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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!


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.

A Singer’s Christmas: The Christmas Carol


It’s advent and that means for millions of singers that means fighting the cold and colds to make it out to thousands of choir practices, concerts and carol services. Music is a huge part of what makes us all feel Christmassy, and it’s one of the few seasons when even the most mainstream radio stations don’t mind playing songs that sing about Jesus. But where did all our Christmas music come from? And why do we call them carols?

Carols didn’t begin life as synonymous with Christmas. A carol was an early form of dance music which had nothing to do with the Christian celebrations on the 25th of December. Instead, it was called a carol because the dance was performed in a circle. There were also lyrics which were in a call and response style, much like the famous chant song “Everywhere we go!”. This form of vibrant and enthusiastic music lent itself well to processions, and by the 14th century the carol had been adopted for parades for religious festivals.

The earliest music that we now call “Christmas” carols were written for mystery plays. These were performances of bible stories which were organised in towns and villages at festival seasons.  Often different guilds would take different parts of the story, and I like to imagine them like a town-wide version of a school nativity play (although that is probably not at all accurate!). One of the earliest carols we still sing is the Coventry Carol, a tune which is about the events after Jesus’ birth when King Herod ordered the slaughter of all the babies under two years old in Bethlehem (click here to read the story in the bible).

Another early example of this era is the song Adam Lay Y Bounden. This song is thought to have been recorded by a travelling minstrel because it’s lyrics are first recorded in a manuscript showing other songs known to be popular at the time among minstrels. However, this song is deeply rich in Medieval theology which suggests a more religious origin that is now impossible to trace. The song starts with the story of the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, and goes on to tell of the redemption of humanity through the coming of Jesus. No music survives from the original composition, so the words have been set in several different ways over the years. The arrangement below is by Peter Warlock.

Some other examples of old, traditional songs which have unknown origins likely dating back to the 15th or 16th century include The Holy and the Ivy, The Boars’ Head Carol and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. All of these carols reflect the wider Christmas traditions which were borrowed from pagan rituals. The Holly and the Ivy speaks about the practice of bringing in greenery which were originally pagan fertility symbols, but were adopted by Christians. The Boars’ Head Carol describes the preparation of a boars’ head as the Yuletide meal, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas also speaks about food, and the importance of sharing hospitality with neighbours.

Many other Christmas carols are also set to popular tunes which are much older than their lyrics, such as Past Three O Clock (early 20th century) which is set to the tune London Waits (from the 1600s).

Of course, this being Advent, the final carol we still sing which is from this early era of Christmas music is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This is another hymn which probably has a monastic or religious origin, as it was originally written in Latin. The lyrics speak of Jesus in the context of Jewish history including the exodus from Egypt and his direct earthly line back to King David. The song is strictly for advent as each verse repeats the line “O come, o come…” as the singers await the day when they can celebrate the birth of Jesus.

[Introduction] ♦ [Next Post]

This is the first in a four part series on Christmas songs posted over Advent 2013. Do you have a favourite Christmas carol? Comment below!

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause
Blog posts for learners have been few and far beteween this week, but fear not! A little scroll down this page will help you find the pearls of wisdom I have attempted to capture for you this week.


Posts on teaching

Is It Possible To Hack Practicing With The Addicting Properties Of Video Games? (The Collaborative Piano) – Can we reward practice in the same way as simple clicking games become addictive? Or is that a step too far?

Take Time to Give the “Why” (Music Teacher’s Helper) – Sometimes communicating the reasons why we do something is just as important as how we do it.

They Like You…But Do They Respect You? (Music Teacher’s Helper) – Some very important thoughts on building the right kind of relationship with students and parents.

What ‘Old School’ Piano Teachers Did Well (Teach Piano Today) – Four really good things to keep doing as a music teacher.

More Than Notes On a Page (Music Teacher’s Helper) – What are we teaching? Is it just how to interpret a series of dots, or is it more than that?

Posts about other things

Good hand position for piano (Helen Russell Music) – As great post about using the imagination to teach good piano technique from one of my online friends.

Top Tips for Singing Practical Exams

Exam season is just around the corner, so here are my top tips for surviving your singing practical exams!

