Teaching Children to Read Music: A Comparison of Two Methods for Elementary Music Teachers

By Lane, Ann Marie | The Canadian Music Educator, Autumn 2006 | Go to article overview

Teaching Children to Read Music: A Comparison of Two Methods for Elementary Music Teachers


Lane, Ann Marie, The Canadian Music Educator


VARIOUS METHODS ARE AVAILABLE TO music educators for instructing children in music. Two of these music methods include the one developed by Hungarian twentieth-century composer and educator Zoltan Kodaly (1881 - 1967) and that devised by American educator and researcher Edwin Gordon (1927 -). This article will present an overview and comparison of both methods with an emphasis on the use of tonal patterns and rhythm patterns.

The Kodaly Approach

The primary goal of the Kodaly approach to music education is to produce "the musically literate adult - literate in the fullest sense of being able to look at a musical score and think sound, to read and write music as easily as words" ( Chosky, 1974, p. 15 .) The earlier this musical literacy process begins the better it is for the child. Kodaly believed that the process should begin nine months before the birth of the child's mother. ". . . consciously fostered as early as possible in a child's life. This is very much the keystone of his whole approach" ( Szabo, 1969, p. 4.)

Kodaly Learning Sequence

The sequence developed in the method is a child-developmental one, and not a one based on subject-logic. In the subject-logic approach there is no connection between the sequence in which content is taught, and the sequence in which children learn. To teach in this manner is to expect a child "to understand something that does not exist in reality in his own experiences" ( Chosky, 1974, p. 16.) Kodaly based his method on the child-developmental approach rather than the subject-logic approach. In the child-developmental approach there is a sequence within an academic discipline that organizes the subject matter into patterns that follow the natural learning abilities of the child at various stages of development. The content is taught in the sequence in which the child learns (Chosky, 1974, p. 16.) This has practical implications for teaching music. Moving rhythms are more child-related than sustained ones. Walking and running rhythms in duple meter are used as a reasonable starting point rather than whole notes.

Melodically, the minor third of so-mi, the natural chant of the child, is used as the start of the learning sequence. The next note the young child can usually sing in tune is the pitch la above. Other characteristics of the musical development of the child determines the learning sequence. The range of the child's voice is limited to five or six pitches of whole steps or larger intervals. Half steps are very difficult for the young child to sing in tune. Pitches which descend are easier to reproduce accurately than ascending ones. The exception being the previously mentioned interval of a fourth mi-la. Skips are easier to sing than steps. The keys of D, E-flat, and E appear to be the best for beginning ranges of rote songs (Chosky, 1974, p. 17.) Based on these principles Kodaly felt that the pentatonic scale was ideal for teaching music skills. The resulting melodic sequence became: (a) s-m, (b) l-s-m, (c) l-s-m-d, (d) l-s-m-r-d, (e) l-s-m-r-d-l1-s1, (f) t-l-s-f-m-r-d-l1-s1.

Kodaly believed that the beginning of the method was the most important and delicate period. "The sequence . . . in which music elements are taught lay the foundation for further development. . . . students progress in their studies at different rates, and thus the material to be learned must be selected according to circumstances and the talent and diligence of the pupil" (Szabo, 1969, p. 3.)

Kodaly Tools

There are three main tools utilized in the Kodaly method. The moveable-do system is used with do as the home tone in a major mode, and la as a home tone in the minor mode. This was derived from the solimization system originated by Guido d'Arezzo in the eleventh century.

The second tool is a rhythm syllable system similar to that used in French solfege. These are not mere rhythm names but expressions of duration. They are voiced and never written as words. …

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