The Power of the Kodàly Approach
In many music educators’ minds, the Kodály approach is yet another way of naming pitches using ‘do re mi fa so’ (solfa) and a handy way to teach rhythm through syllables such as ta and titi. As an advocate for the Kodàly approach myself, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Before we delve deeper into the Kodàly approach, I think it’s really important to note that it is exactly that – an approach. There is no provided guidebook telling you exactly how you ought to teach music throughout the curriculum or what you should teach and when. The reason it appeals so much to me is because it provides an ethos in which educators can be guided by in order to plan their own musical journey for their students.

Who was Kodàly and what were his principles?

Zoltan Kodàly was a Hungarian composer, educator and pedagogue working in the 1900s. Kodàly believed quite simply that music belonged to all. He famously said, “music belongs to everybody”.

“It is far more important who the elementary music teacher is in a small town than who the director of the opera house is because if the opera house director is not good, he will be dismissed in a year, but a poor music teacher in a small town can kill off the love of music for thirty years from thirty classes of children. This is an enormous responsibility”

Kodàly believed that music should be found at the heart of the community, through the sharing of folk songs and games relevant to its people. Kodàly spent many years collecting folk songs, and from these he believed the elements of music could be taught through fun musical experiences. This would embed a lifelong love of music throughout a community and further enrich a musical culture in society.

Singing at the heart of the curriculum

Kodàly believed that in order for music to be for all, it should be accessed through the instrument accessible to all – the human voice.

He believed that music should be taught as early as possible, in the most natural way to its youngest learners – through singing games, rhymes, fun and play. Songs should be simple with a limited pitch range, simple rhythms and short in length so that they are memorable. Kodàly believed that folk songs and nursery rhymes did just this.

“Teach music and singing in school in a way that it is not a torture but a joy for the pupil; instill a thirst for finer music in him, a thirst which will last a lifetime”

It is important to note the idea of active, fun music making here. Rarely in a music lesson will all children be engaged purely by sitting down and singing through a repertoire of short songs and rhymes. Through action games, clapping games, passing games, puppets, scarves, balls, soft toys and parachutes, a simple song can soon be developed into an engaging game, where all children feel included, all are desperate to join in and you can usually find them outside in the playground ‘practising’ in their own time.

If you’re unsure of what these games and rhymes might look like, check out the following books and links for further inspiration:

    Where’s the learning?

    It’s at this point in my journey through learning all about the Kodàly approach where I wondered where the learning was. What were children learning? What was the purpose in the singing game? Why were the children singing a specific song? Why didn’t the children know what they were learning? Where was the learning objective?

    This is where the ‘3Ps’ come in, and the careful planning by the music teacher - Kodàly advocating for an experiential approach to musical learning. How could a child unpick, understand and analyse elements of music if they hadn’t first experienced it? 

    The 3P approach stands for Prepare – Present – Practise. This experiential, subconscious learning that is taking place while the child is immersed in singing games and fun is all part of the preparation. For example, let’s look at how a teacher may teach a rhythmic concept – such as crotchets and quavers using this approach. The song ‘Copy Cat’ just comprises of crotchets and quavers (or ta and titi). Through careful planning, a teacher may decide to play games through lots of songs and rhymes which only use ta and titi/crotchets and quavers during the ‘preparation’ stage of a concept, such as ‘Copy Cat’, ‘Apple Tree’ or ‘Doggie Doggie’.

    Further down the line, when a child is then presented with the symbols and sounds of ta and titi/crotchets and quavers – they can pin that understanding on their rich experience. Following that, through a spiral curriculum (as OFSTED promote in their most recent Music Review) children revisit songs and games that incorporate ta and titi, and may compose, improvise, perform with instruments, and listen to and analyse music using this rhythm as they continue on their musical journey. This deepens a child’s understanding and encourages children to develop a musical ‘mastery’. Without this consolidatory approach, musical elements can too often be explored purely on a superficial basis, with children unable to apply their understanding of a concept out of context.

    By far the most valuable training I have received to gain a better understanding of the Kodàly approach and improve my teaching has been through the British Kodàly Academy, who now are providing plenty of online certificated courses which are accessible, enjoyable and inclusive.

    Find out more here, I couldn’t recommend enough:

    How do I incorporate Kodàly ideas and philosophy in my primary classroom?

    As I mentioned right at the beginning, this is an approach and a philosophy, which can be evolved and adapted to the students you teach and the concepts you would like them to learn about. I tend to couple my strong Kodàly philosophy with elements of Dalcroze (music and movement) and Orff approaches, as well as engaging my older students in more contemporary music and music technology, in which they show great interest. Despite some of my teaching including genres outside of Western Classical Music, I still do try to adopt the same idea – ensuring children experience music and relevant concepts first before unpicking and applying.

    I wish you all the best in your curriculum planning for 2022, and hope that the Kodàly approach could offer some inspiration moving forward.