What to do BEFORE the exam

In the days leading up to a practical exam, there’s only so much you can do. Unlike theory exams, it’s often better not to practice too much, especially if the pieces are ready. You should already know everything you’re presenting in the exam really well, but here are some of my tips for the last week of preparation:

  • Circle the DateKeep working on memorising the words – words are one of the things that can often slip under pressure, so looking over them regularly in the week before the exam can help to ensure they’re firmly embedded in your head.
  • Sing every day, but for short periods – you want to keep your voice in tip top condition, so doing something every day is vital, but you don’t want to tire your voice out.
  • Revise your aural tests – CD versions of the aural tests are widely available, and there are also a range of online and app-based subscription services such as Hofnote and Auralbook. Doing as many tests as you can will help you to know what’s coming in the exam and keep your ear on track.
  • Practice the 30 seconds for sight-reading – you get 7 marks just for attempting the sight-reading, so the most important thing you can do is practice making the most of the 30 seconds. Hymns are a great source of sight-reading practice as they’re usually straight-forward, harmonically sensible and singable music. You can get sheet music for many of the older ones for free here. Whatever you use, set a timer for 30 seconds so you know exactly how long it is, and practice looking for all the key information in that time.
  • Practice any other supporting tests – if you’re taking another board, you might need to do a viva, answer questions, or improvise. Take time to be sure you are confident with what you will be asked to do.

In the days before the exam, there are also a few non-musical bits of preparation to take care of:

  • RememberPlan what you are going to wear – if you’re not having to hot-foot it from school, choose something that is comfortable, loose around the chest and belly, and that you feel confident in. The mysterious “smart-casual” is what I aim for – a nice comfortable skirt and a smart (but stretchy) top. Pick shoes that make you feel professional. For music theatre exams, make sure you have theatre blacks that work under all your costumes.
  • Work out how to get to the venue – if you’ve not been to the venue before, check the location and plan your transport to get there. You should aim to arrive at least 15 minutes before your exam time, and if you are travelling by public transport or at rush hour, allow contingency time in case of delays.
  • Make sure you have all your music together – you will need legal copies in the room, and you should ensure your accompanist has copies. For ABRSM, if your unaccompanied traditional song is not in English, you should provide a short translation into English for them. Remember if you’re singing from an oratorio, you may choose to sing from the score, so you’ll need two copies. For musical theatre exams, make sure your costumes and props are all ready and packed.
  • Print and fill in your exam repertoire slip/write a programme – Depending on the exam board you may need to have a list of songs for the examiner. For ABRSM, you can download the exam repertoire slip here. LCM require music theatre candidates to write out their own programme. You should also decide if you want to take your exam in the traditional order (pieces, traditional song, sight-reading, aural tests) or if you want to do it differently (e.g. sight-reading first).
  • Prepare a bottle of water – I always take water into my exam to make sure I have a way of overcoming the dry mouth and coughing fits that can occur under pressure. I usually bring mints to suck on before the exam too. Don’t bring chewing gum though!

What to do IN the exam

For practical exams, I always recommend candidates warm up before travelling, and then do a short warm up at the centre if possible. Not all centres have warm up rooms, so you can’t rely on being able to warm up there. Even if there is a room, you probably won’t have long to use it.

At your exam centre, there will be a steward who will help you find the waiting room and let you know how well the exams are running to time. They are used to nervous candidates, and they are usually prepared for all kinds of disasters.

Waiting can be awful, but use this time to practice your breathing exercises and to run through the songs in your head.

Once you’re inside the room:

  • Man at deskSmile at the examiner – I know this sounds ridiculous, but if you greet the examiner as though you’re not nervous it will help you feel more at ease!
  • Be patient – the examiner will tell you when they are ready for you to begin, and then you will need to wait between each song while they write their notes. This is normal. Again, breathe slowly and deeply if you find yourself getting nervous.
  • Look just above the examiner’s head – eye contact with a one-person audience can be intimidating for everyone. The examiner will also spend quite a lot of time writing, so won’t always be there to look at. Instead, find something to look at about a metre above their head, and then flick down to look at their eyes once every so often.
  • Play the note if you need to, but don’t if you can manage without – the examiner should not dock marks for playing the starting note for your traditional song. However, try before the exam to see if you can find the right key without the piano, and if you can do it without it shows you have a good sense of internal pitch.
  • Go for it with sight-reading – you get 7 marks for just trying, and the more you go for it, the better. You’re much more likely to get the right answer if you are instinctive about what you think it should be than spend the whole eight or ten bars second-guessing yourself.
  • Take your time with the aural tests – the examiner doesn’t expect you to answer right away, so if you need to think for a moment, that’s fine.
  • Thank the examiner – if they’ve been nice to you, say thank you. I always feel nice examiners deserve to know they’re appreciated!

