This episode is largely inspired by a book study we did inside the #TAP Insiders group on Facebook, where we discussed a few chapters from the book Teaching General Music. And while there is so much information in that book, the five chapters we chose to look at were focused on Kodály, Orff-Schulwerk, Dalcroze, Music Learning Theory, and World Music Pedagogy. For the purposes of this episode, I am omitting discussions of the last, and briefly discussing attributes of the other four. Why these? Because I find that most of my general music colleagues largely find themselves anchored in one or more of these approaches, and they are those that I have studied at some length and feel as though I have a descent grasp of.
Over the past several years, I have thought a lot about what my identity as a music teacher is. And when I really stop to think about it, it’s that I’m a music teacher. No other label. Although we might be in a community that can run the risk of being concerned about the box they belong in, I really resist that idea. I’ve said before that if I absolutely positively had to be put in a box, I would say that I am anchored in Kodály-inspired teaching, largely because of the way I approach the structure of my teaching practice. But it is only one facet of who I am as an educator, and only on way that I approach things pedagogically and philosophically in the classroom.
This episode is not going to be a review of pedagogical approaches nor a list of characteristics that define your music teacher identity. Rather, the point is that I was inspired by reading this summer and refreshing my mind with these different inspirational practices to talk about what I love about each approach.
I’ve had interactions with colleagues who may make a generalization like “oh I don’t get along with fill in the blank people.” What an interesting sweeping generalization. What is it that makes us get into that mindset? What was it about the handful of experiences we’ve had that makes us think that way? Why does it turn into, we don’t get along, or this is superior, and this is the best way to do it when it comes to all these labels?
Who cares? I hate to say it like that, but who cares? I am a music teacher, I teach music, I teach music to children. Does it really matter as long as I am doing what’s best for kids and my situation? Also for my teaching heart, because I have to be fulfilled as a musician and as a teacher in order to bring that music to my children in the most authentic way.
I was recently listening to an episode of Rad Parenting where they were discussing how other parents have a tendency to judge, whether out loud or silently. What’s interesting about this, as the hosts on the podcast said, is that in a sense we are all co-parenting. All of our kids are going to go on to work with one another in the immediate future, whether it’s at school, dance, or whatever.
The same is true with our students. We are all co-teaching. All of our school children are going to grow up to share this big wonderful world that we hope will be filled with music makers. Isn’t it lovely that we have the opportunity to lift one another up in our teaching practices, to support one another through different styles of teaching, but all be working toward the common goal of creating lifelong musicians.
Let’s not get too crazy about the labels.
In future episodes this season, we are going to have incredible experts come on the podcast to talk specifically about the nitty gritty of each of these pedagogical approaches. So for today, I’m just going to give a small glimpse into what resonates with me about Kodály-inspired teaching, Orff-Schulwerk, Music Learning Theory, and Dalcroze, to serve as a starting point for the rest of the season.
Gordon Music Learning Theory
The idea of teaching music from the standpoint of language acquisition is really powerful. Students should listen and speak before they write, and as teachers we should facilitate the context building for students. Audiation is a large component of this context building, and was a term coined by Gordon to mean something distinctively different from inner hearing. Gordon believed that music was just sound until it was process and given meaning in the mind, or audiated. What I struggle with is to figure out how to a student is successfully audiating, which is something that we’ll get into in later episodes.
Another big component of Gordon’s Music Learning Theory is aptitude testing. The word test is certainly a hot button term in today’s educational environment, and for me as well, but the more that I’ve thought and researched the purposes of this tool, the more I understand it’s purpose. The aptitude testing really and truly serves as a measure to help teachers understand where their students are and how they might be able to differentiate and scaffold instruction to help kids be their most musical selves. There’s no denying that having some sort of measure, whether in quantitative or qualitative form, to figure out where kids are starting so you can figure out where to take them, is valuable.
I didn’t realize that I could feel musical as a mover until I took my Orff levels, and then studied Dalcroze. And, as I’ve incorporated this approach into my teaching, the more I find that I have many students who need that kinesthetic musicianship opportunity. What’s neat about Dalcroze, is that there are many different types of movement, that can be divided into two categories: purposeful & plastique (more creative).
I am by no means the definitive expert in Dalcroze (or any of these approaches, because as we discussed there is no pure way to do anything), but the way I think about purposeful movement is something that can be seen as more overt music making. For example, walking to the beat or showing phrases of the song with a rainbow motion. Whereas plastique or creative movement is inspired by the music, within certain parameters. Students have the opportunity to listen and respond to music through movement in their own way, but it is still structured through what is happening with the music, rather than completely abstract.
What I love most about Orff-Schulwerk is that creativity and student agency is a primary focus throughout the entire process. Through improvisation or decision making on a smaller scale, students have the opportunity to make choices and decide things. This is such a powerful way to facilitate positive student self-efficacy and self-concept throughout music learning.
Not only do kids get to make lots of choices and have a very active role in deciding how the music making should work, but there are multiple ways for students to decide how and through what media they want to be most musical. Orff-Schulwerk encompasses speech, song, movement, body percussion, barred instruments, unpitched instruments, drama, literature, and every facet of each of those you could think of. And not only do students have the chance to choose how they feel most musical, but they have the opportunity to try the other ways to be most musical through the other media as well.
I feel most equipped to speak on behalf of this approach, and it is where I feel myself most at home. So obviously there are many things that I love about this style of teaching. If you want to know more about some common misconceptions about Kodály-inspired teaching, check out TAP 006. But quickly, I’ll run through a few of the things that resonate with me most.
The first is that singing is a child’s first instrument. If we are going to go with the big idea that music is learned as if it were language acquisition, then kids absolutely have to speak and hear, and with their own instrument, their voice. The second is the idea of finding quality materials. And as we discussed in last week’s episode, what does quality really mean? To me, it means that whatever activity or repertoire you are using has meaning and is rich. It’s something that you can draw lots and lots of music making out of for your students.
Last, but certainly not least, is this idea that everything in Kodály-inspired teaching is a sequence. And as you all, finding ways to bring music to children that are purposeful, sequential, and joyful, is my everyday why.
To quickly recap, the point of this episode was not to say, “here are all the things about this pedagogical approach.” Rather, it was to get you thinking about the strengths of the big four, so that as we move through the rest of the season and are speaking with experts, you have a context for where I am coming from as a music teacher.
The Anacrusic Podcast is a proud member of the Music Teacher Development Podcast Network. The MuTed network provides support in the form of audio on demand programming designed by and for music educators. You can find more information about our network at mutedpodcasts.com