Quality Whole Class Instrumental Lessons

1. What is the difference between whole class instrumental lessons taught by the Kodály teacher and
by other wider opportunity providers?

Kodály musicianship teaching is based on teaching with singing. And believe it or not, it can successfully be adapted to instrumental teaching. Paul Harris (the author of the Improve your teaching series) knows it; I wish all instrumental teachers knew about this, too.

The main difference between instrumental sessions on Kodály lessons versus instrumental sessions offered by other wider opportunity providers is that Kodály children (i.e. children who previously had twice weekly Kodály lessons from Reception class onwards), will be able to handle their instruments much more independently by Year 4, because by then they have been developing the first 3 features of a good musician for 4 years (as described by Zoltán Kodály):

  1. A well-trained ear,
  2. A well-trained intelligence,
  3. A well-trained heart,

Therefore the instrumental teacher only has to focus on teaching instrumental technique, the fourth feature of a good musician:

  1. A well-trained hand.

while further challenging children’s musicianship skills (the well-trained ear, intelligence and heart) from the angle of the given instrument at the same time.

Let’s consider the differences between the following examples:

Example No. 1:

  1. A) Year 4 whole class descant recorder teaching with non- Kodály based music teaching
  • Children approach recorder playing by learning notes with absolute pitch names only
  • Children know that the absolute pitch names follow each other in A B C D E F G A B… order, but they do not know which note is which degree of a scale, or where the semitone and whole tone steps are.
  • Therefore children learn to play songs on the recorder by repetition, practising how hand movements link to absolute pitch names, without any understanding about the essence of the melody.
  • Children approach learning about rhythm semiconsciously, by using 4-beat rhythmic chants only, without specifying the name for each rhythm: e.g. Don’t  clap    this one    back   without knowing this phrase with rhythm names:
  • Should they know the rhythm names, they would be able to identify and practice these rhythms in other phrases consciously, with improvising new motives, playing rhythm card reading or rhythm domino, or rhythm people for example.
  • After practising 4-beat rhythmic patterns with ta and te te rhythm, children could learn many more different rhythm patterns, in the order of progression on music examples.
  1. B) Year 4 whole class descant recorder teaching as part of a Kodály lesson
  • Children are prepared to sing certain songs with relative solfa from memory, and are able to group songs in the same category if they contain the same relative solfa notes.
  • Children are also able to clap the rhythm of a song with French rhythm names, and obviously are set on their journey to learn about more and more complex rhythmic patterns that they can practice on their instruments, too.
  • Since they are already familiar with the use French rhythm names, they also know that semiquavers are tikitiki with French rhythm names, and so they have already mastered the basics of double tonguing, which is used to play fast notes on wind instruments, such as the recorder.
  • They are aware that relative solfa notes actually show a note’s place within a scale (e.g. Do is the first degree in a major scale), and they also know how relative solfa notes are related to each other when drawn on the 5-line stave (e.g. if so sits on a line, then mi sits on the line below it… ) therefore they can use this knowledge when they convert relative pitch notes to absolute pitch notes, so they will know each notes’ function within a song.
  • After children gained an understanding about the conversion between relative solfa and absolute pitch notes, children can work out the absolute pitch notes for any phrases they can sing with relative pitch. This means they will be able to sing a song with both relative solfa and with absolute pitch names. And they will be able to work out the notes for a song with absolute pitch names in any keys (e.g. for a major song they can work out the song in C major, G major, D major…. round in all 15 keys of the circle of the fifth).
  • Once the teacher has shown pupils the correct fingering for all absolute pitch notes on the recorder, pupils will be able to play these songs independently, without the teacher having to guide them from note to note.
  • This has the implication that the children are self-motivated to work out how to play other songs on their instrument, which is involved with more practice, and as you know
  • Practice makes perfect.

And there are 3 more extra features in my research framework for this scenario which has not been applied by other Kodály teachers, of which you can be taught as part of one of your follow-up Kodály training session.


Example No. 2:

  1. A) Year 5 whole class ukulele teaching with non- Kodály based music teaching
  • Children start the lesson by attending to the teacher to tune their ukuleles.
  • Children need guidance on how to play each chord on the ukulele. And they absolutely cannot have any idea on how to work out chords on the ukulele or on other plucked string instruments with frets (e.g. guitar) either.
  • Children do not understand how to set chords to a melody.
  • They purely rely on the hand movements which they practice on the lessons, without any deeper understanding of the melody, the chords, and only have semiconscious understanding of the rhythm of strumming (what they learned with ‘Don’t     clap      this one     back).
  1. B) Year 5 whole class ukulele teaching as part of a Kodály lesson
  • Children are able to start the lesson by adjusting the tuning on their ukulele, after a tuned instrument was played for them. This is because they know that the strings G C E and A sound as so do mi la with relative solfa names which they can already hear in their heads and can pitch correctly with singing; therefore they will be able to identify with their ears which string sounds the same as their teacher’s instrument, and which string is out of tune, whether that string sounds lower or higher, and will learn quickly how to adjust the tuning to the right pitch.
  • Once children are taught how to build up certain chords, e.g. a major chord from do-mi-so relative pitches, and know how to convert relative to absolute pitch, they can build such a chord on any absolute pitch note.
  • Since children understand that each fret on the ukulele raises the pitch with one semitone, they can figure out where they have to stop the fret board with their fingers to play certain chords.
  • Understanding how to make up certain chords on the ukulele will enable children to figure out chords on further plucked string instruments with frets, such as guitar for example, once children are told which absolute pitches the strings are tuned to on a certain instrument.
  • Since children have been shown examples on how they can make chord arrangements to songs, they can come up with suggestions how to add chords to a certain song by themselves.
  • Children learn their instruments with a large amount of self-motivation: they won’t stop working out how certain songs (they hear on youtube for example) can be played on the ukulele, and
  • With practice they become better and better.


How can all this happen? Gradually, with progressive music teaching. See it for yourself:

  • Hire a Kodály teacher for your school and/or
  • Come to our teacher training courses:
    • There are introductory music teaching training courses that benefit all primary school teachers who would like to optimise their teaching by collaborating with the music teacher effectively,
    • Further courses for those who train to teach music at primary school/ who teach instruments.