How Does Kodaly Training Promote the Impressive Singing Skills Displayed by the Students in the Pawtucket and Cambridge Studies?

Limitations of Advancing Skill by Copying

Much of the earliest stages of learning, before verbal instruction becomes possible, must depend on changes the brain of an individual makes as the individual tries to copy behavior that others exhibit. Attempting to copy can be frustrating to many learners at first, but through persistent trial-and-error, skills as complex as walking and talking can develop.

Children often begin learning to sing by trying to copy what a teacher or other children demonstrate. This can be tough going, especially at first, as what is needed for singing involves developing actions that do not reach consciousness. A problem for learning singing through copying is that schools often cannot provide enough time or opportunity to learn from mistakes. Even if at first a child wishes to copy what others can do, they can become frustrated by learning from copying alone if they start behind others in singing learning outside of school, or learn more slowly by copying. Even if children who are behind others in learning wish to and try hard at first to catch up, their brains must discover how to do so, causing great frustration both for the child, and the teacher who wishes to help. As we will see, the Kodaly approach moves beyond learning that depends on copying alone.

Kodaly Approach to Training Creational Skill at Singing Together and Individually

The Kodaly trained children must also learn singing skill at first by trial and error copying. But Kodaly training does not focus only on learning whole songs, but also on learning elements from which singing behavior is to be constructed as needed, and learning how to integrate these elements into song singing. Rather than training individual songs, Kodaly uses specific songs as examples from which to build these more general song singing abilities.

Fostering Creational Skill at Musical Melody

I interpret Kodaly method as fostering creational skill involving musical melody. Beginning with two-pitch songs and then expanding, the children learn that only specific pitches related to one another in a specific way will be used in the melodies of songs at each level of complexity they are learning. Children practice and learn both the mental acts of singing every allowed pitch, and, as importantly, how to move mentally to a different allowed pitch when a melody changes pitch. To facilitate pitch movements between allowed pitches, their training fosters a way to systematically organize allowed pitch producing acts. In Kodaly method, teachers give allowed pitches specific names related to their position in a scale sequence (do, re, mi ... ), and then through hand signals, and then visual notation further foster a first stage of mental representation of pitch (Gardiner, 2000, 2008, 2008b) in which allowed pitches are ordered from lower to higher. Movement from one pitch to another then comes to involve movement up or down the ordering of the musical scale.

As the brain begins to represent allowed pitch systematically through ordering, the sequential sequence of pitches in a melody can now be developed no longer necessarily by chaining a specific sequence pitch chosen and prepared in advance, but rather by connecting in sequence musical action opportunities that can include pitch selection and pitch adjustment opportunities. Opportunities for pitch selection involves acts that bring to the chain of execution a movement to the execution of whatever pitch is desired or needed for a particular melody being executed. The selection could be based on memory, but also, could instead follow information from musical notation once a singer has learned to read this information, or could involve correction of what is remembered as other singers are heard. Pitch adjustment actions can modify the production of particular pitches, for example to better match what is being done by other singers. Adjustment of features of expression such as loudness could also be addressed at each musical action opportunity.

Musical action opportunities, I propose, are developed in conjunction with development of skill at using the mind not only to recall, but also to plan and anticipate what actions should be taken at each point in time where musical action can be selected and controlled dynamically.

Fostering Creational Skill at Musical Timing

To sing any song one must build some way to control needed timing and duration of every component singing act. Though timings and durations needed for every song can be developed for reproductive recall, I interpret Kodaly training as developing application of creational strategy to musical timing and duration. Kodaly training does this by building up capability through rhythmic representation related to a repetitive timing pulse termed the “heart beat” of a song. Children do not only learn to recognize the beat, but also through naming and hand signals, and finally notation, how to coordinate their acts increasingly not only with the beat, but also with subdivision of the beat, and finally across beats. Songs are chosen to illustrate and help to develop different stages of rhythmic skill learning, as they use allowed timing possibilities constructively within many different songs. Allowed duration is also set in relation to beats. Though differently than for pitch, mental timing representation of timing and duration involving rhythm is again instantiated mentally by the teachers through hand signals, naming, and written notation which evolves from special simplified treatment of rhythm to more complex representation of rhythm needed with further musical training. As with ordered representation of pitch, as children develop rhythm related representation of timing, this helps them to plan and anticipate, both the timing of their own singing acts, and timing of actions by others with which they wish to coordinate.

As treatment of rhythm advances it involves developing skill at learning to represent, manage and use multiple levels of timing involving rhythm. I interpret the developmental approach to building rhythmic skill of Kodaly as helping the children move towards this goal.

Fostering Creational Skill at Building Musical Meaning Sequentially

By singing many different songs, children increasingly learn that in songs musical meaning is largely conveyed not by single musical acts but rather by meaningful sequences of musical acts that are constructed mentally at multiple interacting levels. Sequences of musical acts build musical phrases, sequences of phrase higher order phrases. As I will shortly discuss, related structuring is used by the verbal language of the songs they learn. I propose that this can help the children learn the importance of and skill at such structuring in music as well.

Creational Skill Involving Connections of Music to Emotion

I have proposed previously (Gardiner, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017), that influence of emotion of a performer on the acts producing music plays an important role in transmission of emotion by music to a listener. By teacher attitude, song selection, and musical games, children are encouraged to feel emotion as they sing, and to let their emotions influence the shaping of their singing acts. This, I propose, becomes an essential component of the emotional meaning the children convey as they sing that so pleases their listeners, and also themselves.

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