The Kodály concept is an approach to music education that “strives to achieve a synthesis of all the skills necessary to develop complete musicianship” (Bacon, 1993, p.75) and to cultivate a love and appreciation for music that is supported by understanding and direct musical experience (Choksy, 1999a).

The approach was inspired by the philosophies of the Hungarian composer and educator, Zoltan Kodály (1882 – 1967).

The Kodaly concept encompases two key elements.

  1. It is a philosophical approach to teaching music, and
  2. it is a unique course of sequential musical instruction (Bacon, 1993).

Throughout Kodály’s writings are the notions that a person cannot be complete without music and that music serves to develop a person on all levels – emotionally, spiritually and intellectually (Kodaly, 1994). Kodály believed that musical aptitude is a characteristic of every person and that, ideally, a music education should begin as early as possible in a person’s life – first at home and then later within the school curriculum.

He believed that children should first learn their own musical mother tongue – the folk songs of their own cultural heritage. It is through this musical mother tongue that the skills and concepts necessary to achieve musical literacy can be taught (Choksy, 1999a). As these skills develop, children are given the opportunity to study and perform Art Music of all periods and styles. “The process of children arriving at a conscious knowledge and understanding of masterworks of all cultures through the music of their own culture is a unique idea that comes directly from Kodály himself” (Bacon, 1993, p.77)

Kodály believed that singing should be the foundation of all music education.

It is a long accepted truth that singing provides the best start to music education; moreover, children should learn to read music before they are provided with any instrument…even the most talented artist can never overcome the disadvantages of an education without singing. (Kodaly, 1974).

The use of the voice is one of the most defining features of the Kodály approach. The voice is the most accessible of all instruments and this makes it most suitable for musical instruction. It offers direct access to the world of music without the technical problems associated with the playing of an instrument. Moreover, singing without the aid of an instrument is a powerful pedagogical tool that, in the hands of a good teacher, can lead to a highly developed musical ear.

Kodály stated the principal goal of music education as “to make the masterpieces of world [music] literature public property, to convey them to people of every kind and rank” (1994, p.160). And later, in a lecture presented at the University of Toronto on the occasion of his being granted an honorary doctorate, he said “The final purpose of all this must be to introduce the students to an understanding and love of great classical music – of the past, present and future” (as cited by Choksy, 2003, p.4). In order to achieve these ends, Kodály envisioned a structured and sequential system of music education that would make music accessible to all students and affirm each student as being innately musical.

The Kodály Method is highly structured and sequenced, with well-defined skill and concept hierarchies in every element of music. These sequences are both drawn from and closely related to child development – the way in which young children progress naturally in music – as shown through research (Choksy, Abramson, Gillespie, Woods, & York, 2001, p.83).

Kodály believed that musical instruction should reflect the way that children learn naturally. Just as one learns to speak first and then read and write later, so the sound should be taught first before the symbols. The developed inner ear will then be able to recall the sounds when they are presented later as symbols (Choksy, 1999a). He also advocated that musical skills should be carefully sequenced into patterns that reflect an understanding of child development. Great care is taken to lead the child from the known to the unknown and from direct experience to abstract concepts and symbols.

Traditionally, Kodály curriculums are structured by beginning with a repertoire of folk songs (Choksy, 1999a) and themes from Art Music (Choksy, 1999b). The teacher first analyses this repertoire, observing the frequency and occurrence of various musical elements such as rhythmic, melodic and harmonic patterns. Using this analysis as a starting point, pedagogical objectives are formulated and the musical elements are organized into a sequence that takes into account the developmental stage of the students, the musical abilities of the student, and the need to progress logically from the known to the unknown (Tacka & Houlahan, 1995).

Children’s songs, singing games and folk dances are an integral part of early training and are used to enhance learning and enjoyment.

Kodály musical training always involves active music-making. Musical learning evolves from a variety of experiences including singing games and dances, folk songs and art songs; singing songs in unison, rounds, canons and in parts; singing themes from great instrumental music; and listening and moving to music. All these are the cornucopia from which musical concepts are drawn and through which musical skills are practiced (Choksy et al., 2001, p.101).

