My Discoveries About Kodály Musicianship Teaching

Zsuzsa Kata Horváth the founder music teacher of Liverpool Kodály School writes about her discoveries:

What did I discover about Kodály musicianship teaching?

I realised WHY an education philosophy that bears such high value has been excluded from most British school’s education and from most British music hubs’ music education. In this article I am describing how I got to the bottom of this problem and I am trying to unfold  different roots as starting points to possible solutions. I also summarised Key Learning Points in the end of this article. I really hope that this discovery will be helpful and will inspire lots of positive changes in our education and in our lives.


What did I knew about Kodály musicianship teaching beforehand?

I knew about the high values of Kodály musicianship teaching through

  • my own education: I had excellent teachers in Hungary and some on the UK who taught me music (musicianship, solfége, music theory, vocal and instrumental studies) all with the Kodály philosophy. I am the personal example of a child who was taught with Kodály musicianship teaching, and still reads music 100% faster then texts in English or in Hungarian as an adult, even after graduation and postgraduate training as a medical doctor.
  • my Kodály methodology training: I learned from the best teachers: Lucinda Geoghegan – Scotland, James Cuskelly – Australia, László Norbert Nemes – Hungary, Nikhil Dally – Surrey, Len Tyler – Surrey, Ilona Gállné Gróh – Hungary, I also learned from writings of Paul Harris
  • my music teaching practice: reflective practice has been helping me to refine my teaching practice and to come up with new teaching ideas, all based on the ideas I learnt in Kodály methodology courses
  • through observations undertaken by Government Inspectors in Feversham Primary School, Bradford, UK  highlighted that high quality music teaching was the catalyst that changed Feversham Primary School from inadequate to be in the top 10% of schools in England when it comes to progressing children’s learning in core subjects like Maths and English.
  • through Head Teacher Naveed Idrees statement: “The jobs of the future are those that require a human touch and creativity”; therefore “Arts, Music and Humanity, and especially Music is the bedrock of education success.”
    (        from  24:00 onwards)


What did I find odd about Kodály musicianship teaching?

I did not understand how such superb teaching philosophy can be banned from most schools, music hubs, from the knowledge of the general public, when children have been thriving on it each time it has been tried, and music teachers on teacher training courses and in their own teaching practice cannot be more positive about it.

  • Learning from many Kodály teacher colleagues, I knew that however cheap, expensive or free they offered Kodály musicianship teaching to schools, and however remarkable teaching they have undertaken, schools never seemed to have got acquainted with their achievements or appreciated their work in most English schools. Most of the Local parents have: e.g. Stepping Notes Music school in Surrey has become the best-loved activity for 2-8-year-old children in the local area. There are more exception in Scotland where teachers from more and more primary schools have been engaging in Kodály training and various levels, trained by NYCOS, and/or in connection with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
  • I have also learned from Creative Education, a company offering teacher CPD teacher training, that
    “Unfortunately our music courses historically have not recruited very well — therefore a course on Kodály inspired music teaching would be too niche to be considered as a course we look at developing further.”
  • The first publication of the Feversham results I knew of are from October 2017:
    In March 2018 still only Kodály musicianship teachers were celebrating these results. Why did primary school teachers not join in? With common sense one would think that every primary school Head Teacher would be interested to learn about how the positive changes at Feversham Primary School happened, and would be thinking about how they could make the same changes happen in their school.
  • Why am I still in need to undertake locum shifts as a medical doctor when I could train teachers to teach Kodály musicianship and could teach children in a primary school? And every time I work as a doctor all I see is that people are in despair due to being isolated, or struggling due to addiction. Isolation and behavioural issues count up to more than 50% of GP consultations (which I saw during my foundation training as a doctor) and of hospital admissions (which I continue to see today as a locum doctor in General Medicine). After every shifts I come to the conclusion that I could do a lot more for our society, preventing isolation to happen and contributing to people’s well-being through teaching Kodály musicianship, then helping with each individual medical cases as a doctor.

Since I knew I have no reason why I should ever give up on Kodály musicianship teaching, which is truly effective, life-changing, useful, logically sequenced, highly valuable in education and in our mental health and well-being, and I have so many new ideas to try to further refine it; I decided to use the evidence that Government Inspectors themselves documented for us: the sweeping changes in Feversham Primary School, and try to get the Kodály message through to primary schools and music schools in the area.


