Post by Claude Richards


Reading words and reading music have parallels.

Some people can’t read at all.

Some know what the letters say and they can sound out unfamiliar words.

Some people can recognize whole words at once and they pronounce them in their heads.

Speed readers see the words and simultaneously see the images in their heads without ever pronouncing the words.

Music works the same. 

Some people see a note and it means nothing to them.  These people can’t read.

Others can figure out the note on a piano or another instrument.  They can sound it out.

Some people can copy the notes that they hear from others.  These people can recognize a word if someone reads it to them.

Some can see and play one note at a time.  These people can play the music slowly as they figure the notes out in their heads.

“Speed readers” can see the notes and hear the music in their heads without ever touching an instrument.

Beethoven was just such a speed reader.  When he lost the hearing in his ears he was still able to hear the music in his head.  He was able to compose magnificent symphonies which he was never able to hear with his ears.  Nor would it have helped to compose at an instrument since he couldn’t hear the instrument.

“Only the well-conducted teaching of sol-fa can develop the ability to connect tone-image with written note to the point where the one will evoke the other instantly.”  (Bónis, F., The Selected Writings of Zoltán Kodály.  New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1964.  p. 197)

For nearly fifty years I have watched my wife, Cynthia Richards, develop as a violin teacher.  She has always been good, especially with young children.  But I had never seen her so excited as when she came in contact with Dr. Jerry Jaccard and was able to connect the dots – linking the study of violin with a Kodály approach to complete musicianship.  She is now able to put her students on the path to “speed reading” the music.

I heartily recommend that you attend Intermuse at Brigham Young University, and find out what the excitement is about.  You won’t be sorry, I promise.

Click NOW for the Intermuse String Page for more information.


String teachers!  Are you discouraged by a lockstep approach using the same songs over and over without a way to adapt the method to the needs of your students? 

Do you lack a system for teaching your students how to hear in their head what they see on the page, as a guide for their fingers?

Early in my teaching career I felt a desire to solve these problems, knowing that the ability to hear in my head was something I didn’t learn until my college years. When I found the system for teaching music developed by Zoltan Kodaly, I knew I had found a way to help my students become better musicians, not just instrument-playing machines.

Intermuse Academy gave me the tools to teach these skills to my students.  No longer were they dependent on hearing a passage before they could play it.  Helping them develop music literacy based on their ability to hear with an educated ear has been a joyful experience.  I’m teaching them music, not just the violin!

Join us this summer, June 6 – 17 at Brigham Young University, Intermuse Academy to participate in the Kodaly vision.  Come for a fun and intense experience!  You will receive an effective string curriculum and expand your own skills in musicianship, pedagogy and conducting.

Edgar Willems said, “Bad musicians cannot hear what they are playing; mediocre ones could hear it, but they don’t listen; average musicians hear what they just played; only good musicians hear what they are going to play.”

Click this link NOW for more information! 


It’s been a long time since I posted on my blog, so here’s what’s new. Last year, after the school district decided to charge me a lot of rent for the after-school use of the building, I decided to go out on my own to create my own school for strings. With some advertising I was able to put together a class of six 4 and 5-year-olds which met twice a week for singing-musicianship. That was a lot of fun! Children that age are so unpredictable! And they love the games and songs! With a small class, everyone gets a turn every time. Taking and giving turns is an important life skill for these children. By the time we ended in April, the list of songs they knew was gigantic! Beat and rhythm were well-known elements of music, and they became familiar with quite a few composers. Expressing the music in their dance movements was also very important.

My cute kindergartners!

In addition to the kindergartners, my first-year violin class consisted of five children ages 6-9. In 12 weeks, from September to December, we covered basic 1st grade Kodaly singing curriculum and part way through 2nd grade. (It’s not hard to have an accelerated course when the class is small. For one thing, you get through the games a lot quicker and can cover a lot of material in a short time.) In January, the children began their study of the violin. The course changed from a twice-a-week 45-minute singing class, to a weekly 30-minute private violin lesson and one-hour group class. We spent half the class time playing the instrument, and the other half continuing on with learning the elements of music through singing-musicianship. I teach the students to sing and hear a new element before they play it. Then they learn to read and write the element, composing and improvising music of their own. The plan worked beautifully. It was a great year! By the end of May, it was amazing how well the children could play, and more important, how much they knew in their heads and ears given the few short months they had been studying. The goal this summer has been to have the students finish Book 1 of the Complete Musician in private lessons, so we’re ready to move on to Book 2 at the beginning of the school year.

