What is Kodály?

The Kodály Concept

Essential and Key Elements of the Concept

Singing is “the essence” of the concept. The voice is the universal instrument, free and accessible to all; it can be considered our own instrument. As Kodály said, “If we ourselves sing often, this provides a deep experience of happiness in music. Through our own musical activities, we learn to know the pulsation, rhythm, and shape of melody. The enjoyment given encourages the study of instruments and the listening to other pieces of music as well.” Kodály-inspired teachers believe that all children–barring rare physical limitations–can match pitch; tone deafness is simply a myth.

Experiencing music cannot begin too early. Music is the birthright of every child. The child’s first connection to music comes through the voices of the parents. Once, when Kodály was asked when music education should begin, he replied, “Nine months before the birth of the mother.”

Traditional folk music provides the best and most natural material for becoming a literate musician. Everyone has a mother tongue—the language spoken at home. The traditional folk music of that language provides the source from which the basic elements of music literacy can be drawn. Following the study of authentic folk songs of the native culture(s), we can then explore of the music of other cultures and connect traditional music with all styles of composed music.

Music literacy is like language literacy. Kodály once said, “We should read music in the same way that an educated adult will read a book:  in silence, but imagining the sound.” He believed that musical literacy, like language literacy, is the right of every human being.

Using a sequential approach. Kodály-inspired teachers consider the culture and age of the student when developing a sequential curriculum, teaching easier melodic and rhythmic concepts and skills first, and building on their musical knowledge. We use developmentally appropriate literature, foster to their learning styles (physical, visual, and aural), and allow students experience music extensively before introducing notation and musical terms.

Quality music is the best material for teaching. Kodály believed that only the best music by the greatest composers and the most beautiful and representative folk music of the culture should be used. He said, “Let us take our children seriously! Everything else follows from this…only the best is good enough for a child.”

Note: Thank you to NCAKE for much of the information on this page

Zoltán Kodály

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967), prominent Hungarian composer and musician, directed a significant portion of his creative endeavors to the musical education of the Hungarian nation, an interest which developed over many years. Such efforts were initiated with the folk song collection beginning in 1905. As he became aware of the great need to improve the quality of singing and music training of teachers and children alike, he began composing for children's choruses in the 1920's and required his composition students to do the same. Folk music provided inspiration, as well as the musical basis, for many of the compositions. By 1929 he was determined to reform the teaching of music and to make it an integral part of the education of every child.

In a lecture on children's choirs in 1929, he said,

"Teach music and singing at school in such a way that it is not a torture, but a joy for the pupil; instill a thirst for finer music in him, a thirst which will last for a lifetime. If the child is not filled at least once by the lifegiving stream of music during the most susceptible period-between his sixth and sixteenth years-it will hardly be of any use to him later on. Often a single experience will open the young soul to music for a whole lifetime. This experience cannot be left to chance, it is the duty of the school to provide it." 

(Selected Writings, p. 120)

Kodály believed that music is meant to develop one's entire being, personality, intellect, and emotions. He said, "music is a spiritual food for everybody. So I studied how to make more people accessible to good music." (Kodály, 1966) Kodály realized this was part of everyone's basic heritage and was necessary for human development and should be started at as early an age as possible. Jenö Ádám, an early and prominent colleague of Kodály, stated, "The most important thing is to actualize the instinctive love of the child for singing and playing, to realize the changing of his moods through the songs, his feelings, his experiences - in other words, to bring about the miracle of music".