How Does Kodaly Compare to Traditional and Suzuki String Approaches?

Each row in the table corresponds to the paragraphs with the same number:

           Traditional                         Suzuki                                  Kodály

  1. Read-Play              “Play what I Play”                  Sing-Play, then Read-Play
  2. Sight to Sound        Sound to Sound                    Sound to Sight
  3. Cognitive                 Intuitive                                 Intuitive to Cognitive
  4. Slow Technique       Quick Technique                  Quick Technique
  5. Subject-Logic          Child Developmental            Child Developmental
  6. Visual literacy          No literacy                            Aural literacy             

 #1 & 2  

Traditional-The student reads the note and then plays it; thus, sight to sound.

 Suzuki-The student hears the song first from a teacher, a parent, or a recording playing it, and then copies; hence, sound to sound.

 Kodály-The student’s model is his/her own singing voice learned by rote from the teacher’s singing, often in singing games.  The rhythmic and melodic elements of the song are derived and given a name and a symbol, which the student will recognize when placed on the staff; thus, sound to sight.


Traditional-The music must be read first, before it can be played.  Reading language or music notation takes cognitive skill and concentration. 

Suzuki- The “mother tongue” approach.  Children learn how to speak their own language through hearing it spoken.  They perceive it without having to reason or concentrate; it’s just part of their environment.  The music is likewise presented through listening and can be perceived at a very young age. 

Kodály-Singing is intuitive to all children, so the first instrument is the singing voice.  In the beginning, the songs are sung first and then transferred to the instrument.  As symbols of music are learned from the sounds, the child’s cognitive skills are developed step-by-step.


Traditional-Having to decode the page before you can play, tends to slow down the process of acquiring technique.  There’s only so much brain available to think of everything.  I call that slow technique.

 Suzuki-The principle advantage is that a young child can get to the technique of the instrument very quickly.  Since there is no reading, technique is quick.

 Kodály-There are actually two learning tracks going on simultaneously.  The intuitive one, starting from sound, transfers to the instrument very easily, and results in quick technique.  The reading track is going on concurrently to create literacy.  It’s important for teachers to have their objectives clearly in mind: are we working on technique or literacy right now?  That determines the approach.  This separation of tasks allows a teacher to customize a student’s program according to his/her strengths and needs.  Gradually, the students’ ability to play and their ability to read merge.


Traditional-“In a subject-logic approach there is no relationship between the order of presentation and the order in which children learn easily.  The subject matter is simply organized in a fashion that seems reasonable in terms of content” (Lois Choksy, The Kodaly Method, 2nd edition, New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1988, p. 11)  In past decades, a subject-logic approach was used in traditional violin methods. Rhythmically, it began with the whole note and then proceeded to halves and quarters. This is a logical progression, but certain to kill any enthusiasm for playing the violin.  Since those days, several wonderful pedagogues have taken a more child developmental approaches to technique.  The work of Paul Rolland was especially significant. However, one needs only to look at the preliminary instructions about music notation and fundamentals given in most method books, to realize that the student must intellectualize certain abstract concepts about music before he can begin to play.

Suzuki-“The child developmental approach to sequence within a subject requires the arrangement of the subject matter into patterns that follow normal child abilities at various stages of growth.” (ibid)  The Suzuki “mother tongue” concept of learning is itself child developmental.  Rhythms and bowings begin with small note values, much easier than long ones with extended bow strokes.  However, as the work moves forward, the technical demands progress rapidly from piece to piece, without sufficient reinforcement of each element.  In my opinion, large gaps in the learning sequence ultimately make it not child developmental: too many new things all at once. 

Kodály-The learning sequence begins at the best starting place for children’s voices and experience.  Rhythmically, it begins with feeling the beat.  Melodically, children are able to sing a range of only five or six tones with no half-steps.  While the best first tones for singing are pentatonic, the best for starting a string instrument are those which are step-wise starting from the open string.  Learning those first music elements one at a time through singing, and then transferring them to the instrument at the appropriate time is the order of things for a smooth, natural, child-developmental learning sequence.  


Traditional-Learning by these methods, students who persevere until their technique catches up with their ability to read music notation, can become great sight readers and independent learners.  Reading notes, however, does not necessarily mean that students will know in their heads what the notes are supposed to sound like before they play them.  I call this visual literacy.

Suzuki-The biggest weakness of staying with the Suzuki approach for very long is the lack of literacy.  Most Suzuki teachers now find a way to introduce note-reading of some form or another from traditional sources.  The necessity of a prescribed repertoire I find particularly limiting as a teacher. 

Kodály-One of the primary objectives is to educate the ear and achieve music literacy based on hearing.  (See articles “To Hear or Not to Hear” and “What is Solfege and Why is it Important” in this blog)  These students become even better sight readers, because they hear in their head what they are about to play.  With careful step-by-step learning, students can achieve a high level of musicianship which aural literacy makes possible.

In conclusion:  Which is the best approach?  It depends on the result you are looking for.  Many fine players have emerged from all three of them.



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