Music literacy remains a key component of the approach and is developed gradually and sequentially. Kodály envisaged a deep literacy that went beyond just knowing letter names. Instead, the musically literate should be able to look at notation and think sound. “The good musician understands music without a score as well as understands the score without the music. The ear should not need the eye nor the eye the (outer) ear” (Schumann as quoted by Kodály (1994)).

Sol-fa syllables and the moveable-do system are used to teach skills in pitch discrimination, intervals, harmony and analysis. These skills are reinforced with a system of hand signs originally developed by John Curwen in England. Rhythmic skills are developed by means of a system of rhythm duration syllables (French time names) in which common rhythmic patterns are given a sound name that reflects the way they sound.

Although he was a major figure in the transformation of music education in Hungary during the early to mid 1900s, Kodály never set out to create a ‘Kodály Method.’ Instead, he sought to address what he saw as some major weaknesses in the music education offered in his country. These weaknesses were evidenced by a low level of musical literacy amongst Hungarian musicians, a glaring ignorance of the musical traditions of their own heritage and the inadequate training of music teachers (Wicks, 2002).

Under Kodály’s guidance, an approach to music education evolved that sought to address these weaknesses and that drew upon the best of educational thought from around the world. The approach was later codified by Kodály’s students and adopted in a great many Hungarian schools with remarkable success. As a result, the 1964 Budapest Congress of the International Society for Music Education held up Hungary’s methods and achievements as worthy examples to be followed by music educators of the world (Bacon, 1993).

The musical literacy of the generation of Hungarian youth that emerged now became a model and an incentive for educators all over the world to adapt the Kodály concept for their own culture and students.

There is a moment that is right for any major change and in relation to the introduction of the Kodály movement in Australia this was certainly the case. At the beginning of the 1960s in NSW the introduction of the Wyndham Scheme was a significant change that altered the landscape of secondary education. Music was a compulsory core subject for all secondary students. Those students who wished to pursue their study of music in greater depth from Year 8 were able to choose music as an elective subject. As implementation of the music syllabus progressed, two important educational issues emerged.

The first revolved around the introduction of music to adolescents, many of whom were negatively disposed towards the experience. The second issue revolved around the appropriateness of the syllabus content particularly in terms of aural skill development. Of course those students who had received private music tuition during their early years were often advantaged.

While many teachers had developed strategies for their own classroom, support materials which outlined coherent approaches, such as the development of the musical ear, did not accompany the syllabus. This stimulated a number of music teachers to seek answers further a field. I went to Hungary.

This unique experience almost twenty eight years ago, was powerful. It was the first time that I became aware of the developmental and sequential nature of learning. The possibility of developing a musical ear through early intervention and careful sequencing was fascinating.

I often reflect upon my good fortune that this experience occurred at a time of amazing educational opportunity in Australia. During the early 1970’s, a change in Government at the Federal level led to an unprecedented flow of economic resources into the education systems in all States. The seeds of the Kodály movement in Australia were sown during a period that encouraged and nurtured the exploration of educational ideas. The fundamental question of how children learn entertained researchers and educational thinkers.

The Kodály method, as it was frequently called, was an educational innovation which faced significant challenges. During its initiation phase there were many who warned of the dangers of transplanting a system, so strongly based in a particular cultural heritage, to another quite alien situation. The first very hesitant steps, which constituted experimentation at the Kindergarten level, culminated in the decision by the Regional Director that the Kodály innovation should be implemented in the metropolitan western region of Sydney.

The idea that musical literacy, as an outcome of sequenced teaching strategies, could be realised in the general classroom was compelling. The challenge of using musically untrained teachers to implement the innovation had many positive features but generated the further challenge of combining intensive teacher training in the work place while implementation progressed.

