dolmetsch onlinekodaly and the recorder

Kodály and the Recorder
Susan Taylor Howell
Author of Recorder in the Kodály Classroom

Recorder in the Kodály Classroom was written to help Kodály teachers integrate recorder instruction seamlessly into their ongoing music classes, but since the Kodály methodology is built into the book it can be used equally well for non-Kodály instruction, either in class or private lessons. The material presented in the Teacher's Manual goes well beyond what beginning books usually provide the teacher, and help a non-recorder specialist with many of the technical and pedagogical details that will make them better teachers. The Teaching Units are intended to help the classroom teacher organize the presentation of element, the 86 pieces in the Student Songbook are carefully selected and sequenced to the Teaching Units, and the Notes on the Songs provide useful additional material for the creative teacher. Additional information is available on our Website.

For those who are not familiar with the basics of Kodály's philosophy and methodology I would like to go over them briefly,1 suggest how they can be applied in beginning recorder classes,2 and comment on a few of the problems faced by all recorder teachers, Kodály and non-Kodály alike.3

Zoltán Kodály was a highly respected composer and ethnomusicologist, but he was also a pioneering music educator. He sold Hungary's post-war communist government on a comprehensive system of music education based on "the music of the people." His goal was not to produce professional musicians, although many fine ones have come out of that program, but to produce a musically-literate populace with a love of fine music. He examined the teaching methods in use in different places and selected from them the most efficient and effective elements, including moveable-do solfege, Curwen hand signs, the "sol-mi" approach for beginners, and rhythm-duration syllables using "ta" and "ti-ti." These are especially effective for teaching children, but what he set up in Hungary is a program of life-long learning and appreciation, not just a "children's" method.

The tools are not the method. Orff methodology uses many of the same tools, but with different goals. Both methods are useful and effective, but they are not the same. "Kodály" is first a philosophy. In his own words:

"The characteristics of a good musician can be summarised as follows:

   1. A well-trained ear
   2. A well-trained intelligence
   3. A well-trained heart
   4. A well-trained hand.

All four must develop together, in constant equilibrium. As soon as one lags behind or rushes ahead, there is something wrong."4

Kodály stressed excellence in all aspects of music, in teaching just as much as in performing, and especially in the materials used in the classroom. "You wouldn't feed your children bad food. Neither should you feed them bad music."5 He felt that only the finest musicians should be permitted to teach children, unlike the attitude at many American teacher-training institutions.

Kodály advocated the use of native folk songs as the initial repertoire for beginning students, calling those songs a culture's musical "mother tongue." Songs that have survived for a century or more have proven their quality and durability, and reflect students' language and culture. In those songs, he looked for and found all the specific musical elements he needed to teach.

Kodály is a vocal approach to music. One of its main goals and accomplishments is music literacy, not just in the sense of reading music, but developing the ear ("inner hearing"). He believed that the only way to be certain any musical idea is understood--melody, harmony, rhythm, phrasing and so forth--is through singing. The voice is not only the original instrument, but also the only way a teacher can see into the mind to judge a student's understanding. Serious instrumental study is not started in Hungarian schools until the third (piano and strings), fourth (recorder), and fifth grades (woodwind, brass and chamber music), when vocal skills, musicianship, reading and writing have been well established. Recorders are used a little in earlier grades, but only along with singing.6

When students are already immersed in a rich vocal environment, recorder is the best first instrument and can be introduced as "just a new way of singing," With this approach it complements the ongoing music class instead of replacing or competing with it. The earliest instrumental instruction book, published in 1535 for recorder, agreed completely with Kodály's philosophy: "Be it known that all musical instruments, in comparison to the human voice, are inferior to it. The aim of the recorder player is to imitate as closely as possible all the capabilities of the human voice."7

Kodály is a philosophy, but it is also a method. One of the most important concepts for a Kodály teacher is the sequencing and presentation of new material. Teachers learn the "3 Ps"--Prepare, Present, and Practice. Students are Prepared for a new element through a repertoire of songs and games containing the unknown element. During Presentation the teacher uses a song that isolates that element, identifies it, and names it. (Presentation is actually the shortest of the 3 Ps.) Practice involves using the new element in new repertoire.

