The Kodály Method: a useful way to study music?

In the last blog post I examined the importance and value of the Suzuki Method. Today I am continuing my exploration of various music educational systems by highlighting the Kodály Method. Unlike the Suzuki, this Method focuses on studying singing, pitch and musical notation rather than learning an instrument, however, these elements are crucial to musical development.

Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967) was an important Hungarian composer and music educator. He worked closely with fellow Hungarian Béla Bartók, one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century, collecting, assimilating and transcribing folk music.

Kodály started developing his own method of musical learning after he became disenchanted with the general level of music education in schools. This system is quite different in approach to the Suzuki Method because it focuses on singing. By interesting children in singing from the outset, Kodály encourages them to develop a sense of pitch and notation before instrumental playing is even introduced.

Kodály’s Method is really very simple. He reasoned that singing was the most natural vehicle to communicate music, and indeed it can produce many favourable feelings and emotions in humans potentially having a profound effect on intellectual development.

With this in mind, Kodály introduced three key learning stages which are the unconscious experience, the making conscious and reinforcement. Another explanation for this particular sequence of music study is the preparation, presentation and practice.  Pupils start off by imitating songs and rhymes which are sung in class (or groups) developing more and more sophisticated vocabulary to describe their experiences, and, then finally, they learn to recognise the particular written figure that symbolizes each experience. This system draws on many musical elements such as rhythmic movement, rhythm syllables, rhythmic sequence and notation, melodic sequence and hand signs.  Students taught in this way quickly become confident performers and are imbued with secure sense of pitch and pulse.

The musical material for this method is derived mainly from folk music and Kodály’s own compositions. He collected, composed and arranged a large number of pieces for pedagogical use and alongside Bartók (and other musicians), and published six volumes of Hungarian Folk Music which included over a thousand songs for children, many of which feature in his method. The Kodály Method has been proved to significantly improve all areas of musical study as well as academic performance, especially in subjects like reading and maths.

 Extract from my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?, published by Alfred Music


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. pomprint says:

    Are these the hand signs that were used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind Mel?

  2. rolandrjs says:

    I’m not familiar with this method and can therefore offer only general observations and questions:

    Given the geo-political events of that time, a certain amount of Nationalism is understandable. I wonder about the effects of Nationalistic tendencies in the world of today?

    Many of the core concepts and applications of this method are also incorporated in several, even most, other methods–one could infer (not conclusively, but plausibly), they must be doing something right.

    Question: Does Kodaly incorporate materials from Bartok’s “Mikrokosmos” in this? (I knew an old-school, cantankerous teacher once who made all his students learn the whole thing–all six volumes; seemed a little over-the-top to me.)

    Also, the repertoire, aside from the nationalistic aspect, seems narrow to me. Would be interested in comparisons of various “methods” from more recent scientific studies.

    Finally, the whole idea of a “method” could be examined critically; it seems implicit to this that a “one size fits all” methodological pedagogy is possible–that it works for all people. I find that premise questionable.

    1. John says:

      Of all musical “instruments”, the voice is THE one size fits most. As for nationalism, these are folk songs, not Nazi march parades. Reference to nationalism is trite and rather boring.

  3. Many thanks for your reply. Bartok’s Mikrokosmos isn’t used as part of Kodaly’s method as far as I know (although I don’t teach any of these methods myself, I am merely highlighting them as effective ways to learn). I think most teachers who use them do so as an added extra – they don’t use them as complete methods because that would be rather narrow, as you suggest.

  4. musicatmonkton says:

    The Kodaly method puts a big emphasis on ‘inner hearing’, which in my opinion is crucial to developing musicianship, and the importance of which is too often overlooked in instrumental teaching.
    The logic is that if you can hear the notes in your head before they are sounded by your instrument, there are no surprises to come; conversely, if you can’t sight-sing, how do you know what the dots on the page sound like before you play them? It seems that many students find the concept of pitching in their heads a frightening or bemusing one – and arguably, why bother when you can just play it on your instrument? I find this very alarming.
    Imagine what it would be like if you had no idea what this sentence said until you actually formed the words out loud. If that is the case with notes – if you don’t know what to expect until your instrument sounds them – then a little work on your ‘inner hearing’ might not go amiss!
    I agree with the comments about a single method being perhaps too narrow, and indeed I believe that the Kodaly method recommends that the student master all of the above – “intonation, rhythm skills, music literacy, and the ability to sing in increasingly complex parts” etc – before learning an instrument. That’s a bit extreme, but there is a lot of good sense there, not least in that the student will, by that stage, be significantly ahead of the game musically.
    In my experience, pupils who can sight-sing are almost invariably ahead of the game, and their instrumental sight-reading is also significantly better than their non-singing peers.
    As to tonic solfa, I am using it increasingly in my teaching these days. I can sight-sing perfectly adequately, and I went on a Kodaly course a couple of years ago with a view to seeing whether there was anything to it. We sang a lot of (pentatonic) melodies over the course of a week, and the course staff insisted on us singing the associated names (doh, re etc) to each pitch. Actually, remembering the names was by far the most difficult bit, and in this regard it was as much an intellectual challenge as anything else, which I very much enjoyed. Adding the hand signs adds more demands on the brain. By day there, I was performing canons – singing a melody (with solfa names), and signing the same melody in canon two beats behind. Believe me, that gets the grey matter going.
    As the this having any further use, I was surprised to find that I believe that it does. Although I can pitch perfectly well without solfa, by interval, naming each note means that you are always aware of the context of each note. For example, in G major, and F sharp is the leading note, and should be tuned as such; so pitching from D up to F sharp is not just a question of pitching a major third, but very much an issue of pitching from soh to ti, or from the dominant to the leading note. A constant, and I do mean constant awareness of each note in it’s melodic and harmonic context is extremely enlightening, and has a direct impact on accuracy of tuning, musical performance and intellectual understanding.
    I use a little book called 333 elementary exercises (Boosey & Hawkes) all the time – it starts with melodies with just two different pitches (doh and re) which are obviously really easy. But this is actually a really good place to start, because if a student can’t sight-read even they can managed these successfully. Pretty soon a third pitch is added (either lah or me), and by the end of the book you’ll be as good a sight-singers as ever there was, I promise! They are also a wonderful introduction to the beauty of the pentatonic melody, and along the way the student is encouraged to notice other elements of music – simple melodic structure and phrase lengths (regular and irregular) and tonality. They are beautiful to sing, either alone or in unison with a student, and many can be sung in canon.
    Once you’ve sung a few of these, and the student is beginning to enjoy their simple but musical lines, it is amazing how much more lyrical their instrumental playing becomes. I think that’s where the core of the Kodaly method lies!

    1. Thank you so much for your comments George. They are most useful. Sight singing is a really helpful skill especially in regard to improving lyrical playing on an instrument in the manner that you suggest. ‘Inner hearing’ also plays a crucial role in developing a complete musician. Glad you enjoyed your time on the Kodaly course.

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