The great opportunity to break with the existing patterns of classroom practice and to introduce new insights into the young child’s learning process through music was an extraordinary opportunity for all involved. The legitimisation of the pilot program ensured that musical practice was made explicit through consultancy-based support for teachers in the classroom. The powerful philosophical principles of Kodàly which underpinned the innovation, provided a remarkable framework for the implementation process over a fourteen year period from Kindergarten to Year Six and on into secondary school.

While the system requirements surrounding the project were challenging, in reality they actually led to a demonstration of the potential of a supportive and collaborative approach to deliver music education to all students, to create a climate in which collective learning could flourish and amazing achievements could be celebrated. While the professional development was appropriate to the particular requirements the courses, the action research, the peer coaching and mentoring, demonstration teaching and the design of the curriculum as the project progressed were powerful strategies.

Through the acquisition of music skills, general classroom teachers revisited the learning process from the point of view of the child and were able to experience music as a powerful learning tool. The approach generated great enthusiasm for the connection between the musical learning process and the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills. Did one affect the other? The research certainly showed that there were gains for the child who was exposed to this musical opportunity.

The extraordinary commitment of so many of the Principals of Infants and Primary schools was a significant factor in the success of the program. The project highlighted the importance of the leadership role of the Principal particularly the ways in which they encouraged and worked with their staffs to build the new musical strands into the existing operation of the school.

System financial support for the innovation allowed a team of 3 to 5 consultants to focus on producing the materials and teaching strategies that would encourage more effective musical outcomes for all students. This team had the privilege of regular reflection. The opportunity for regular feedback lead to modifications and improved practice.

The project impacted upon the music curriculum of every State in Australia. It stimulated teachers to rethink the role of music in the general education of children. It provided those who participated with musical understandings far beyond those normally accepted as possible with the young child. It reignited the debate about specialist music teachers in the primary school and how they might best be used.

The process of implementation highlighted the need for more organised support for the dissemination of the musical ideas. National Conferences with the input of many outstanding exponents from Hungary, England, America, Canada, Finland, Japan and Belgium, as well as overseas study tours, stimulated requests for branches of the Association to be established in other States and these requests ultimately led to the establishment of the Kodaly Music Education Institute of Australia in 1976.

By 1981 conditions in the external environment were changing. The application of financial resources to educational projects was now under greater scrutiny and subject to much tighter controls. A Review of the project in 1981, under the auspices of the then Minister for Education, recommended a model of music education for the State based on the Developmental Music Project which would have spread the program throughout New South Wales and introduced specialist music teachers into the primary school. The Minister proposed to the Department of Education that the financial support required implementing this project be found from within the Department’s existing budget by reducing the number of Inspectors of Schools. While the Senior Executive of the Department fiercely opposed this, the untimely death of the Minister put the proposal to rest.

Thankfully more focused efforts were carried out in other States, but the shining light would have to be the work undertaken in the Queensland Department of Education. Under the leadership of Ann Carroll, the Kodály work was once again initiated and has continued. It stands as testimony to the benefit of well and carefully planned strategies underpinning the process of change with sufficient resources to support the process of implementation. The emergence of post-graduate courses has taken the work a further step forward in both Queensland and New South Wales.

It is to be hoped that the next twenty five years will give rise to new thinking in the area of music education, will capture the best of the technological advances, tap into the musical intelligence to improve the learning of students in other learning areas and build on the best experiences of the past so that the world of music is accessible by all.

Source: Hoermann, D. B. (1985). In L. Vikár (Ed.), Reflections on Kodály (pp. 104-109). Budapest, Hungary: Editio Musica Budapest.


The Australian Kodály Certificate (AKC) is awarded on completion of a professional development course. This course provides pre-service and current classroom and studio music teachers with the skills and knowledge to deliver a sequential, cumulative, developmental and aural-based music curriculum.

The AKC is the only Australian fully accredited and nationally recognised program of teacher training in the Kodály approach. It was established some 20 years ago and during this time over 150 teachers have successfully completed the requirements.

The certificate is normally completed over three years of part time study, and participants choose to complete a three year sequence in one area of specialisation: Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary or Colour Strings.

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