Regardless of which methods you use to teach music, movement figures into it, though perhaps in varying degree. Laban and Jaques-Dalcroze in particular have influenced the use of movement as an indispensable component of educating children musically. Though one could go into great detail about the various kinds of movement, four general types of movement are useful for music educators. These are, moving to the beat, moving for expression, moving to form, and moving to events. Each of these types of movements helps children understand, experience, and express the many facets of music.
Moving to the beat is perhaps the most frequently done movement. It is an integral part of Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze and Gordon philosophies for music education. Early formal music training always includes moving to a beat, often using patsch, clap, walk and snap as primary movements. Of these, walking is particularly helpful because it includes a shift of weight with each step, and is a silent motion, so the beat is felt but not heard except in the music itself. Walking also leaves the hands and arms free to do rhythms or subdivisions of the beat. Earliest attempts involve the student performing a beat and then the teacher performing music to the child’s beat. This shows the child the relationship between beat and music, but does not require the child to determine the beat from music she is hearing, which is a more difficult skill. Later, the child learns to do this as well.
Movement to the beat when done in the arms leaves the feet free to move to the rhythm. Students can “walk the music” while keeping the beat with their arms. A more advanced version of this is to walk forwards for ascending pitches and backwards for descending pitches. Students can also do a predetermined motion whenever a specified event is heard, such as an accent, syncopation, or motive. For example, they might jump whenever they hear a staccato event in an otherwise staccato melody, or squat down whenever they hear a descending motif they had learned before. None of these movements make any sound, so listening to the music is unimpeded. This is important, because these movement activities are as much about listening (hearing ascending or descending contour, for example) as they are about keeping a steady beat. Movements that make sound, such as claps or snaps, add to the music, and should be used in situations where the sounds made are helpful to the students in achieving the instructional goal of the activity.
Movement for expression is very different. With this kind of movement, motions synchronized to the beat are avoided. Instead, students move to what they think or feel from the music. They might make smooth motions with the arms for legato, or jumpy motions for staccato. They might flick the wrists for an intervallic leap, or slouch forward for a dark or somber chord. As they do these motions, they bring out feelings of joy, or sadness, or agitation, or relaxation. The motions help the students discover how they feel when they hear the music, because the motions express those same feelings. Students can learn things about the music from their bodies by moving for expression. Having them move this way and then describe how they felt when they moved is a great way to start a discussion of what they already know about the music, before teaching them anything about it directly.
Movement for form requires students to listen for things that are repeated and listen to things that are new. It is a type of same-different learning. Students repeat a movement for things that are repeated, and create a new movement for things that are new. By tracing the pattern of same and different movements, students can learn the form of the music through their actions. As with stepping the music, where, as one of my students put it, they “become the notes,” when moving to form, the students become the form. Moving this way in a class also enables students to see the form as they watch other students make same or different patterns of movement. The specific movements can be pre-arranged for each theme or section, or they can be personal to each student. As long as each child is accurately showing same and different, they can use their creativity to use whatever movements they can imagine and do. Movement is important to understanding and experiencing music, and should be used often in our music classes.