Kodály In Effect
Tale of Two students
It’s instructive to me to compare two 9th grade violin students I once had, studying concurrently. One had received a Kodály music education at her elementary school and also from the violin curriculum. She was having trouble playing the descending 3-octave A melodic minor scale in tune. She was playing flat in the top octave. I asked her to sing the scale in sol-fa. She sang it perfectly in tune. Then I asked her to play it again slowly and carefully. She successfully made the necessary finger adjustments to find the right pitches. I asked her, “What was different?” She replied sheepishly, “I listened.” I thought to myself, “What was she listening to? I wasn’t playing with her.” The answer was that she was listening to her own inner hearing which had been cultivated in elementary school.
Another 9th grade student who didn’t have the good fortune of developing those skills before she came to me, was talented physically, but was still unsure when it came to finding notes on the page, both in rhythm and intervals. I felt handicapped when I worked with her at first, because I didn’t have the same set of tools that I did with the first student. She didn’t have the same foundation.
When students do have the foundation which I have described, it is very easy to instruct them about tonal center, form, modulation, chord structure, harmonic tendencies, and other aspects of musical structure which are important to their interpretation and expression on the instrument. What a huge advantage it is to have aural literacy! What a huge advantage for students to have music in their heads and ears, and not just in their fingers!
Even though the materials which I have developed are carefully sequenced, the materials themselves will not produce the educated ear, unless the process which I have described above is applied. You can use the “Play what I play” approach or the “Read the note and play it” approach with beginning students if you want to. You just have to remember that the result will not produce aural literacy. By using the processes discussed in this essay, ie: “Sing, make conscious musical elements, play, read”, students can gain these important aural skills from the very beginning. I hope that this brief description of the process will lead string teachers to implement an effective system for teaching these basic fundamentals of musicianship to their students. Who knows, maybe they’ll test out of their first semester aural skills class. And those who do not go on to study music in college will still experience the reward and satisfaction of complete musicianship.
Cynthia V. Richards-2017