What objectives did I try to get through to local primary and music schools and how?

The objectives I was trying to get through to 150 primary schools in Liverpool and 40 music schools and hubs in North West England:

  • how music can be taught in a progressive way,
  • what benefits Kodály musicianship teaching offers in children’s education,
  • how school teachers and the music teacher can collaborate to bring the best education to children, and
  • why music can’t be taught by every teacher.


These are things I tried to get my objectives through:

1. Liverpool area primary schools’ music competition

Because I knew I cannot settle down in 150 primary schools at the same time, I announced a competition for schools to write an essay between 300 and 3000 words titled


For this essay I gave plenty of high class material to read with lots of prompting where the answers can be found. I offered the first replying eligible school (i.e. eligible to participate in my primary school research as I defined in the research criteria: every school that has one class from reception to Year 6 in each year group is eligible) the opportunity to win me as their music teacher, and I offered all schools free staff training on Kodály musicianship teaching for primary school age children (which is exactly the kind of teaching that triggered the favourable changes at Feversham Primary School) , who responded to the competition and wrote an essay.

Response: no school wrote any essays, one contacted only about where to find the supportive information.


2. Inviting professionals working in primary and music education to Introductory Kodály teaching course

I invited teachers to Introductory Kodály training: wrote to 150 local primary schools in the area and 40 local and regional music schools and hubs in the North West.

Response: Only one music teacher based in a Liverpool primary school responded: she promptly answered and booked her place early on. She previously had basic Kodály training. We spent the best day of discoveries together (based on teaching scenarios and on detailed practical song analysis, she had to discover what, how and why we teach, and how we adapt it to pupils who come with different needs), and she was engaging in intermediate to advanced Kodály methodology instead of introductory Kodály musicianship teacher training.


3. Engaging schools in consecutive Kodály music lesson observations

I was trying to engage schools in consecutive Kodály music lesson observations, offering 5 consecutive lessons to each classes. For this I also offered a whole school performance to which I composed a beautiful arrangement to a British folk song, which I carefully picked to suit to engage children and adults of many different ages. I made a recording of my folk song arrangement and was trying to use as a distraction to persuade readers to continue reading my letter while  being lost in the magic of the music.

Response: The reason one school responded in hesitation was because I was discussing different matters with the Head Teacher who then politely asked about the consecutive music lessons again and picked 2 classes: Reception and Year 2 (showing she has no understanding about the fact that Kodály musicianship teaching is a true benefit for ALL year groups, and requires sequential learning; therefore even 5 consecutive sessions could have helped her see how this kind of teaching could work for all age groups), not because she believed in the use of consecutive lesson observations, but because she might have thought it would please me since I have shown interest in their school. The objectives about Kodály musicianship teaching did not get through because neither of the staff was engaging in consecutive lesson observations. On the second week they actually were asking me to teach the same material to a different class; I reassured them that I have offered to teach all classes and they can arrange consecutive slots for that class, too and on that day I continued to teach the same class since what I offered to them was learning from consecutive music lesson observations which neither of them undertook or even compared between two different year groups. The school previously rejected introductory Kodály training in the near future, however expensive, cheap or free it was; however unwise it is to exclude teacher training courses of such high value which are real benefit for all staff.


4. Offering Kodály musicianship teaching in Music Hubs

Previously I have also been in contact with Music Hub directors who did not get any of my written or verbal messages either. Most of them did not respond at all. The one who responded blamed schools who did not choose singing-based curriculum with Kodály musicianship for their children; however they have not considered Kodály musicianship classes to their own music pupils either, despite of such classes are benefit to ALL pupils who undertake vocal and/ or instrumental studies, and we personally have requested them for our own children, too. Only one recorder (and violin and viola) teacher understood my message who taught our own daughters, and could observe and try to approach musical literacy and basics of woodwind teaching with Kodály musicianship skills herself through the examples we brought to the lessons. She has learned from the observations and applied principals not just with my children but also in her whole class teaching practice, too.


What was the Summary of my findings?