I sold my previous home and moved into another with an unfinished basement, which I am making into a classroom, ready for another first-year class and continuing on with other classes. I want to post the progress of our facilities and the program on a consistent basis. Questions and positive comments are welcome.

One of the principal tools used in Kodály music education is the movable-do system of solmization, or solfege, or sol-fa which was originated by Guido d’Arezzo in the eleventh century. In this system the tonal center of a song is do in the major and la in the minor modes, whatever the key may be. One can move the tones of a melody anywhere on the staff, and the solfege syllables which disclose the relationship of the notes to each other remain the same. It becomes a very effective tool in revealing melodic/ harmonic structure and tonality to the musician.

Solfege helps the student to easily understand the structure of keys and harmonies.

Kodály first saw this system when he visited England and observed choral training there. The method he saw in use was essentially the one developed by Sarah Glover and later refined by John Curwen in the nineteenth century. He had this to say about this effective tool:

“Only the well-conducted teaching of sol-fa can develop the ability to connect tone-image with written note to the point where the one will evoke the other instantly.” (F. Bonis, The selected writings of Zoltán Kodály,. New York: Boosey & Hawkes)

In other words, sol-fa helps students hear what they see and see what they hear. It simultaneously reveals tonal relationships and gives them a name and a symbol. It is simply the thousand-year-old original, easiest, and best means of comprehending the architecture of music.

Most Americans’ knowledge of sol-fa is limited to the song in Sound of Music that is so familiar. But maybe you asked yourself like I did, “Why is Maria teaching the children how to sing that way? That’s not how I learned music.” I didn’t know that she was teaching them a skill which I did not possess. Many people who play an instrument consider themselves able to “read music,” even though they often cannot accurately sound out a single interval without their instrument. I was not taught to hear in my head what was on the page. A piece of the music puzzle was missing in my training; that is, until I finally took an aural skills class in college.

So, why wasn’t it taught? Was that something only European musicians learned? Bodman and others remember that up until the middle of the 20th century in America, sol-fa was in the curriculum. As teachers began to try to “simplify” music for their students, it was all too easy to take the shortcut and skip the sol-fa. The trouble is, the knowledge of musical structure based on the educated ear was sacrificed, and we became more technicians than musicians. (Now, you can even learn to play a keyboard instrument by pressing the key down that lights up for you. Sort of like, painting by the numbers.)

When I got to my college aural skills classes, I was very surprised that I was expected to have a skill that no one told me about all those years I was practicing. Now that I know its value, I have to ask, “Why didn’t someone teach me that from the beginning?”



Until about 15 years ago, I had been teaching my own blend of Suzuki approach and traditional violin methods. But, I wasn’t satisfied with the results I was getting. Technically, my students did fine, but I lacked a system for teaching real literacy and musicianship, so my students could hear in their heads what they saw on the page.

I was relieved to know I was not alone when I read the following from Lyman Bodman, retired professor of string pedagogy at Michigan State University, in his Essays on Violin Pedagogy:

“No one, but no one, who cannot hear melodic intervals can play a violin in tune…This is another string teacher responsibility, and a way must be found to fill this need…There was once an almost golden age of training when those privileged few in Europe were given, at a very early age, a thorough training in solfege. There was also a time in our own country when in many elementary schools solfege was in the curriculum. We might wish that present day music education in America could learn from that era and do more to establish fundamental musicianship for our children. As it stands at this time, the violin teacher must teach much more than the violin. It may be true that our country is now leading the world in training instrumentalists, yet there is a glaring shortcoming, namely teaching children music fundamentals and sight-singing.” (2002, p. 21)