The same approach works for instruments, but there are differences. You can't Prepare low "la," for example, by using it in different songs until you have actually taught the fingering for that note, but there are other activities that accomplish the same thing. You can have the class sing low "la," and then find the note on their recorders. The teacher can play a tune with the new note, and ask them to figure out what you are doing. (My students love that!)

So it is clear that when we apply Kodály's philosophy to recorder teaching, we have to realize that the skills needed to play an instrument are different from the skills needed to sing on pitch and in rhythm. We must first analyze and then sequence both physical and musical skills: hand position, fingering, articulation, reading dot and number tablature, reading staff notation and alphabetic note names, producing a good sound, and playing with good intonation (not a problem if they can already sing in tune). These are new, challenging skills, but if students have good musical training and a repertoire of songs developed from kindergarten through third grade, they are ready.

Yes, I'm strongly suggesting that the best preparation for instrumental studies is a strong vocal general music program in the lower elementary grades. It doesn't have to be Kodály based, but it should not be an unconnected series of "experiences" either. This is exactly where American students fall behind their European cousins, and most never catch up.

The students' repertoire of songs is their Preparation for recorder. The teacher must sequence the materials for the recorder class just as for the singing class, but the sequencing is different. Fourth graders are well beyond the "sol-mi" and "sol-mi-la" stage, and the initial sequence of fingering skills is different. Starting with "sol-mi" makes no sense. On recorder it is better to begin with "mi-re-do" ("b-a-g" on soprano recorder--the indispensable "Hot Cross Buns"!), followed by low "la" and "sol" ("e" and "d"), which set the position of the right hand and give the notes for a wealth of pentatonic music. With those five notes you can be doing imitation, dictation, and composition activities immediately. And you'll always have some hot-shots who check the fingering chart and learn new notes on their own so they can play the up-coming songs in their book, or figure out the tunes from the latest Disney movie!

It is important to analyze songs for what the fingers do. For example, in the phrase from "Cotton-Eyed Joe" that goes "Where did you come from? Where did you go?" the last interval is a descending major 6th from "mi" to low "sol" ("b" down to "d"). This interval is not difficult to sing, but for a beginning recorder player it is a physical challenge, going from a note using only the left thumb and index finger (0 1 - - | - - - -) down to a note requiring five additional fingers (0 1 2 3 | 4 5 6 -), coordinating the left and right hands and bringing all those fingers down simultaneously. That is not quite so easy. Notes with "forked" fingerings (where a hole is left open between closed holes) are even more challenging. There are no difficult individual fingerings on recorder, but there are definitely fingering combinations that need extra attention and preparation. The teacher must know what the notes in a song require in terms of the mechanics of fingering.

Kodály used folk songs, but before the third grade he started introducing appropriate examples of classical music as well. His fourth grade repertoire includes Medieval and Renaissance music. A Kodály-based approach to recorder should do the same, but with careful selection and sequencing of material. North American Kodály teachers face one challenge their European counterparts do not. Hungarian folk music--indeed the folk music of any European culture--is fairly homogenous. American folk music is multicultural, reflecting the different styles of our various immigrant peoples. The song material you choose is affected by where you teach and who your students are, as well as your own cultural heritage. The recorder's "mother tongue" is Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music as well as folk music up through the early 20th century. There is wealth of quality music available, which makes newly-composed, poorly-written "children's" songs quite unnecessary.

Kodály's demand for excellence extends to the choice of instruments. Your students deserve good instruments that are well-voiced for both lower and upper registers and can be played in tune. Ideally, all the instruments in a class--including the teacher's--should be identical. Because students in elementary grades have a variety of hand sizes and finger lengths, the flexibility of 3-piece recorders is essential. There are plenty of awful "school" recorders on the market, but there are also companies producing excellent student instruments at reasonable cost.