What to do AFTER the exam

Be sure to thank your accompanist, even if they’re your teacher. They’ve come to the centre for you and played, which can be quite a high pressure environment for accompanists – they want to do their best so you can show off your best.

Once you’ve packed up, breathed and left the centre, head out into the world and…

  • Do something nice for yourself. Get coffee, or cake, or just chill out at home. Why not enjoy a cream cake?
  • Try not to worry about what happened in the exam. You can’t do anything about it now!
  • Remember why you’re doing this – it’s because you love music, and want to play your instrument well. Put the exam books away and treat yourself to some fun practice time, singing the songs you love.

A Note About Complaints

If you have a problem in your exam, such as someone bursting in and disturbing the quiet, or a heavily out of tune piano, you can complain to the exam board. However, most of them require you to do this right away, so make sure you are quick to get in contact.

What are your top tips for exams? Add them in the comments below.

A History of Music for Singers – Resources and More

So we’ve travelled the best part of 2,000 or 3,000 years as we’ve examined the history of music, and especially the history of vocal music. If you’ve missed any of the posts in this series, you can jump to all of them here:

A History of Music for Singers

However, I hope this won’t be the end of your interest in the history of music. In fact, I hope this is only the beginning. Here are some of my favourite resources as a starting point:



(Books bought through the above links will benefit the running of the Discover Singing blog)


Classics for Kids – This child-friendly website features a different composer each week with a five-minute audio podcast feed and loads of information.

Radio 3 Composer of the Week – Each week BBC Radio 3 features a particular composer with features on them each day. At the end of the week a one hour edited programme is released as a podcast and these remain available on the feed. UK access only, though.

Classic FM Discover – This UK radio station plays classical music all day, every day and is usually considered more accessible than BBC Radio 3 in style. Their website has some great resources on the history of classical music, and suggestions of music for various themes and events like weddings or studying. There’s also a section on film scores, since this makes up a large proportion of the more modern music they play.


Review: RSNO – Oundjian Conducts The Planets

The first review of the season from the Usher Hall, taking our seats in the gods for Britten’s Simple Symphony, MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No 3 and Holst’s The Planets.

jean-yves thibaudet220

Where and When: Usher Hall, Edinburgh; Friday 4th October, 7:30pm

The Music:

As always with classical concerts, the first half of this performance was supporting choices before the second half’s main event. Opening the evening was Britten’s Simple Symphony, a fitting choice for a season which covers the centenary of the composer’s birth. The Simple Symphony is scored entirely for strings, and the second movement is entirely pizzicato. The first, third and fourth movements were lovely, but it is this second movement that was the standout aspect of this work, demonstrating what can be achieved simply by combining many very quiet sounds together. It is a lovely example of mid-twentieth century creativity as the rules of music were discarded and should most definitely be heard live for best effect.

The second supporting choice was the UK Premiere of MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No 3. I have to admit the words “UK Premiere” filled me with trepidation, and I was right to be cautious. This piano concerto certainly showed instrumental creativity, with the piano’s full range  used to great effect. There was also a fabulous range of percussion included. However, the problem is one common to many contemporary works – there was too much going on and nothing was fully developed. None of the themes were allowed to become anything, and instead the music jumped from one idea to another with little sense of congruity. Perhaps this was the point – a statement on the fast pace and underdeveloped nature of modern living. I don’t know, because after a while the effect became all too much and it was hard not to drift off in my own world and stop listening. There’s something to be said for sonata form – following the process of theme, development and recapitulation do make music much easier to listen to and engage with.

The second half was filled entirely with The Planets and what a treat it was. There’s nothing like hearing the swell of the orchestra as they reach the pinnacle of Mars to send a tingle down your spine! Often the movements are heard out of context. I enjoyed hearing the complete work in the order Holst prescribed as there is a surprising sense of continuity as well as contrast from one movement to the next. Neptune was the most surprising as the ladies of the RSNO chorus sang the ethereal closing melody of the work from behind the grand circle, walking away as they sang alone. The effect left the audience mentally floating out into deep space, and marvelling at the wonders of the universe.

The Orchestra:

A marvellous performance by the orchestra and chorus, and a special note for the four gentlemen of the percussion section who were kept fit moving from one instrument to the next. Jean-Yves Thibaudet played beautifully for MacMillan’s piano concerto, and kudos to his page turner – a job I do not envy! All of them were kept in line by the marvellous Peter Oundjian who gave a lovely introduction to the evening’s works between the Britten and MacMillan.


