The Science Bit

How does a Kodaly inspired curriculum show progression and fit with the framework of Curriculum for Excellence.

By Dorothy Walker


After becoming disillusioned by the poor teaching standards of music in schools in Hungary, Hungarian born musician, composer and educator Zoltan Kodaly, (1882 – 1967), took it upon himself to develop a set of child centred, logical, progressive guidelines which are now used worldwide for teaching music (Trinka J, 2013).

Structured music teaching time is all well and good but it is my belief there is no reason that it should stop there. Having taken the opportunity to speak to a few primary school teachers about this in Glasgow local authority schools, my thoughts were met with scepticism. The main concern expressed was that their lack of understanding of music would be a barrier and overall tight teaching time scales would not lend themselves to fitting any music into the daily routine other than the 20 mins per week they were allocated within the Curriculum for Excellence.

The Curriculum for Excellence was introduced into the education system in 2010 with a view to giving a ‘holistic’ approach to learning. It consists of 8 curriculum areas;

Expressive arts
Health and wellbeing

Languages (including English, Gaelic, Gaelic learners and modern languages)
Religious and moral education
Social studies
Technologies. (Scottish Government, 2010)

Music is within the Expressive Arts section. However research has proved music is one of the few stimuli which involve the whole brain and involve the brain at almost every level; confidence, emotion, expression etc. (Bear Mark F., Connors Barry W. and Paradiso Michael A.,2006). So can music be integrated to support learning in all the curriculum areas in particular those highlighted to be given a continuous focus, (literacy, numrousy, health and wellbeing) (Scottish Government, 2010). Kodaly believed music was the means to develop ones whole being, it was the spiritual food for everyone. (Trinka J, 2013).

Looking at each Kodaly concept, which incorporates existing pedagogical elements, it is my opinion that with encouragement and support, teachers in the general classroom situation can integrate them within the learning aims of each of the curriculum areas and compliment the structured music sessions. It doesn’t have to be in addition to the already busy daily schedule.

I will discuss how I believe an inspired Kodaly approach exemplifies Curriculum for Excellence values and with support and guidance the three concepts of his approach; rhythm names, hand signs and movable do, can fit and progress within an Early Years situation in all areas.

Kodaly Philosophy and Curriculum for Excellence

The overall aim of Curriculum for Excellence is to help children and young people gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century, (including skills for learning, life and work) with a continuous focus on literacy, numerousy, health and well-being. (Scottish Government, 2010). The curriculum was planned so it would encompass the needs of all by giving them the chance to have the assistance and support necessary for their learning and development. The philosophy of Curriculum for Excellence is very similar to Kodaly’s philosophy.

Kodaly reformed the approach to music education in his native country addressing the intellectual, emotional, physical, social and spiritual developmental needs of every child and young person. He also stated that the support offered should be appropriate, proportionate and timely allowing the children and young people to move forward into a positive and sustained destination. Kodaly passionately believed music is for all and teachers were the agents of change. He believed music instruction must be part of general education and the ear, the eye, the hand and the heart must all be trained together by using the ‘culture and musical mother tongue of the children’ (Choksy, 1974).


I spoke to a few nursery and primary school teachers to obtain an understanding of how they felt about music’s place in education. The teachers from the two Glasgow schools appeared to know nothing about the Kodaly method despite all having a musical background. However on explaining the concepts a couple said it sounded familiar! Unfortunately convincing them part of what they currently teaching some subjects could be done using the Kodaly concepts and which in turn would compliment the 40 minutes a week scheduled music class. Was the reluctance to consider the approach due to concerns it was yet more changes, a lack of confidence in their abilities to deliver or seen as more work load in an already crammed full teaching schedule.

In two private Glasgow nurseries it was understood music had an important part to play but had virtually no understanding as to why this was the case. On a daily basis they sing songs and play music in the background but there was no structure but at least it was a beginning. Some songs, although well-known, were quite complicated versions and few children sang. Also for most of the time the children didn’t move around at these ‘sessions’, they just sat on the floor.

On the other hand in three East Renfrewshire schools the Kodaly approach appears to be broadly used although it isn’t recognised as such!

Benjamin Franklin said ‘Tell me and I’ll forget, teach me and I’ll remember, involve me and I’ll learn’ (Ilievski Jim , 2012). For me Kodaly embraces participation, physical, proportionate and appropriate teaching bringing learning potential to it maximum.

Imagine the brain is like a dot to dot picture. The brain loves the challenge of learning, that’s what it is there to do a wonderful complex blank canvas to work with. The dots are neurons, the picture is intellect —— join the dots in a sequenced manner and the more you join the clearer the picture and the better the quality (Baney, 2005). Who wouldn’t want to work with that vision which I believe is what the Kodaly approach is about!

Kodaly Concepts

Rhythm Syllables/Names

Rhythm Syllables/Names were developed by Paris-Cheve and Galin, France gives a verbal timing value for musical notes (Vajda 2008). The rhythm of the music of a nation, (folksongs) is borne of its speech rhythms. Music is taught within phrases, it is never in single sounds or notes. Speech is the same. In the classroom clapping out the syllables of a word is giving it timing value but it then needs to progress to be clapped out within a sentence. This will help with the spoken word, where you place the emphasis on the word and the phrasing in addition to complementing the aspects of music (The British Kodály Academy, 2013).

