Sometimes we find the things we are most fervently looking for when we are doing something else. This is how I feel about the Kodaly Method and how it suddenly clicked for me as a means of bettering the experience of clarinetists in the “terrifying” or at least confusing world of intonation. There are many things we do as clarinetists that seem peculiar to other instrumentalists but I think I will try to limit them, for the sake of this presentation, to those directly related to intonation. The most obvious is the physical necessity of our instrument which causes it to overblow at the twelfth instead of the octave. It has been my experience that most clarinet teachers take advantage this to do lip slurs at the twelfth where most other instrumentalists are performing lip slurs at the octave, where they overblow. I am not suggesting we do away with this as it is crucial for teaching students not to fear the “all-powerful break,” instead I am suggesting this course of intonation exercises as a supplement that remedies this omission without the encumbrance of fingering problems. Hearing clear octaves regularly can help with matching pitch, evening the sound across the registers, and adjusting the air
The second peculiarity of our instrument is that not only is it a transposing instrument but a family of many transposing instruments. Some instrumentalists develop relative pitch from playing their instrument and relating it to the written pitch in C, but this is more difficult for clarinetists tasked with playing the A clarinet, Eb clarinet, and the Bb bass clarinet down an octave. A sightsinging teacher of mine once shocked me by saying I was struggling because my ear was “too good” and I was hearing the inversions of the intervals. Personally, I thought and still think my ear could use some work and he was being kind but I think it is possible that some students are struggling trying to relate these other transposing instruments to the notes they think they should hear on the Bb clarinet with the same fingerings. These exercises create a sense of “home base” on each instrument in terms of feel and pitch and are built on the sequence of intervals Kodaly suggested to build relative pitch. I have also written these exercises to focus on what I like to call “pivot points,” where we lose the security of having many fingers down and tend to bite or squeeze to reassure ourselves that we are still in control of the clarinet. This squeezing can cause notes like the clarion G and above to be consistently sharp. And we need that note to be in tune almost more than any other! Mozart Clarinet Concerto, anyone? Finally, many well-meaning instructors prescribe embouchure-changes (tightening and loosening) to combat pitch discrepancies and this unfortunately results in less flexibility in my opinion. If you are looking for an alternative, I like to recommend that my students bring the pitch down by creating more space inside their mouth (ie thinking of a hot potato that you want to avoid touching) which combats tenseness in the lower jaw and not enough space between the upper and lower teeth, and bringing the pitch up by focusing the air (ie thinking of the Death Star and its lasers coming together to destroy a planet) which can also help raise the back of the tongue.
The Kodaly Method was a perfect fit for this endeavor not only because of the effective learning sequence for solfege and intervals but also because of the general approach. I have included the basic tenets of the Kodaly Method and like to add intonation to the end of these phrases for even greater cohesion in the “mission statement.” Humor me, please.
The Kodaly Method emphasizes that
1) Teachers should use the highest quality music (ESPECIALLY when working on intonation which can be boring)
2) Music (INTONATION) should be for everyone, not just the elite (those seeking a career in music) 3) Music experiences (in intonation) should begin in early childhood (or as soon as instrumental study begins, not years afterwards when someone calls us out on it)
4) Initial grounding in the folk style of the native country (Bartok was a major ally of his in this, more on this later, but YES)
5) An a cappella vocal foundation (Kodaly says “There is no good musician who does not hear what they see and see what they hear”). 6) Literacy as the primary means for musical independence (which also means recognizing intervals) 7) Use of relative solfege including hand signs (to reinforce a concept of the space between) 8) A Child-centered learning sequence (After all, children are sponges when it comes to learning, why shouldn’t we help ourselves at least as much as we help them using our knowledge of learning psychology).