An important practical consideration for any music instruction is how often and how long your students have music class. In Hungary, there are elementary music classes six days a week, plus additional out-of-class chorus practice. I teach in a small Montessori school with an excellent curriculum, but I have only one class a week for each level plus some extra time with students who can stay after school. However, my students have their own instruments and song books and can take them home to practice. Some schools have instruments which must be returned at the end of each class to be pickled in a bucket of disinfectant and passed out to the next class, making recorder "homework" impossible. It goes without saying that the more often students can play, the faster they will learn.

Finally, the question of teacher preparation is a serious one. Here in Virginia it is mandatory to begin recorder instruction in the fourth grade, but not one of the commonwealth's teacher-training institutions offers training in recorder pedagogy, let alone in how to play recorder as a musical instrument. One familiar approach is to have music education students buy a cheap instrument and send them home with a fingering chart to learn to play it on their own! Many college music education programs ignore the recorder completely. This results partly from curricula that are already so packed with requirements that nothing extra can be added, but it also results from music education professors who treat the recorder as a toy rather than a legitimate musical instrument with its own technique and repertoire, and a history going back at least a millenium.

Since that is the unfortunate situation, it falls to organizations outside academia--the American Recorder Society and Junior Recorder Society, American Recorder Teachers Association, Early Music America, Organization of American Kodály Educators, and American Orff Schulwerk Association among others, and their equivalents in other countries--to find ways to help classroom teachers and music specialists upgrade their playing and teaching skills. That's no easy task. Music teachers are swamped with work and can't be expected to "volunteer" their non-existent "extra" time to a local recorder teacher. Inservice workshops may be the best approach. Also, many summer workshops are available that teach "how to play," but we need to encourage more workshops on "how to teach" to give those teachers incentive to attend. We need to coordinate our efforts and share our resources. We should offer recorder classes or private lessons to nearby teachers, an approach that I have personally found very rewarding. And the elementary teachers and music specialists who work directly with children in the classroom need to know that we are here, there, and everywhere, that we can help, and that we want to help.

1 For those unfamiliar with Kodály, more detailed information may be found in the Kodály section of Teaching Music in the Twentieth Century, ed. by Lois Choksy, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1996, and in the two books cited below, The Selected Writings and Music Education in Hungary.

2 Specifics will be found in Recorder in the Kodály Classroom by Susan Taylor Howell, Blacksburg, Virginia, Music House Press, 1995, distributed through West Music Co., 1208 5th St., Coralville, Iowa 52241, 1-800-397-9378.

3 Two recent articles dealing with different aspects of recorder pedagogy came to my attention while this article was in preparation: Roger Buckton, "Buckets of Recorders and the Affective Domain," The American Recorder, May, 1998 (Vol. XXXIX, No. 3), and Mary Goetze, "Introducing the Recorder to Beginners in the Classroom," The Recorder Education Journal, No. 3, 1996 (which just came out, a bit late!).

4 The Selected Writings of Zoltán Kodály, trans. from the 1964 Hungarian edition by Lili Halápy and Fred MacNicol, London, Boosey & Hawkes, 1974, p. 197.

5 Paraphrased in my lecture notes from a Kodály Certification Program workshop, attributed to Zoltán Kodály.

6 Music Education in Hungary, ed. by Frigyes Sándor, 3rd, enlarged edition, trans. from the 1966 Hungarian edition by Barna Balogh, Zsuzsanna Horn, Pál Járdányi and Ilona Lukács, trans. revised by Fred MacNicol, London, Boosey & Hawkes, 1975, p. 146.

7 Sylvestro Ganassi, Opera intitulata Fontegara, 1535.

the late SUSAN TAYLOR HOWELL was music specialist at the Montessori Children's House and Primary School in Blacksburg, Virginia. For 12 years she directed the Children's Choir and the Choristers of Christ Episcopal Church in Blacksburg, and taught at Indiana University and Radford University. She studied at the Kodály Center of America and holds Level III Kodály Certification from Indiana University, Level II Orff Certification from the University of Illinois, and the Teacher's Certificate of the American Recorder Society . She was a member of the Organization of American Kodály Educators publications committee and edited The Owl Sings and co-edited Sourwood Mountain in the series of folk song collections published by OAKE. Her compositions and arrangements have been published by Choristers Guild and Boosey & Hawkes.