Is There Madness in the Method?

2011Symposium_1_2Music teachers are often concerned with method. If you go to most music education conferences, you’ll find sessions on the Kodaly Method, the Dalcroze Method, Gordon Music Learning Theory, the Orff Method, Feierabend’s Conversational Solfege, the Suzuki Method, to name a few. Music teaching methods are like Protestant denominations: there are many of them, they all have a common core, but are different in some ways. These differences lead music educators into discussions about how to best go about their business. Traditional or Suzuki? Ta ti-ti or du du-de? Which is better; solfege, numbers, letter names, or fixed do? The truth is, none of these methods is as good as using the best from all of them. While any of them is better than using no method at all, tying oneself to one limits the scope and sequence of what we teach. The key to knowing how to make wise methodological choices is to have a firm grasp on what the essential, non-negotiables are, and then find the best way to build of them.

There are some common threads that run through many of these methods. One is the idea that music is akin to language and should be learned in a similar way. Suzuki referred to learning music as one learns the “mother tongue,” through listening and imitating first, then when fluency is gained adding reading. Learning from listening and imitating is also central to Gordon’s music learning theory, and Feierabend’s conversational solfege, and both of these fit nicely with Kodaly, who also believed music education should start early, and be centered around growing musicianship first through the singing voice. “Sound before sight” is a phrase often used to describe this approach to music teaching; it is one of the essentials of music education methodology.

A second essential is that music is learned through movement. The method of Dalcroze features movement as a key methodelement in building musicianship. With this approach, musical expression through movement is featured. Children develop musical skills through kinesthetic experiences, moving in response to rhythm and structure they hear in music. The movement is often spontaneous and can include moving to the beat as well as moving more freely. Orff also emphasized movement. In his method, it is an integral part of a musical experience, and is also often used to prepare children to play mallet instruments. Students are given the opportunity to explore and create and then to “intellectualize” what they have done afterwards. Orff explained, “Elemental music is never just music. It’s bound up with movement, dance and speech, and so it is a form of music in which one must participate, in which one is involved not as a listener but as a co-performer.” Orff’s view of music education blurs the line between performer and audience, which is in keeping with the way much of the world experiences music.

These two essentials, developing pitch and rhythm aurally as a child’s native language is learned, and understanding and experiencing music both as a performer and a listener kinesthetically through the body, leads to building musicianship and music literacy, which is the bottom line of music education. How we as music teachers bring our students to the point of mastering musicianship and music literacy is far less important than that our students succeed at both. Methods wars are fought every day over fixed do or moveable do, Kodaly or Orff, Gordon or tradition. All have their rightful place in the repertoire of methods from which a good music teacher will draw. We must emphasize what all of these methods have in common, for it is in the commonalities that we find what is most important.

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