The Dalcroze Music Education Approach
The Dalcroze Music Education approach is teaching the fundamental concepts of music, its meaning in an expressive way, and the deeper connections music has with other human activities and other forms of art. The Dalcroze approach is pathbreaking and incorporates aural training, rhythmic movement, and vocal, instrumental, and physical training and improvisation.
A Dalcroze class divides into 3 components: Eurhythmics, for which Dalcroze is best known, which is teaching the concepts of musical expression, rhythm, and structure using movement; Solfege, a reinvention of traditional ear training and sight singing, which is developing an integrated and expressive understandings of sale, tonality, and pitch through activities that emphasize vocal improvisation and aural comprehension; and Improvisation, enhancing expressions and a deeper understanding of various musical forms, meaning, and concepts by creating music spontaneously while using instruments, voice, and movements.
The Dalcroze approach views the qualities of music as fundamental forces in human life and emphasizes music’s connection to other arts — dance, drama, and poetry especially — as well as fundamental human activities involving movement, language, and emotion. As more and more scientists are discovering, the Dalcroze method sees music as one of the fundamental languages of our human brain and because of that, considers music as one of the fundamental elements of who we really are as human beings.
The Dalcroze approach is about SMART goals and how they help you and most commonly seen today in early childhood and elementary school music education; many innovations and techniques Dalcroze developed to apply his ideas on musical understanding to children have become standard practice and are used by a wide variety of methods and approaches to children’s music.
However, Dalcroze designed his approach for Conservatory-trained students and adults, and it continues to be used in that environment: Dalcroze classes are offered at many of our country’s top universities and conservatories, while ongoing adult classes are on offer at various Dalcroze centers around the country. The universality of the Dalcroze ideas, the method’s ability to teach musical truths from pre-kindergarten through graduate school, is a testament to the vitality and power of the Dalcroze approach to music. Nina Simone, for example, understood perfectly well what the approach was all about.
A Brief History
Emile Jaques-Dalcroze gained initial fame as a composer of French-Swiss origin, composing hundreds of songs and larger symphonic works often based on the folk song traditions of his region. It was upon appointment as professor of the Geneva Conservatory, however, that Dalcroze developed the method that would bear his name.
As Dalcroze tells it, the development of his method began after a student with severe rhythm problems left his class — walking in smooth, steady rhythm. Dalcroze hypothesized that if he could tap into his students’ movement sense, their natural sense of rhythm could be unleashed on their music making. Further experiments confirmed this and soon Dalcroze’s classes were being held in bare feet on dance floors, with students moving and singing their way through musical problems.
Dalcroze began consulting with physiologists, education specialists, actors, dancers and others to further develop his work. In addition to the development of his threefold curriculum of Eurhythmics, Solfège, and Improvisation, he developed his own art form, Plastique Animé, which combined music and movement in performance for pedagogical benefit, an extraordinary fusion of theory, education, and human expression.
Dalcroze’s fame led him to be invited by the wealthy Dorhn family to open up a large center in the German factory town of Hellerau devoted to the education of the complete human being. At the height of his fame, summer in Hellerau was among the most prominent and talked-about creative centers in Europe, and Dalcroze influenced major artistic figures throughout the continent.
Dalcroze’s success was cut short by World War I when tensions between Germany and French Switzerland precipitated the closing of Dalcroze’s center and the loss of its singular creative culture. Dalcroze moved back to Geneva where he opened his own center, operating in a more limited capacity.
Dalcroze went to Paris in the 1920s and collaborated with many of the most prominent musicians of that era, including Ysaye, Milhaud and the rest of Les Six. However, he found little interest in the pedagogical ideas that were central to his work, and eventually moved back to Geneva, focusing for the remainder of his life on training Dalcroze teachers and spreading his method.
Today the Dalcroze work is taught across Europe, America, and Australia, with a rapidly growing interest in Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. Dalcroze teachers continue to be trained and certified at training centers run by master teachers that understand that they must put their money where their mouths are. The Dalcroze work is still headquartered in Geneva where master teachers can be granted a diploma to train other teachers in the Dalcroze tradition.
Due to the intensive training process and the many sophisticated skills required to be a Dalcroze teacher, the number of certified Dalcroze teachers remains small, but their impact on music education is large, and Dalcroze teachers are respected forces in music education, not only in their own teaching, but in giving clinics to other teachers, publishing curriculum materials, and collaborating across artistic boundaries.