Dalcroze taster day

If you are interested in music education I can highly recommend a Dalcroze taster day. I must admit I was nearly put off because the publications look a little dated and I was worried it was a bit twee. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found the ideas incredibly modern, learner centred and liberating! If it were within my power I would give all early years staff, child minders, parents and primary school teachers a series of workshops introducing the key concepts.

So what is it all about? This is what I picked up from today. (Apologies in advance if there are any inaccuracies – I will need some Dalcroze experts to read through and put me straight)

Apparently Dalcroze was a musician and a prolific composer. He developed his method of teaching in response to his experiences to teaching musicians at a conservatoire. He noticed that students concentrated on virtuosity at the expense of interpretation. He was concerned that they were unable to internalise sound and that they had lots of “rhythmic issues” with their playing. He wanted the musicians to get the music into their bodies, to learn through movement. He started from concept that all music starts with movement. He wanted the musicians to be moved and not just emotionally but physically. Tables and chairs were moved out of the way and shoes, socks and even corsets were removed.

The Dalcroze method has 3 elements which are referred to in totality as “Eurythmics”

1. Rhythmics – this involves exploring every single element/aspect of music through movement. This includes pulse, notation, texture, dynamics, metre, phrasing and everything else you can think of

2. Aural training – similar to Kodaly principals but with students physically representing intervals, stepping out melodies, feeling difference between chords before naming them

3. Improvisation – starting with the body before you get to sound.

There is overlap between each of these branches. As a result of using this method the learners body becomes more coordinated, listening skills are refined, inhibitions are removed, different areas of the body are identified and controlled, muscle memory is used to explore rhythms. students get used to working as individuals, in partnership and in large ensembles.

Having worked with musicians Dalcroze realised that rather than just using his method to correct problems in established musicians it would be better to establish his principles as the base for good musical education for all children.

I’m not going to outline the whole day but the following are some activities that I want to remember in order to use appropriately with some of my classes.

1. Numbering distinct areas of the body. Calling out the number and asking students to move that part of the body in a conversation with a partner.

2. Driving your partner as a car

Using gentle signals to drive partner and responding as the car to those signals involved precision and concentration!

2. Clapping a semi breve whilst keeping our arms in motion so we could feel and develop muscle memory of how long a semi breve lasts in an musical rather than mathematical way.

3. Simple stop start signals using 2 different sounds. This showed the need to actually LISTEN rather than predict simple stop go pattern. This apparently simple exercise showed me I was responding in a rather Pavlovian way of predicting instead of really listening.

4. Using balls to bounce a beat, roll a beat and respond to change in metre.

5. Using a scarf to mark a phrase

After lunch we did a great improvisation session which started with movements, which were then vocalised. The session could have gone in any number of directions but we decided to turn our vocalisations into musical sound on the assortment of musical instruments that participants had brought along. What I especially liked about the improv session was how tightly constrained we were. By locking down several elements it meant we could really push the boundaries & be creative.

Our tutor described different ways of using bean bags for helping kids feel 3/4 time whilst crossing the midline using the rhythms
1. Rainbow
2. Pineapple
3. Pizza

The final session was aural training. I was particularly excited because our tutor demonstrated lots of different stress free ways to help our students find their singing voice. Physically throwing imaginary snowballs, to swinging while singing ee and using our bodies to be fireworks were all brilliant tactics I plan to use. We were reminded that children need to hear their own voices and blocking one ear while singing is a simple way to do this.

I loved this way into notation. By using 2 skipping notes children would be able to step out lots of different melodies and then later fix with bean bags. this looks a great way into teaching sight singing.
I’m afraid this blog hasn’t really done justice to the day. However I was keen to note down some of the activities so that it will act as a prompt for me, even if it isn’t particularly satisfying for the reader! All of the tutors were fantastic. They were really exceptionally good teachers. They pitched the activities at the right level and modified to ensure we kept moving forward. We were constantly challenged and asked to reflect on our learning to ensure we could isolate barriers and successful strategies. Genuinely outstanding teaching.
So what did I learn about my self?
1. I was guilty of over thinking and trying to predict the ‘right’ answer. When I relaxed and responded instinctively I was much more likely to be successful. Trying too hard is not always the best strategy.
2.  I was slow in responding to change in pitch direction. I needed much more time and practise than the people around me. However I worked out that I was better in tracking higher sounds than low ones.
3. It was physically pleasurable using the balls and scarves to respond to the music. I was surprised how enjoyable it was working as a group on this.
I would like to learn more but I know I’m not in a position to commit to proper training. I would like to scatch below the suface some more so maybe a week long course or a summer school school might work out best. I will however do some research about Dalcroze and I hope to use some of his principles to guide my own planning and teaching.
You can find out more about Dalcrose by clicking here

One thought on “Dalcroze taster day

  1. Thanks for that Jackie! Great that you got so much out of the day and that you could reflect on your own learning.
    It was a lovely group to teach 🙂
    By the way, the beanbag exercise (which we didn't do but i talked you through at the end) is for compound time music (6/8), not 3/4, hence the swingy feeling.
    Do come on the summer school in Coventry, August 2-8, you'd love it. Lots of interesting workshops and observation of children's classes as well as the staple subjects!
    best wishes


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