Zoltan Kodaly

Fortunately, I found a way to teach these musical basics when I encountered the teaching principles and practices of Zoltan Kodály. He and his associates researched and put together a Hungarian national music curriculum which brought about the music literacy of an entire people. It was so good, that music educators around the world took notice and began to apply the principles. His concept of the educated ear as essential for achieving true musicianship was the piece of the puzzle that had been missing from my early music education and my teaching. (See International Kodály Society at http://www.iks.hu and The Organization of American Kodály Educators at www.oake.org)

One basic premise of Kodály ’s philosophy is that the voice is the first instrument, and you cultivate musical sensibilities at first through singing. You find most Kodály programs being conducted in elementary school general music classes and also in choir programs. There are not many string instrument applications, with the notable exception of Colourstrings developed by Geza and Csaba Szilvay, the internationally recognized string educators out of Finland. (See www.colourstrings.fi and Helsinki Strings)

Another principle used by Kodály is that folk songs from the cultural heritage of the student should be the first study material. Therefore, a more authentic and useful program for American students, in contrast to Hungarians, would use songs from North American and English speaking cultures when first presenting musical elements.

For well over a decade, I have been involved in developing a string curriculum which uses materials from our own folk cultures, and which integrates with typical Kodály-based singing musicianship classes that are being taught in American elementary schools. What a joy it is to be using the tools which produce thinking, hearing violin students!

“Bad musicians cannot hear what they are playing; mediocre one could hear it, but they don’t listen; average musicians hear what they just played; only good musicians hear what they are going to play.” -Edgar Willems (1890-1978) Belgian music psychologist and pedagogue

The best way to describe this comparison is with a table and a few explanations. Each row in the table corresponds to the paragraph of the same number:

Suzuki Traditional Kodály
1. Sound to Sound Sight to Sound Sound to Sight

2. Intuitive Cognitive Intuitive and Cognitive

3. Child Developmental Subject Logic Child Developmental

4. Quick Technique Slow Technique Quick Technique

5. No literacy Visual literacy Aural literacy

1. Suzuki – The student hears the song first from a teacher, a parent, or a recording playing it; hence, sound to sound.
Traditional – The student reads the note and then plays it; thus, sight to sound.
Kodály – The student’s model is his/her own singing voice. The song is taught by rote from the teacher’s singing, often in singing games. The rhythmic and melodic elements of the song are derived and given a name and a symbol, which the student will recognize when placed on the staff; thus, sound to sight.

2. Suzuki – The “mother tongue” approach. Children learn how to speak their own language through hearing it spoken. They perceive it without having to reason or concentrate; it’s just part of their environment. The music is likewise presented through listening and can be perceived at a very young age.
Traditional – The music must be read first, before it can be played. Reading language or music notation takes cognitive skill and concentration. The difference between Suzuki and traditional is like the difference between speaking a language and reading it.
Kodály – Singing is intuitive to all children. The first instrument is the singing voice. Learning to play an instrument is easier and more musical if the songs are sung first and then transferred to the instrument. Next, reading the symbols on a page of music, which were learned first from sound, calls upon the child’s cognitive skills. First intuitive, and then cognitive.

3. Suzuki – The Suzuki “mother tongue” concept of learning is itself child developmental. Rhythms and bowings begin with small note values, much easier than long ones with extended bow strokes. Generally speaking, however, the technical demands progress rapidly from piece to piece. In my opinion, there are some large gaps in the learning sequence which make it not child developmental: too many new things all at once.
Traditional – In past decades, a subject-logic approach was used in traditional violin methods. Rhythmically, it began with the whole note and then proceeded to halves and quarters: certain to kill any enthusiasm for playing the violin. Since those days, several wonderful pedagogues have taken a more child developmental approaches to technique. The work of Paul Rolland was especially significant. However, one needs only to look at the preliminary instructions about music notation and fundamentals given in most method books, to realize that the student must intellectualize certain abstract concepts about music before he can begin to play.

Kodály – The learning sequence begins at the best starting place for children’s voices and experience. Rhythmically, it begins with feeling the basic beat. Melodically, children are able to sing a range of only five or six tones with no half-steps. While the best first tones for singing are pentatonic, the best for starting a string instrument are those which are step-wise starting from the open string. Learning those first music elements one at a time through singing, and then transferring them to the instrument at the appropriate time is the order of things for a smooth, natural, child-developmental learning sequence.

