The Kodály Method

Kodály’s Vision

Culturally, Kodály longed to see music as a way of life – for everyone.  His first concern was for the musically literate amateur, not the professional musician. His dream was a musically literate nation.

Kodály’s definition of ‘musically literate’ was that in addition to reading and writing music as easily as words, a person could simply look at a score and be able to hear the music in their “inner ear”. 

By first learning and singing the songs from their own folk heritage, Kodály believed children would have the necessary foundation from which they could learn musical skills and concepts.

Defining Features

Use of the voice

As the one instrument children already have, the voice is the most accessible way for children to learn music.  Children can experience making music without having to concentrate on the many different aspects of playing an instrument.

Making music before ’learning’ music

Just as we speak before we learn to read and write, in this method, children learn to sing songs containing elements they will later be taught to name, recognise (aurally and visually), read, write and create (using improvisation and composition).  This creates a strong foundation where the child is familiar and comfortable with the sound before the more abstract naming of the concept.

Experiencing the best of folk and composed music

Kodály insisted only the best of folk, traditional children’s music and composed music be used to teach.  With so much music available, there is no need to compromise musical integrity by using music that is inferior or is obviously contrived to achieve an educational purpose.

Use of French rhythm names

For teaching rhythms, French time names are used as they imitate the rhythmic sound.  The number of syllables of the note names corresponds with the number of sounds per beat.  For instance, four sixteenth notes (semiquavers) per beat –are called “ti-ka ti-ka”.

Use of solfa with movable do

The movable ‘do’ system of solfa allows students to experience and understand melodic elements of music without the confusion of letter names which change if singing songs in different keys. Movable solfa is more flexible than fixed ‘do’ as it teaches the intervallic relationship between notes regardless of key.  With fixed ‘do’ if a song is not in C Major, solfa will need to accommodate too many flats and sharps, which is beyond the understanding of many young children.

Use of Curwen hand signs

Curwen hand signs are used to reinforce intervallic feeling.  They present a visual and kinaesthetic sensation of pitch and intervals between notes as they are sung.  These signs are made in front of the body with ‘do’ about waist level and ‘la’ about eye level. For a Curwen hand chart go to the KMEIA website


Very carefully structured, the Kodály method is sequenced according to how a child develops musically and intellectually and the sounds they naturally encounter in their world.  The method also takes into account melodic sounds they can sing in tune.  For example,

Melodically children first learn so-me, sounds often used to call out a name eg “John-ny” (so-me). This is then followed by la – as in the melodic chant (I’m the king of the castle...) (so, so me, me, la, so, me). Then the other notes of the pentatonic scale are added – semitones are avoided until later as young children  find these very hard to sing in tune.

Rhythmically children in European and European influenced countries first learn ‘ta’ and ‘ti-ti’ –as ‘tas’ (one sound per beat) is how fast a child would normally walk and ‘ti-tis’ (two sounds per beat) is how fast they would normally run. This is then followed by ‘sa’ – the sound of silence.  More complicated rhythms such as syncopated rhythms are taught later.  For countries where syncopation is the natural music language of the culture, it would be taught much earlier.  For instance children in Guyana, South America grow up singing and playing rhythms that we would find very challenging.  To them the straight beat of tas and ti-tis would be unfamiliar and may need to be taught later.

This child-based development sequence is also applied to learning music with parts, chords, musical forms, expressive elements and historical styles.

This approach of tailoring music to the child rather than teaching the subject (where you might for instance start with the Major Scale), enables success for all children regardless of whether they might have previously been considered ‘musical’.

Each musical concept is first prepared (through singing repertoire containing that musical concept in a clear context), then made conscious (named) and finally practised (in known and new songs.  No new sound or concept is taught before children have learnt and sung (and possibly played) a number of songs in which the concept clearly in evidence. 

Through making music, singing songs, playing music games and dancing, music becomes a very practical, fun and understandable subject rather than being a struggle to study abstract concepts to which students cannot relate.  So let’s make some music! (And learn along the way!!)

The Kodály method is now being adapted to suit music programs in Australia, England, America, Japan, Canada, Finland and Belgium.  In Australia KMEIA (the Kodaly Music Education Institute of Australia) was established in 1976 with five active branches in States and Territories across the country.


Choksy, L. (1974). The Kodály Method: Comprehensive Music Education From Infant To Adult. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Hoermann, D (2009). Kodály in Australia
Wicks, D (2009). The Kodály Concept
Wicks, D (2009) Who Was Zoltán Kodály?