Through reflecting to the unusual that does not fit the rule – i.e. Why professionals working in primary and music education are not interested in the most logical form of music teaching that was described as the catalyst in transforming Feversham primary school from inadequate to top 10 British school?  – I discovered  a new rule.

  • All School Head Teachers, Teachers, Teaching Assistants, Music Hub Directors and Music Teachers are clever creatures and are deeply touched by their pupils, are caring, wanting the best for their pupils, in which I have never had any doubt whatsoever.
  • Only those Ofsted Inspectors and Head Teacher understood what the benefits of Kodály musicianship teaching are who were following up Kodály music lessons (delivered by Kodály musicianship teacher, Jimmy Rotherham) at Feversham Primary School. They expressed their wish to pass this message on throughout the country, but only those colleagues of mine welcomed this message who were previously Kodály trained, or those who participated on the training session offered by Jimmy Rotherham music teacher and were trained by the Head and Music Teacher of Feversham Primary Scool during their live demonstration, through engaging the participants in training.
  • The only music teacher who came to my advertised Kodály training has previously undergone basic Kodály training and was eager to learn as much as she could;
  • The only Music Hub Music Teacher who understood the benefits of Kodály musicianship teaching was the one who observed how Kodály musicianship teaching can be adapted to recorder lessons through teaching my own children, which inspired her to change her teaching practice in other settings, too.

Therefore, Kodály musicianship teaching is a bit like teaching a child about how cinnamon smells or chocolate tastes: how would they know this if they have not smelled cinnamon or tasted chocolate before?
Kodály musicianship teaching is a practical way of music teaching, which can only be understood and processed through active participation in training courses and in consecutive Kodály music lessons, for which my findings are the evidence:

  • Through a certain amount of active participation everyone has managed so far to develop a basic understanding of its high values, many of whom expressed a wish or a need for children (and adults) to be taught this way.
  • On the other hand, without active participation no-one has ever managed to understand its essence or its high value.


What are the conclusions? 

  • Therefore, it has been a mistake from my side to try and engage people in reading/ video watching about what Kodály musicianship teaching is, regardless of the lively description of scenarios and demonstrations, when it is the first time they come across with Kodály musicianship teaching.
  • It has also been wrong on my side to try and engage professionals working in schools and music schools in introductory Kodály training as a course of their choice. It is understandable that people who have not had their own Kodály experience through training or consecutive lesson observations do not know what they missed, and therefore cannot be blamed for what they do not know. However; my findings and my colleagues’ findings reinforced that if people are given a free choice whether to engage in training or not, they reject every opportunity, therefore pupils are missing out every opportunity to get the best education at school, too.
  • What people in general need to understand about Kodály musicianship teaching firstly is that
    • they need to actively engage in training and/or in consecutive lesson observations. It has to be them themselves to work for their own Kodály experience. They cannot delegate another member of staff to do this for them, even if they are the Head Teacher, the Head of a Music Service or the Head of the Department of Education.  Then they will have a basic understanding to interpret the demonstrative scenario descriptions and all the useful and high quality information I offered as a background information.
    • they also need to understand that there is a good reason for them to participate in the training: without developing a basic understanding about the Kodály philosophy which is proved to be a real benefit in school children’s education, their children will continuously be missing out the best training opportunity because of their uninformed decision.
  • Those people who had their Kodály experience owe a responsibility to remind others to participate in Introductory training courses and consecutive lesson observations, so that they can also develop a basic understanding about this highly valuable and effective educational philosophy, so that their decision about their children’s education will be informed and will enable them to see the real benefits of Kodály musicianship teaching for their pupils.
  • Introductory Kodály courses are of mandatory significance, and Advanced Kodály Musicianship and Methodology Courses are for those who opt to teach music in schools or in music hubs/ music schools. Kodály Course providers should also be aware of this.
  • It is likely that in the future, when educational professionals will have been growing with Kodály musicianship as a child throughout their whole time in primary school, studying with fully Kodály trained music teachers, they won’t need to complete introductory Kodály courses any more, just a short Kodály awareness course during their training, which could be delivered in 8 hours as a practical training session.


What changes are likely to happen in primary school children’s music teaching as a result of more professionals engaging in Introductory Kodály Training?

