The Kodály Concept by Gillian Earl

The Kodály Concept of music education is not a method as such, neither are there any Kodály instrumental methods. The Concept is unique in that Kodály combined elements from existing approaches to music education, (Dalcroze, Curwen, the Galin – Paris – Chevé movement etc.) and in that he initiated a comprehensive system of music education from nursery age to high levels of professional training. It began to evolve and to be put into practice during the 1940s by some of Kodály‛s colleagues and teachers working under his guidance.

The Concept embraces a philosophy; it came about mainly for the following reasons: – Kodály‛s harmony students at the Liszt Academy could not hear in their heads: he considered that Hungarian culture needed to be re-established following a long period of the dominance of German culture: concerts were not well attended – audiences, who did not understand the music, stayed away. At the heart of it was Kodály‛s belief that, “Music should belong to everyone,” because, “Music is the spiritual food for which there is no substitute . . . . there is no complete spiritual life without music . . . . there are regions of the human soul, which can be illuminated only through music.” The only way that music could belong to everyone was to make it accessible by teaching musical literacy throughout the schools from the nursery schools through to teacher training and conservatoire levels. Kodály thus set out to train the nation to become the audiences as well as the teachers and professional musicians of the future.

When the Concept emerged after the Second World War its success was seen as phenomenal. Consequently, since the ‘sixties‛, Kodály societies have sprung up worldwide and an international network of Kodály educators is held together through the International Kodály Society. In 1975 the Zoltán Kodály Pedagogical Institute of Music was opened in Kecskemét, Kodály‛s birthplace, offering a variety of courses and attended by people from all over the world.


These Principles are an integral part of the Kodály Philosophy and Concept. There is no special significance in the order in which they are listed here. Each can be likened to the spoke of a wheel, starting with music at the hub, and leading out to the ever expanding circumference of the wheel as the understanding of the language of music increases with progress.

1. Begin with the music – the joy of the experience. Music is taught in the way children learn naturally, experiencing the music first. Taking child development into account it is recognized that children do not learn through intellectual abstractions. Musical elements are absorbed unconsciously before being made conscious, after which they are practised, (through singing), read, written then reinforced further by being presented in new contexts: all is done in a carefully pre-determined pedagogical order.

2. Begin in the kindergarten. Although the concept can be adapted to apply to any age, the age from three to seven years are the most important. “. . the first steps are the same for everyone..” Z.K *

3. The first musical instrument is the voice. It is not possible to sing anything which has not first been imagined in the ‛inner ear‛. Singing is the proof that the music has been assimilated and understood. “A child who plays an instrument before he sings may remain unmusical for a lifetime.

That is why we encounter so many skilful pianists who have no idea of the essence of music” Z.K*

4. Relative Solfa is used. The solfa is the sound. It renders the sounds tangible and memorable; it expresses their relative pitch and tonal functions. It is never used as just ‛another verse‛ to a song. It defines melody, modulation, intervals, harmonic progression and chromaticism. It aids transposition.

5. Handsigns are a visual aid used to express the solfa. They provide the link between the sounds and the written notes. They have an effect of producing a reflex action in the vocal cords.

6. Notation is, initially, in rhythmic solfa, or stick notation. This is never completely discarded. Reading from the stave, with most do positions (there are seven) is learnt before fixed pitch is taught. Reading with G and F clefs and, later, the C clefs follow.

7. Music should be of good quality, – initially the musical mother tongue. It should be given time to take root before another musical ‛language‛ is introduced.

“Folksong is the school of good taste; those who develop a taste for what is good at an early age will become resistant later to what is bad”. ZK* The reverse is also true.

8. Pentatonic music is used in the early stages. The distinctive shape of the pentatone, d r m s l in which any of the sounds can be the final, makes it easier to acquire tonal orientation. Also, tunes without semitones are easier to sing in tune. The roots of much our common musical heritage spring from pentatony. From this starting point greater insight can be gained into modal music* and thus a better understanding of the historical development of music.

*this is why Relative Solfa is so named and used in this context rather than Tonic Solfa.

9. Intonation. Voice tunes with voice. Two different sounds sung simultaneously and tuned, acoustically, with each other enhance the perception of both their relative pitch and tonal functions. The sounds are re-created through the ‘inner hearing‛ and are not supposedly supported or prompted by a piano which has tempered tuning and a timbre with which it is not easy for young children to identify. Good intonation is vital in maintaining tonality. One of the main aims of the Concept, Musical literacy* – cannot develop without secure intonation and ‘inner hearing‛.

*The ability to ‘hear‛ what you see (read) and see (write) what you hear.

10. The rhythm of the music of a nation, (its folksongs) is borne of its speech rhythms. Rhythm is inseparably bound up with the other principles of the Concept. From the outset the elements of the music are taught within phrases, or motifs, never in single sounds or notes. The aim is for developing a sense of rhythmic continuity and to acquire a sense of phrasing. Mistakes in reading should not be allowed to interrupt performance; they can be corrected afterwards and will often, on repetition, self correct.

11. Two-part work in all its possibilities of combinations and permutations has high priority. Such things as ‘question and answer‛, performance in two parts simultaneously or antiphonally by two people or groups – this includes activities such as tapping the beat or an ostinato with another part, canon, independent parts; the possibilities of various combinations are endless. Ideally a minimum of three people is required – two to perform and the teacher to act as ‘referee‛. The practice of silent singing (in the mind) develops inner hearing. Two-part music making trains not only concentration, memory and awareness, it also trains the ability to listen polyphonically and the powers of co-ordination. This paves the way for the development of harmonic hearing leading to the study of form. „

Gillian Earl, 1998. Revised 2004

“If, through the reading of music, a child has reached a stage where he is able to sing a small masterpiece in two parts with another child, he has acquired a hundred times as much music as if he had thrashed the piano from sunrise to sunset. Many people are looking for the door to the treasury of music in the wrong places. They obstinately keep hammering on the locked gates and pass right by the open doors that are accessible to everybody.” *Zoltán Kodály 1882-1967.