4 Differences of Kodály Music Lessons and Piano Lessons

Do you teach classroom music and private instrumental lessons using the Kodály approach?

I don’t know about you, but as a Kodály music teacher I actually teach in a lot of different settings.

I teach classroom music using my very own Kodály based Doremi Teach Music curriculum, and I also teach private piano lessons, again using my Kodály based Doremi Teach Piano curriculum. In fact it’s more than just that. I also teach adult musicianship and of course deliver teacher training and coaching to my Doremi members.

And despite each setting using the same approach, that is the singing based Kodály approach to music education, they can actually look quite different in some areas.

In this podcast episode I share my four top differences. 

Difference #1 – Pitch Awareness
Difference #2 – Practice
Difference #3 – Speed
Difference #4 – Notation


Difference #1: Pitch awareness

The development of true pitch awareness takes time. With older students they may already be able to identify high and low with a large range, only needing effort for smaller intervals.

However with young children we need to spend a significant amount of preparation time performing actions that follow the melodic contour or shape of the melody.

In the classroom we’re mostly using voices, although we can use some recorded excerpts of art music. So not only are they listening to the high and low sounds, they are also performing them too. Albeit with a smaller range.

In MY piano lessons we do the same. Lots of singing and moving. However in a piano lesson we also have this marvellous instrument in front of us. We can play notes that extend much higher and lower than our voices, and the vast majority of recordings too.

And when I say we, I mean they. They can press the keys themselves and experience the differing pitches. And that is a powerful thing.

It means they don’t need to recognise the pitches in order to perform and identify them.

But the problem is… they don’t need to recognise the pitches in order to perform and identify them!

So it’s a double edged sword. Once they learn which end of the piano has the low notes and which has the high notes, they can fake a musical understanding. Not good. But does their musical understanding develop FROM there? Maybe!

After all, once they go home and practice they get much more exposure.

Of course that’s assuming that remembering which end is high and which is low is simpler than hearing the high and low sounds.

I think it’s a mix.

In Doremi Piano Sing and Play we start playing on high and low black keys a skip apart, which of course is also so and mi. I have students who play each of the black keys first, to hear which is highest before starting to play their piece. I even have some who tap the highest and lowest notes on the piano to remind themselves which is higher and which is lower before applying that direction to their pair of black keys.

So some use their ears, and some certainly use their memories.

But with time, they develop both – but at their own pace.

So not better, or worse. Just different.

Difference #2: Practice

We know all piano students practise, right? Haha! Every day! Hahahahaha!!!!

Ok, but lets assume they do.

How many of your classroom music students practise between lessons?

It’s rare for a primary school to set homework for music.

Although when the songs and games are so engaging, I know the children love playing and singing them in the playground or absent-mindedly in the car, when drawing, when walking! So maybe they DO practice.

Having said that, in Doremi Piano lessons we also play games and sing engaging songs. So even when my students don’t “sit down to practise” at the piano, they often make progress. The nature of the lesson structure lends itself to mental practice even away from the piano.

So that’s one of the reasons behind the next difference, which is…

Difference #3: Speed

No, not the speed they can perform at. But the speed that they can master new skills. We can work through the Kodály roadmap much faster in a piano lesson than in the classroom.

One reason for this is of course the fact that they practice.

But also it’s the one to one environment. We’re in a unique and privileged position to tailor not only each lesson to the needs of our student, but also each moment of the lesson. We can improvise a change in direction or a new activity to perfectly help that individual master the knowledge and skills.

But wait a minute, there are advantages to classroom settings too.

When a student isn’t sure of something, they can hide in the throng. Is this a good thing? It doesn’t sound like it, but hear me out. If they are engaged and listening, they can take advantage of being surrounded by more confident students and edge towards understanding and confidence themselves. Not quite sure of the rules of a game? Follow everyone else until you get the hang of it. Can’t think of an action to improvise? If the teacher is careful they will pick on the confident students first so the less confident get a few demonstrations before it’s their turn.

But still, most students make faster progress when they are in a one to one setting.

But beware! Make sure the progress isn’t just theoretical. They might be able to give the correct answers but when it comes to developing musicianship skills, repetition is key. Don’t rush at the expense of careful preparation and effective practice.

Just because a student understands the solfa and can play it on the piano, doesn’t mean they have developed the musicianship that we desire. Make sure you take the time to repeat, to reinvent, to experience in new settings and of course to sight read, dictate and create.

Difference #4: Notation

In the classroom, assuming we’re starting with 4 to 6 year olds, I won’t introduce stave notation for at least a year. We’ll be too busy getting those essential musical must-haves in place – if you want to know what my Four Essential Musical Must Haves are then go to doremiconnect.co.uk/four and grab my free download.

However in piano lessons as I said before, things move much faster.

I want to send them home with something to practise and in order to do that I need something to remind them of what to play.

The first proper piece they learn is black crow and they create their own notation using crow icon cards. Showing the high and low shape of the melody. Of course with the advantages of digital homework notes we can share a photo of their notation with their parents – something I now couldn’t live without and why there’s a course inside Doremi Membership on how to do it.

But soon after we’ll start using two line, three line and five line clefless staves to notate the melody. So our students can start developing their reading skills alongside their aural and performance skills. And it works as a prompt when they’re at home, just like more advanced sheet music.

Again though, just as with the pitch awareness, and speed, it can be a double edged sword. So when we work at a faster pace in one to one lessons we have to be extra vigilante.  Students can seem to understand but in fact their aural deficiencies are masked by their intelligence. So include lots and lots of singing, listening and other aural activities in as many different contexts as possible. Not only will this develop their aural skills, it’ll also highlight the areas that you need to focus on.

Related Articles

Empowering children to sing: achieving success with the cornerstone of the Kodály approach

In the last blog post (catch-up here), we talked about the qualities of speaking and singing and what the differences are. To help our students learn the difference between their speaking and singing voices they need to feel free and able to experiment with their voices. So how do we give them confidence and encouragement to experience their voice types?

Whether you’re a classroom teacher, visiting music teacher or 1:1 instrumental teacher, this blog will give you tips and ideas for experiencing voice types in a Kodály inspired way.


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