Relative Solfa

Relative solfa was developed in Italy. The solfa is the sound and every pitch has a solfa name. Having solfa as a memory aid will secure the connection of the notes to each other. The aim of the relative solfa in music is to allow for flexibility for any song to be sung in any key or pitch. This then will give children the freedom to explore the world of music (Vajda, 2008).

The process of learning a musical language should help the brains ability to process and learn within the broader curriculum, such as new languages and mathematical sequencing? (Rauscher F, 1996).

We all have a voice and because it is part of us the feelings we experience go far deeper than with any other instrument (Baney, 2005).

Singing will automatically trigger the inner hearing which is vital in the development of the musical ability but it will also influence the ability to do tasks such as mental arithmetic or reading a book in silence (Cooper, 2013).

Hand Signs

Hand signs were developed by Sarah Glover and John Curwen, England. Hand signs are a visual aid used to express the solfa. They provide the link between the sounds and the written notes (Vajda 2008). In a musical situation there is a corresponding hand sign for each pitch of the scale and are used as visual reinforcement and reminder of the direction of a song or piece of music. In a similar way, classroom games with hand signs can be used to express emotions, the flow, phrasing, dynamics or actions within a rhyme or song. This can be particularly introduced through music and movement, drawing and drama in the physical exercise and expressive art times (Channon J., 2014).


Regretfully, in my experience, music appears to be disappearing in our classrooms despite there being so many reasons for it not to be the case. This is both from financial cuts and busy demanding teacher work schedules. I dearly wish I could convince teachers to believe that by embracing the Kodaly concepts and integrating it into their classroom routine can actually give them more time.

Promoting the Kodaly concepts as part of the structured music teaching allocation in Curriculum for Excellence should not difficult to do and the school music specialists should be able to encourage and help with its development

Most teachers should already be aware that repetition and fun are key elements for a learning environment. It is a case of convincing them that the basic principles of the Kodaly approach are very easy to grasp. It’s a tool not an additional lesson subject to be taught and it is likely they are already doing it in some shape or form. To overcome the scepticism which in most cases I perceive to be lack of confidence in their ability is paramount so reinforce to them that the fun will automatically be stimulated if the children are enjoying the experience. They can do it and still keep control of a class of 28 children!

When introducing topics, for example, about bugs or the sea, weather or transport in addition to showing pictures can also be fun and learnt by sitting in a circle, using a scrunchie, lycra or a parachute to keep a steady beat. Next step could be to put the topic objects into the centre of the circle or onto the parachute or lycra but all the time remembering to keep the additional activity focused within the learning concepts. Working on question and answer games, (keeping to a 4 beat rhythm),

Question Answer

Who can see the ——? I can see the ——,

Who would eat a —–? I would eat a ——

Then progress to clapping longer sentences to the beat, then the words of rhymes / songs about the topic. Perhaps introducing relative sounds to the topic for example the rain maker, wave drum all of which can easily be made from household objects. Again this is inclusion, stimulating imagination, working together, sharing and socialising all Kodaly vision.

Kodaly insisted on a method grounded in the singing of folk songs of a child’s own culture and mother tongue, and the implementation of a highly sequenced presentation of musical elements (Rowsell C & Vinden D, 2013).

Perhaps also making up rhymes or changing the words of well-known folks songs to give singing memory aids to help learn the vowels, the alphabet, rules for maths, rules for awkward spelling words can easily be introduced and make it more fun. Children are awash with ideas and more than happy to participate but obviously the teacher needs to keep their ideas contained!

Playing passing games, be it a ball or a beanbag, makes the learning more fun, ignites the imagination while also working on coordination and social skills. In addition they are, albeit unconsciously at the early years level but will progress to the conscious level later, learning a number of important musical concepts such as beat, rhythm, phrasing which if they decide to progress to learning a musical instrument will have given them the necessary basics tools.

If children are positively immersed within an activity they are more inclined to volunteer ideas, engage in conversation and all the time this is building confidence, self-esteem, relationships, social skills the list is endless. If they are enjoying themselves they are relaxed which creates a more conducive environment for learning. They will remember due to association of the fun and involvement being totally unaware that they are being taught (Coulter, Dee Joy, 1995).


Early exposure to music, if delivered in a structured, creative fun way can influence areas of a child’s development beyond the maths and language skills (Coulter, Dee Joy, 1995).

In my opinion it shouldn’t be a daunting challenge to integrate Kodaly’s approach into the classroom setting as general teaching tools designed to be appropriate to the class age / maturity?

Most teachers already have the creativity to make repetitive learning happen in a fun way so with support and guidance to compliment lesson planning in this way I believe is a small change with the potential to make a big difference.

Teachers have a captive audience so to do 5-10 mins a day going over 1 or 2 well known rhymes or songs, perhaps as a welcome /warm up tool for the day ahead or as part of the lesson plan is a fantastic opportunity.

The use of music to make the teaching process more involving is a mental process, not physical.

‘You cannot touch music but music can touch you!’ (Anon, Ilievski Jim , 2012)

Kodaly wrote, ‘Music is one of the most powerful forces for the uplifting of mankind and he who renders it accessible to as many people as possible is a benefactor of humanity’ (The British Kodály Academy, 2013).




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