4. Suzuki – The principle advantage is that a young child can get to the technique of the instrument very quickly. There are no prerequisites which involve reading. I call it quick technique.
Traditional – Having to decode the page before you can play, tends to slow down the process of acquiring excellent technique. There’s only so much brain available to think of everything. I call that slow technique.

Kodály – There are actually two learning tracks going on simultaneously. The intuitive one, starting from sound, transfers to the instrument very easily, and results in quick technique. The reading track is going on at the same time to create literacy. It’s important for teachers to have their objectives clearly in mind: am I working on technique or am I working on literacy? That determines your approach. The nice thing about this separation of tasks is that it allows a teacher to customize a student’s program according to his/her strengths and needs. Gradually, the students’ ability to play and their ability to read merge until they match.

5. Suzuki – The biggest weakness of staying with the Suzuki approach for very long is the lack of literacy. Most Suzuki teachers now find a way to introduce note-reading of some form or another from traditional sources. The necessity of a prescribed repertoire I find particularly limiting and tiring as a teacher.
Traditional – Learning by these methods, students who persevere until their technique catches up with their ability to read music notation, can become great sight readers and independent learners. Reading notes, however, does not necessarily mean that students will know in their heads what the notes are supposed to sound like. I call this visual literacy.
Kodály – One of the primary objectives is to educate the ear and achieve music literacy based on hearing. (See articles “To Hear or Not to Hear” and “What is Solfege and Why is it Important” in this blog) These students become even better sight readers, because they hear in their head what they are about to play. With careful step-by-step learning, students can achieve a high level of musicianship which this type of literacy makes possible.

Which is the best approach? It depends on the result you are looking for. Many fine players have emerged from each of them.

The only Kodály-based string curriculum I knew of was Colourstrings out of Finland, and so I went to a workshop in Helsinki led by Geza Szilvay, its founder. He and his brother were brought up in Hungary, moved to Finland and have had 40+ years of experience developing their approach. Their Helsinki Strings have become renowned performers. Colourstrings is also strong in Great Britain and Australia. Even though there was an attempt made to introduce it to the American string community, it didn’t really succeed, possibly because it was expensive and people didn’t understand how it worked. Also, their folk songs are not our folk songs. American children need American songs for their study material (a mandatory principle of Kodály’s work).

Violin Book One

I learned much and began developing a curriculum of my own. In collaboration with my colleague Dr. Jerry L. Jaccard (prominent in the international Kodály community) over the past 15 years or so, we have developed a string curriculum that follows singing musicianship curriculum principles common to most North American Kodály-based programs. It is called The Complete Musician (Third Edition). At present there are books in three levels for violin, viola and cello. Book 4, the study of major keys and key signatures, and Book 5, the study of minor keys and key signatures, are under construction.

The first 3 levels are designed for the private studio and homogeneous classes (classes of like instruments). By the time the students have finished the first three levels, they know all the basic finger patterns as they relate to solfege and the moveable do. Rhythmic and melodic elements are taught one at a time through short, singable tunes. Students have learned the names of all the notes on the staff in first position. Shifting activities acquaint the students with the whole fingerboard from the very beginning, preparing them for later shifting studies which require more advanced reading skills. Part work is introduced sequentially through the use of ostinato, canon, and composed duet, providing the instrumental class with material to develop the students’ ensemble skills.

Books 4 and 5 are designed for either same instruments or mixed instruments. Each key signature is introduced with a sound to sight learning segment from which students write a two- octave scale in the key. The notes of the key are then reinforced with song, dance, canons, solos with piano accompaniment, duets and trios. The transition from singable music to instrumental music is smooth, keeping concepts of tonal structure clear. Eighteenth century dance forms are introduced. More complex rhythms, varied bowing styles including spiccato, and more shifting prepare students for intermediate level performing.

I have found this learning sequence to be effective in preparing students to become knowledgeable musicians. They have the foundation necessary to understand discussions of musical structure and style.