Professionals in education are likely to understand themselves that music teaching in nurseries, primary and secondary schools and by private teachers/ music hubs needs changing:

  • It is unfair, unwise and unprofessional for all primary school teachers to be asked to teach music. Outstanding music teaching is the key for children’s educational success, therefore it should be exercised for each class on a regular basis (I would certainly recommend 2 music lessons/week as a minimum) by professional teachers who have undergone relevant training.

Professionals in education are likely to understand that music teacher training for nurseries, primary and secondary schools requires special trainee selection and special training:

  • Musicians/ teachers with a strong musical background need to be selected for music teacher training: those will manage well who are able to sing the middle part in a choral work for 3-4 voices, or those who express an interest and dedication to train up to this high level of musicianship. The more musical experience and knowledge a teacher has, the better they will succeed in learning on the intensive Kodály methodology course, which embraces the music teaching part of the training.
  • These trainees also need to undergo teacher training from a wider aspect: to be able to teach at nursery, primary, secondary school levels and adults, so they can involve pupils and members of the community appropriately.
  • For this it would be best to develop a training course where music specialist teachers receive all these training elements in one place and in one Specialist Music Teacher degree.


What changes are likely to happen in music hub/ music school/ private music teachers’ training if they also engage in Introductory Kodály Training?

Music hub and private music teachers are likely to understand that all of them should complete Introductory Kodály training and as many as possible should also undergo Advanced Kodály methodology training to ensure their pupils will grow to become MUSICIANS with

  1. a well-trained ear,
  2. a well-trained intelligence,
  3. a well-trained heart, and
  4. a well-trained hand (and not just the latter).


What changes are likely to happen in health care professionals training?

  • Kodály musicianship leads to musical literacy among the general public, and is an example to experience the joy of community music making;
  • therefore growing with Kodály musicianship teaching is the guarantee for voluntary engagement in community music making sessions and dances for the previous two reasons (the experience of joy will be carried in our hearts and the knowledge of sight-singing will enable us to approach any musical repertoire),
  • engagement in such sessions plays an important part in maintaining people’s mental health and in protecting them from isolation, and
  • since mental health issues and isolation are the key factors in more than 50% of GP consultations and hospital admissions, which if avoided can reduce health care costs and health care workers heavy workload up to 50% in the future.
  • Therefore, professionals in healthcare are likely to agree that Kodály musicianship teaching needs to be an essential part of our school education and community singing and/or instrumental music making needs to be part of our healthy lifestyle.
  • Since most healthcare professionals did not have the opportunity to grow with Kodály musicianship teaching, it is important that they also engage in practical community singing demonstrations as part of their mindfulness training/ mental health prevention training.
  • The main reason why healthcare professionals needs to have an understanding about Kodály musicianship teaching is “that Kodály musicianship teaching has the same importance in our education as Life Support Courses, since one teaches us how to save our body and the other how to save our soul, therefore giving us a perspective on what to live for. And we learn both skills through practicing, supported with background reading.”
  • This training could be delivered by those healthcare professionals who have undergone  a 2-day Kodály training on how deliver the community singing demonstrations.


Key Learning Points

Founder Teacher of Liverpool Kodály School  Zsuzsa Kata Horváth discovered what Kodály musicianship teachers have always known in their hearts, but struggled to pronounce  in this wider context:
“Kodály musicianship teaching is a bit like smelling cinnamon or like tasting chocolate; without smelling cinnamon or tasting chocolate how else would you understand what it is like? It is so practical that understanding its basics requires attendance and active participation in the introductory Kodály training course. Kodály musicianship teaching has the same importance in our education as Life Support Courses, since one teaches us how to save our body and the other how to save our soul, therefore giving us a perspective on what to live for. And we learn both skills through practicing, supported with background reading.  Therefore,

  • Everyone who was given a right to practice or make decisions about children’s education also owe a responsibility to participate in the introductory Kodály training course, so that their decisions about children’s education will be well-informed, and will serve to the benefit of their children.
  • At the same time, everyone practicing as a health professional, needs to experience the effect of community singing in mental health prevention, included in their mindfulness and mental health prevention training, for their own sake, and for guiding our patients and submit referrals accordingly ” – says Dr Horváth.

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