Monthly Archives: April 2014

What is “Kodaly method”?

If you have been looking around my website, you might have found a few references to the “Kodály Method”. You’re probably wondering what I’m talking about, so I thought I’d better explain!

Zoltan_Kodaly_Budapest

Image from Wikimedia

Not so much what as who

The “Kodály Method” is an approach to teaching music (particularly singing) which was developed and codified by a Hungarian Zoltán Kodály. The method itself was not novel – it drew on a range of existing techniques and ideas. However, it was Kodály who drew all the previous work together and created a systematic approach to teaching music. His ideas still dominate primary music education in Hungary today, and they are gaining increasing recognition around the world. In the UK, Kodály’s methods are promoted by the British Kodály Association. Kodály’s method and the modern teaching of it focuses on using movement and physicality, teaching the sound before the symbol, and teaching centred around child development and good teaching practice.

Rhythm and Movement

In a typical Kodály-based lesson, there’s plenty of moving around going on. Teachers will use lots of games and songs that encourage participants to move in time with the rhythm and physically express pitch. This helps students to internalise the music – to hear it before they sing or play – which results in better performance.

Kodály drew on the work of Emile-Jacques Dalcroze who had already developed a music education methodology based on physical movement. Dalcroze practices are different to Kodály method, but they share this common emphasis on using movement to engage with music.

Sound before Symbol

The bigest difference between Kodály’s methods and traditional Western European music teaching is his emphasis on sound before symbol. This is very similar to the Sazuki tradition from Japan, in that beginners are introduced to a song by singing it, and then they are gradually introduced to the traditional notation as a secondary concern. For example, something which comes early in traditional music lessons is learning to name notes (A, B, C etc). In Kodály method, this comes very late. Instead, Kodály uses relative pitch names to help learners understand how notes relate to each other. You may be familier with them already – do, re, mi, so, fa, la and te form the major scale. Alongside these pitch names, Kodály method also uses rhythm names to help students read out rhythm in music. A crotchet is “ta”, while a pair of quavers is “te-te“.

Kodály borrowed his hand signs, which add a physical movement to changes of pitch from the American John Curwen. Curwen’s handsigns are widely used in American elementary music education separately from the Kodály method. You can see in this video an example of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star being sung with handsigns.

Finding a new logic

Kodály identified that children learn music best when it is taught in a way which is fun and logical to the child (rather than logical to the teacher). One example of this is using the minor third, called “so-mi” as the first pattern taught. This is the classic interval children tease each other with in the playground. Do you know the song Rain, Rain, Go Away? That song is almost entirely a so-mi pattern. From here, Kodály method builds to a pentatonic scale (play all the black notes on a piano in order to hear how this sounds). Similarly, rhythm patterns tend to be introduced in a way which matches folk songs and playground calls (6/8 before 2/4, for example).

Games and play are also core to the Kodály method, and activities use a variety of learning styles to make sure that everyone learns and everyone experiences the joy of music.

So, why Kodály?

I am quite new to teaching using Kodály principles, and I have yet to undertake any formal training. However, I have been using the Go For Bronze book produced by the National Youth Choir of Scotland for over a year with students, and I have never laughed so much in my life! I have already seen how the relative pitch approach makes so much more sense for singers, and this book develops sight-reading skills more effectively than any other book I have used (many of which take a very piano-orientated approach). I am really excited about the possibilities of working in this way to help children learn to be great musicians, and give adults the confidence to read music when they couldn’t before.

Five Tips to Make Your Practice More Effective

Struggling to get back into the swing of practice after the Easter break? Here’s five ways to make your practice more effective.

1. Make a date

Decide when you’re going to practice. Some people are routine practicers, but some of us need to plan it day by day. If you’re a routine person, pick that time and stick to it. If you’re day-to-day, decide on the next practice time at the end of the last one. I set myself a reminder at the end of my previous session for the time I can fit in my practice the next day.

2. Make a plan

Practice is always more effective if you have a plan. Do you sit down and flip through your books aimlessly? Do you only ever play the easy things? Or play everything once from start to finish? Make a plan that’s specific. My plans for my next practice are things like “run the first page until it’s fluent”, or “focus on the last eight bars working backwards from the last bar”. I write these down in a notebook and have that open and ready for my next session.

3. Small chunks

It’s easier to eat a steak if you cut it up, right? Practice is just the same. Break down each peice into sections. Usually phrases are better than bars, even for instrumentalists, as you want to develop a sense of continuity. Sometimes, of course, you have to break it down even smaller – that Bach run is much easier if you take three notes at a time! You’ll improve much faster if you can focus on one small thing at a time.