A great start to what looks like a fantastic season. The programme was well-balanced and appealing to all ages. It was especially lovely to see a large number of children and families in the audience. I didn’t love the MacMillan, but I can appreciate the technical skill of the work. The Britten and Host works were wonderful.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Planning Your Practice – Some Ideas

Practicing is the most challenging part of every musician’s life. Whether we’ve been playing six months or sixty years, we all face days when we just don’t want to sit down and work, or if we do, we don’t want to do what we should be doing. We face many competing demands on our lives too, so even when we want to practice, it’s important to make the best use of the time. As the mantra goes – quality is more important than quantity when it comes to practice.

So if you’re trying to get the most out of your practice time, it can really help to make a plan for what you’re going to do. Here are some of the ideas I’ve seen and tried for planning practice.

Have a routine for when you practice

Clock borderThis is pretty obvious, but if you put practice time into your schedule, you’re more likely to do it. I find after work is a good time – I go right to the piano before I turn on the TV. Other people find first thing in the morning works, or after dinner. Stick to the same slot every day, or at least the same routine of slots every week.

Advantage: You’re much less likely to put off practicing when it’s planned as part of your day.
Disadvantage: Another disruption to your routine can mean practice gets skipped out on.

Have a routine for what you do in your practice session

One of the things which can work wonders is to always go through the same routine when you practice. For singers, this should be a warm-up, vocalised exercises, and then full songs. I usually do my classical repertoire first, and then musical theatre work.  For instrumentalists, it might be that you play your scales first, or that you look at a piece and then play a scale before moving to the next one.

Routine is especially important if you need to practice skills like scales – whether you use a tick chart, a box with slips of paper in or an online random number generator, making some kind of rule about how you practice scales is the only way to make sure you cover all of the relevant materials. This might include studies or vocalised exercises for singers too.

Advantage: You know exactly where to start, so no lost time at the beginning.
Disadvantage: Can get dull and repetitive.

Circle the Date

Plan your practice for the week after your lesson

If you’re quite an organised person, it might work best for you to sit down after your lesson, look at what you need to do for next week and divide it up over the days you have available to practice. For example, you might look at Study A on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Study B on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Perhaps you’ll focus on the A section from Wednesday to Saturday, and the B section from Sunday to Tuesday. Or maybe it’s Bb major on Monday, Eb major on Tuesday, Ab major on Wednesday and so on.

Try these two free printables for planning your practice over a week:

  • Horizontal Weekly Planner with goals – [purchase_link id=”1313″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]
  • Horizontal Weekly Planner without goals – [purchase_link id=”1312″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]


Advantage: Know you can get through everything you’ve been set and nothing will be forgotten.
Disadvantage: It might take more or less time to do things than you’ve allowed for.

Establish some goals for next lesson

Goal settingIf your teacher hasn’t set you a goal for next week, and you’re not keen on planning your week entirely, why not write three goals to achieve by the next lesson, and put them on your music stand? Then you know exactly what you need to work on when you come to practice.

Advantage: Keeps you focussed on what you’re doing.
Disadvantage: Your goals might not be what your teacher expects them to be!

Make a list of objective tasks to check off this week

Chances are your notes from your teacher are a bit random, vague and possibly even scruffy. When you get home, why not turn your teacher’s notes into a neat list. You could even try my free printable ([purchase_link id=”1314″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]) which gives you space to plan three tasks for each piece, and then a second side to note down which ones you’ve achieved.

Advantage: Having a list gives you small tasks, and a sense of achievement for doing them.
Disadvantage: It’s not always easy to create small, objective tasks for instructions like “play with more character”.

Write down some goals/tasks at the start of your practice session

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Keep a notebook by your music stand and use it to write down three things to accomplish each day before you start practicing to help you focus. You could also do this at the end of each session – writing three goals for tomorrow.

Advantage: Flexible to take account of what you achieve each day in your practice.
Disadvantage: Doesn’t necessarily take into account any set homework for the week, and uses up a few minutes of practice time each day.

Keep a record of what you’ve done and when

There’s nothing like record keeping to help you realise what’s really going on with your practice. Keeping a practice journal can be really helpful, as it allows you to make notes on what was hard today, or any questions you might have for your teacher. It’s also helpful to keep a note of the times you’re practicing from time to time, and note how effective your practice is. You can grab my practice audit printable here, and try it yourself: [purchase_link id=”1302″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]

Advantage: Gives you a really good picture of what you’re doing
Disadvantage: Doesn’t directly improve the quality of your practice at all!

So, those are my tips for planning your practice. Do you have any planning methods that work for you? If you’ve tried any of these, how did they work for you?