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Zoltan Kodaly

What is Kodály Teaching?

By Darren Wicks



The Kodály concept of music education continues to attract great attention around the world, primarily because of its ability to offer children stimulating and enjoyable music lessons while at the same time helping them become musically literate and develop musical appreciation.

The Kodály concept is an approach to music education inspired by a Hungarian composer and educator, Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967). Its primary goals are to make music accessible to all people and to cultivate a love and appreciation for music that is supported by understanding and direct musical experience.

Throughout Kodály’s writings are the notions that a person cannot be complete without music and that music serves to develop a person on all levels – emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Kodály believed that it was the right of every individual to be taught the basic elements of music. It was only natural, then, that music should be given a prominent place in the school curriculum alongside other disciplines.


Kodály believed that musical aptitude is a characteristic of every person and that, ideally, a music education should begin as early as possible in a person’s life – first at home and then later within the school curriculum.

He believed that children should first learn their own musical mother tongue – the folk songs of their own cultural heritage. It is through this musical mother tongue that the skills and concepts necessary to achieve musical literacy can be taught. As these skills develop, children are given the opportunity to study and perform art music of all periods and styles.

In educating children, Kodály asserted that only music of the highest quality should be used. Just as only the most nutritious food is given to infants, so too the highest quality of music must be given to the musically infant in order to cultivate an aesthetic appreciation for fine music. For Kodály, fine music meant genuine folk music and recognised composed music of the great composers.

Kodály believed that singing should be the foundation of all music education. “It is a long accepted truth,” wrote Kodály, “that singing provides the best start to music education; even the most talented artist can never overcome the disadvantages of an education without singing.”1

The use of the voice is one of the most defining features of the Kodaly approach. The voice is the most accessible of all instruments and this makes it most suitable for musical instruction. It offers direct access to the world of music without the technical problems associated with playing an instrument. Moreover, singing without the aid of an instrument leads to a highly developed aural skills.

Children’s songs, singing games and folk dances are an integral part of early training and are used to enhance 600full-zoltan-kodalylearningand enjoyment. “Kodàly musical training always involves active music-making. Musical learning evolves from a variety of experiences including singing games and dances, folk songs and art songs; singing songs in unison, rounds, canons and in parts; singing themes from great instrumental music; and listening and moving to music. All these are the cornucopia from which musical concepts are drawn and through which musical skills are practiced.”2

Kodály believed that musical instruction should reflect the way that children learn naturally. Just as one learns to speak first and then read and write later, so the sound should be taught first before the symbols. The developed inner ear will then be able to recall the sounds when they are presented later as symbols. He also advocated that musical skills should be carefully sequenced into patterns that reflect an understanding of child development. Great care is taken to lead the child from the known to the unknown and from direct experience to abstract concepts and symbols.

Music literacy remains a key component of the approach and is developed gradually and sequentially. Kodály envisaged a deep literacy that went beyond just knowing letter names. Instead the musically literate should be able to look at notation and think sound. “The good musician understands music without a score as well as understands the score without the music. The ear should not need the eye nor the eye the (outer) ear” 3


Although he was a major figure in the transformation of music education in Hungary during the early to mid 1900s, Kodály never set out to create a “Kodaly Method”. Instead, he sought to address what he saw as some major weaknesses in the music education offered in his country. These weaknesses were evidenced by a low level of musical literacy amongst Hungarian musicians, a glaring ignorance of the musical traditions of their own heritage and the inadequate training of music teachers.

Kodály wished to see a unified system of music education evolve in Hungary, capable of leading children toward love and knowledge about music from earliest nursery school years to adulthood. His vision stirred the support of a great many colleagues, friends and students and his supporters did much to codify and bring to fruition his goals and philosophy. In implementing Kodály s ideas, they sought out the very best educational practices, tools and techniques from around the world.

Solfa-syllables and the moveable-do system were used to teach skills in pitch discrimination, intervals, harmony and analysis. These skills were reinforced with a system of hand signs first developed by John Curwen in England. Rhythmic skills are developed by means of a system of rhythm duration syllables in which common rhythmic patterns are given a sound name that reflects the way they sound.


Under Kodály s guidance, an approach to music education evolved that drew on the best of educational thought from around the world. The approach is child-developmental and based on teaching, learning and understanding music through the experience of singing. The tools used to implement the approach are the movable-do system of solfa, rhythm syllables and hand signs.

The approach is relevant for classroom and instrumental music teachers, ensemble directors as well as amateur and professional musicians of all ages. One does not need to be ‘a singer’ to enjoy or benefit from this form of music making. The teaching and learning of music through use of the singing voice enables the most direct of musical responses, provides the opportunity for musical understanding at the deepest level and frees the student from the technical problems associated with instrumental music.

Kodály teaching continues to gain interest around the world where it has been adapted and implemented in a variety of settings from infant to adult training. The movement is characterised by a strong emphasis on teacher training and the development of a teacher s own musicianship skills. Professional associations in many countries around the world now seek to promote Kodály s philosophies and further its implementation.



1. Zoltan Kodály in preface to Musical Reading and Writing by Erzsebet Szonyi (London: Boosey and Hawkes, 1978).
2. Lois Choksy, et al. Teaching Music in the Twentieth Century (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1986).
3. Kodaly quoting Schumman in Selected Writings of Zoltan Kodaly (Toronto: Boosey and Hawkes, 1974).