and slowly drilled out of me; but during this Dalcroze class, Lisa made improvising seem effortless.  All of our creations sounded beautiful and fit nicely into an orchestration, conducted by Jonathan.

KODALY: Kodaly is based on the belief that music literacy is the right of every human being.

Mary Epstein and Jonathan Rappaport, Co-Directors of NEC's Kodaly Music Institute demonstrated through singing and listening games how anyone who can read is capable of reading music.  Even more compelling was the video documentation of Wendy Silverberg's classroom in a Cambridge public school over a three-year period.  Wow, those 2nd graders put the Abreu Fellow's solfege skills to shame! (See photo above of Wendy, Jonathan, Mary and me demonstrating our solfege hand signs).

Music learning, in the Kodaly-inspired classroom, focuses on:
  • singing and dancing quality folk songs
  • movement
  • move-able solfege "do" system. 
Where Dalcroze sees movement as central to its approach, singing is the foundation of the Kodaly method. Interestingly, they share many things in common:  both Dalcroze and Kodaly emphasize experience first, intellectualize or notate later.  They also honor each other by borrowing key principles from one another.  Dalcroze incorporates Kodaly’s solfege system, while Kodaly relies heavily on movement through the lens of folk dances to teach rhythm. They do differ in their approach to a fixed vs. moveable “do” system; Dalcroze supports a fixed “do” and Kodaly, a moveable one.  The latter stresses the importance of tonal function and relationships, while the former, pitch and notation.  It’s a debate that still rages on!

ORFF SCHULWERK: Orff also incorporates many of the principles of the methods we explored during the week:
  • atmosphere of play
  • improvisation,
  • folk songs/chanting and
  • movement.
In particular, Orff emphasizes music connected with speech, movement, percussion instruments and the importance of improvisation structured through musical form.  Through Orff-inspired lessons, Ruth Debrot, a music specialist in the Sharon Public Schools reminded us how beautiful simplicity can be.  She modeled how the creation of a 4-beat pattern can be the launching point for wonderfully woven extensions – ostinati, forms, improvisations, speech patterns, and dance.  Through well-scaffolded lessons, guiding questions and humor, she created a safe environment for creative expression.  We moved to scarves, created our own Rondo form to Peas, Porridge Hot and ended the session with an orchestration of Ruth's composition, Nino Querido.

SUZUKI: Linda Fiore, Director of the Ogontz Suzuki Institute, studied with Suzuki in Japan and shared his guiding principles with us:
  • nurturing environment
  •  parent involvement, 
  • starting early, 
  • playing together and 
  • repetition through active listening. 

 Abreu Fellows taking a playful moment from their Suzuki instruction with Katie

Dr. Suzuki based music instruction on the same sequence of language acquisition:  listen, imitate, play (speak) and then read music.  His belief was that every child is capable of high musical achievement; rather than trying to produce musical prodigies, his goal was to nurture a “noble heart.”  He carefully selected and sequenced real repertoire so that students learn skills in small steps within an authentic musical context.  Linda shared her indispensable bag of tricks to help teach difficult skills through early childhood practices:  carpet squares to help identify personal space, dowel rods toilet paper rolls to practice bowing, paint swatches and different colored fabrics to explore dynamics and mood.

THE ELEPHANT:  Much like the story of the Five Blind Men and the Elephant, these four approaches shouldn’t lose the big picture in music education:  child-centered approaches infused with ensemble and joyful music-making.  

This theme kept emerging throughout the week’s sessions and not surprisingly, is a recurring theme in the work of El Sistema. As we continue our work in the Abreu Fellowship, I am constantly drawn to the possibilities of partnership with organizations and people who have already done meaningful work in the US and who share similar philosophies.  Significant impact happens when we work together.  Thank you,  presenters, for helping to start the conversation.


  1. "I came away wondering why these pedagogies haven’t joined forces."
    Even though I am trained primarily as a Suzuki Violin teacher I can not imagine teaching any of my students with out incorporating some aspect of these other disciplines.
    If we teach linguistic literacy or even English as a 2nd language, we use everything we can find in the tool box to get the job done. Our students come to us in many different kinds of packages and we have to use what ever works to get them out of the box. Why would music not be the same?
    In an ideal world every school would have the full range of musical specialist. But what keeps it from happening? Is it availability of teachers? Lack of physical resources?(instruments, classrooms) Politics between teachers and administrators? When there is a lack of support the level of turf wars increases. Or is it our lack of imagination? Our abandonment of curiosity?

    In Japan I observed Suzuki Sensei still looking for new ways to teach the violin even in his 90's. I wish we could keep finding the courage to try new ideas no matter how experienced we become as teachers.

  2. I'm writing an essay about how Greek philosophy influenced Western society and whether it's good or bad. I already know I'm set on philosophy and since Plato is considered the father of Western philosophy, I just wondered what some of his primary philosophical points were. I've looked all over the internet and everything is either too vague or much too detailed to get the point. Thanks for any and all contributions.

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