Who was Zoltan Kodaly? Hungarian composer (1882-1967), author, ethnomusicologist, music educator (designed Hungarian public school model), PhD thesis, “The Stanzaic Structure of Hungarian Folk Song,” collaborated with Bela Bartok beginning in 1905 to study, record, and preserve Hungarian folk song, wrote The ABC of Singing (music or textbook of folk materials), Let Us Sing Correctly (Let Us Sing in Tune), Two-Part Singing Exercises, Collected Songs for Schools
Why folk music you ask? Folk music preceded written transmission of music and was therefore required to be memorable, it was also pentatonic as singing mostly seconds and thirds is more accessible for amateur singers and lent itself to a more social aspect.
“In consonance with emerging thought in educational psychology at the time, Kodaly realized that learning must begin with the familiar and gradually move toward the abstract. The musical materials most natural to children are their own songs and games, and these form the beginning of their formal musical experiences. From children’s songs, through sophisticated folk materials and the richest of composed music, the child grows in skill and understanding of music of all periods and styles.” (34)
Jean Sinor, “Kodaly’s Folk Tradition,” Music Educators Journal, Vol. 69, no. 4 (December, 1982, 33-34).
“Language teachers often say it takes at least seven repetititons and uses to remember a word and concept. Instrumentalists need the same reinforcement.”
Priscilla M. Howard, “Kodaly Strategies for Instrumental Teachers,” Music Educators Journal, Vol. 82, no. 5 (March, 1996, 27-33).
“Kodaly even considers that it is only through the use of the pentatonic scale that children can avoid the early pitfalls of intonation. This in my opinion is not entirely true, though it is true that music-reading taught by step-wise methods leads to similar intonational discrepancies as those that occur when trying to measure the distance of one foot by marking off twelve separate inches. It is also true that the use of the semitones mi-fa and ti-do too early does make difficulties. However as the pentatonic scale is not indigenous to England (although it is more characteristic of American and Scottish folk cultures), it would not be natural here to use this scale exclusively in the early stages, as it is alien to our musical heritage. It is of interest that Orff suggests the use of the pentatonic in early stages for the reasons (a) that it breaks away from the German tradition of the well-known tonic-dominant system and allows a fresher and freer approach in the early stages of improvisation, and (b) because the absence of semitones and dissonant intervals allows a number of players to improvise simultaneously without the arbitrary selection of sounds causing unpleasant combinations. The freedom of the pentatonic scale (with its absence of the tritone and in consequence its lack of tonic attraction), cannot be denied and is of tremendous value in the Kodaly method in easy interchange between major, minor, and modal scales.” (19)
Geoffrey Winters, Kodaly Concept of Music Education (New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1965), Review in Tempo, New Series, no. 92 (Spring 1970), 19-24.
The exercises included below follow the interval learning sequence prescribed by Kodaly and are separated by the octave with a sung iteration between each played iteration to internalize the pitch and form a simple canonic duet with oneself. It is easy to add a drone on scale degrees 1 or 5 within each pentatonic scale and eventually progress to true two-part exercises with a partner or mental two-part exercises that are sung and then played featuring differing material. It is also possible to add the hand signs or conducting at any level of these exercises while singing.
“The efficacy of hand signs has been disputed, but there are widely supported reasons for their use. First, because hand signs are created spatially, they differentiate pitches based on their location in the scale: the relative intervallic distances are mirrored with the use of hand signs. Second, hand signs allow for an additional learning modality. Third, hand signs help studentshear, see, and “touch” the pitches on a “toneladder” in a kinesthetic manner. Fourth, hand signs can improve the accuracy of typically problematic intervals.”
Houlahan, Micheal and Philip Tacka, Kodaly Today: A Cognitive Approach to Elemenary Music Education (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 118
“One traditional use of movement in the Kodaly classroom is conducting. When conducting, children secure a sense of pulse and gain an awareness of beat hierarchy.”
Bowyer, James, “More than Solfege and Hand Signs: Philosophy, Tools, and Lesson Planning in the Authentic Kodaly Classroom,” Music Educators Journal, Vol. 102, no. 2 (December 2015),