4 Take a break

Is it all getting too much? Are you feeling stuck? Take a break. Breaks can be different lengths. Sometimes, we just need ten minutes to regroup. Sometimes we need ten days to refocus. Breaks are good – your brain keeps on learning long after you stop practicing, so there’s no need to feel guilty. Of course, if you’re taking more break than you’re doing practice, you might want to think again.

5. Have big goals in mind

Where are you going? Why are you learning music at all? Big goals are really important. Are you aiming for music school? Or an audition for a local choir? Where you’re going affects how you’re going to get there. If you’re feeling unmotivated, why not spend your practice time answering the question “where do I want to be in five years’ time?” When you know where you’re going, write it down and remind yourself of it whenever you feel like you don’t want to practice.

What do you do when you’re struggling to practice effectively?

Review: Sing Musical Theatre

One of the things I had been intending to add in to my blog posts is reviews of new materials. Now I’ve finally been shopping, here’s my first review.

Sing_Musical_Theatre_Wouldnt_It_Be_Loverly_Book_and_CD_e

 

 

Title: Sing Musical Theatre; Wouldn’t It be Loverly? (Foundation, Grades 1-3)
Type of Material: Sheet Music with Backing CD
Publication: 2011 Faber Music
RRP: £14.99

 

 

I was delighted when I discovered this series as I have been looking for a “graded” approach to musical theatre songs for a while. Musical Theatre is dominated by vocal selections, or anthologies sorted by theme or voice type, rather than difficulty. This made it hard to give students a single text to buy. Thankfully, Trinity developed these volumes which help students up to Grade 5 work on easy but satisfying songs.

Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? has a good selection of songs, many of which are well-known. A good number, however, are taken from UK Youth Music Theatre productions which are less known. This could be a disadvantage, but I like that the book isn’t just the standard songs. There is a good range of styles and dates which means one could pull an LCM programme out of this book alone for the early grades.

This book is also an educational manual as each song has some background on the show, and tips on both musical and theatrical performance. This makes it a great buy for learners as they have reference material to support their practice. For LCM candidates, the information about the song is really helpful for the viva too.

The backing tracks too are good. They’re nicely paced (not too fast or slow) and have a fuller sound than just the piano, with some percussion etc where appropriate.

I would recommend this book to any beginner or teacher working with beginners. It’s not too condesending to use with adults either, and the inclusion of backing tracks really makes this a value for money choice.

Content: ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠
Layout: ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
Value for Money: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Natural Inhalation (Breathing Like Normal)

Breathing upwardsMany people come into singing and discover they don’t know how to breathe. Well. Kinda.

For singing, you need a very specific kind of breath, one which makes use of your whole lung capacity on the way in, and which you can control as you breath out. There are lots of ways to control the air going out, but it’s hard to practice drawing in the air in the right way.

We can try lots and lots of exercises, but one thing is vital – we need to remember we do know how to breathe. We’re not learning a new skill, we’re refining an old one.

Our lungs want to breathe in, and one way to help improve your inhalation is to let them do what they do best. Here’s how to try the “natural inhalation” exercise:

  1. Breathe out as far as you possibly can. Force the air right out.
  2. Relax

It might take a couple of tries to be able to do #2. There should be no active action of breathing in: don’t try and breathe in. Just stop breathing out and don’t hold your breath. When you get it right, you should just feel  your lungs inflate of their own accord.

Vacuum bagIt’s a little bit like the effect of opening up a vaccuum bag which has winter clothes in. They just want to suck all the air back in. The inside of your lungs is made up of lots of tiny chambers, like the gaps between the fibres in your winter coat. Just as the air rushes back into the winter coat, so the air rushes into your lungs. Combine that with the work of your diaphragm which is constantly creating and reducing a gentle vacuum in your lungs, and you have a really good way to get air in and out of the body.

If you find this exercise hard standing up, you could try it lying down. Lie on a firm surface, and let everything relax. Pull your ribcage down by breathing out until it’s as low as you can manage it. Then just relax everything.

When we breathe in as singers, we want to get this mechanism working really effectively. An in-breath should never be forced, it should just be the air rushing in to where it really wants to be.

How about you? What have you found helpful for managing to control your breathing for singing?

(With thanks to Gillyanne Keyes’ The Singing Actor where I first read about this method of controlling the in-breath.)