Kodály, Orff, and Dalcroze: A Who’s Who and What’s What 

By Meegan Hughes

This is a sponsored blog by NAfME Corporate member West Music.

Before we look at what makes Zoltán Kodály’s, Carl Orff’s, and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze’s individual teaching philosophies different, you should know that they all believed in the same ideals of creating child-centric systems, developing an inner ear, and fostering an intrinsic love of the arts. That is the ability to hear music in your head without a physical sound being present. For example, if you took a moment to sing “Happy Birthday” in your head and not aloud, more than likely you would be able to do it without much effort. However, if I asked you to write out the rhythm of “Happy Birthday,” it would require a little more music theory knowledge. You would first have to think about the ¾ time signature and the starting eighth notes pick-up. Should they be a dotted 8th – sixteenth or two straight 8th notes? Perhaps you can visualize and hear each option in your head to decide. This is a skill you have developed with experience, time, and musical maturity.

So, where should you start with your general music classes? How do you pick a pedagogy that will enhance your program and develop well-rounded musicians? Many of us already use activities from two or more of these methods daily to supplement our programs, perhaps with an inclination toward one in particular. Read on for a breakdown of these pedagogies, and keep in mind that it is by no means a complete scope. The emerging and prolific music student will surely benefit from all three pedagogies.


Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) was a Hungarian educator, ethnomusicologist, philosopher, and composer who based his teachings around the concept that folk music and singing are essential to music literacy. He believed that we should first learn to love music as human sound and as an experience that enriches life. The voice is the most natural instrument and one which mostly every person possesses. Thus, learning through singing should precede instrumental training with Kodály. It is in the child’s best interest to understand the basics of reading music before beginning the difficult task of learning the technique of an instrument. The repertoire comes from folk songs and games of Hungarian and other cultures, traditional children’s songs, and games. Folk music is the music of the people, and there is much to be said for singing the songs and games used by children for centuries. Folk music has all the basic characteristics needed to teach the foundations of music.

Solfège is an invaluable aid in building all musical skills with Kodály. Expanding upon the 11th-century Guidonian method of solmization and utilizing American John Curwen’s hand movements, solfége allows the student to audiate and create spatial connections in music. Hand signs help visualize intervallic relationships. In addition to music reading and writing which are begun at an early stage of musical education, the following skill areas are also developed: part-singing, part-hearing, improvisation, intonation, listening, memory, phrasing, and understanding of form. The development of all skill areas begins very early with simple tasks required of all the students. As knowledge grows, skills are developed further in a sequential manner. The use of the pentatone (do, re, mi, sol, la) is recommended for the early training of children because of its predominance in their folk music.

“The good musician understands the music without a score as well and understands the score without the music. The ear should not need the eye nor the eye the (outer) ear.” (Kodály quoting Schumann: Selected Writings, p. 192)

solfége hand movements for music


Carl Orff (1895-1982) was a German composer and educator who, along with Gunild Keetman, conceived an approach to building musicianship in every learner through the integration of music, movement, speech, and drama. Orff was influenced by both Kodály and Dalcroze. In Orff Schulwerk classrooms, children begin with what they do instinctively: play! Imitation, experimentation, and personal expression occur naturally for students. Perhaps, the most recognizable element of this pedagogy is the use of barred instruments. Metallophones, xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiel, as well as non-pitched percussion, are frequently used to teach and reinforce understanding in the arts. Learning to play the recorder in elementary school is the brainchild of Orff.

In the Orff Schulwerk approach, learning music by rote processes is considered valid in its own right. Learning to read music notation is seen as a logical extension of being able to make music. This is similar to the Kodály approach of sound before sight, but unlike Kodály, the music is more improvisational.

Orff Schulwerk music and movement pedagogy contributes to the development of the individual far beyond specific musical skills. These skills and procedures have a wider application and value in several areas: intellectual, social, emotional, and aesthetic.

Intellectual—The critical-thinking and problem-solving tasks involved in Orff Schulwerk call upon both linear and intuitive intellectual capacities. The carrying out of creative ideas calls upon organizational abilities as well as artistic knowledge and skill.

Social—Orff Schulwerk is a group model, requiring the cooperative interaction of everyone involved, including the instructor. Tolerance, helpfulness, patience, and other cooperative attitudes must be cultivated consciously. The ensemble setting requires sensitivity to the total group and awareness of the role of each individual within it. Problem solving, improvisation, and the group composing process provide opportunities for developing leadership.

Emotional—The artistic media involved—music and movement—provide the individual with avenues for non-verbal expression of emotions. The exploratory and improvisatory activities can provide a focus for emotions, a means for release of tension and frustration, and a vehicle for the enhancement of self-esteem.

Aesthetic—As knowledge of and skills in music and movement grow, students have opportunities to develop standards of what is considered “good” within the styles being explored.

Venn diagram of Kodály, Orff, and Dalcroze music teaching philosophies

Click to enlarge


Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950) was a Swiss composer, musician, and educator who developed Dalcroze eurhythmics, an approach to learning and experiencing music through movement and drama. Dalcroze Education has been around for more than a century and is a playful and experiential method for developing the whole musician. It is a process for awakening, developing, and refining innate musicality through rhythmic movement (often called eurhythmics), ear-training, and improvisation. Dalcroze lessons guide the student to feel, express, and master the flow that is essential to music, dance, and other performing arts. Lessons should feature interactive games and exercises that help students learn to trust their ideas and develop their own intuitions. Dalcroze Education is a rich, complex, multifaceted practice that encourages each of them to experience it on their own terms, as individuals. Each participant can define it differently, through the lens of their own experience. This unique approach to musical learning makes music vivid for everyone, from young beginners to adult professionals.

In a Dalcroze Eurhythmics class, students are moving in some way, whether it be traveling around the room, or in gestures with hands, arms, heads, or upper bodies. Their movements are responsive to the music in the room. The teacher can improvise this music at the piano or on another instrument (sometimes recorded or composed music is used). The task is typically to move in space using certain guidelines, specific to the musical piece. For example, the teacher may ask the students to walk around the room, stepping to the beat. Then, when the students hear a specific cue, they should clap the beat instead. The music continues, with the students challenged to find new ways to express the beat with their bodies.

The teacher shapes the music not only to the rules of the task but to what they observe the students doing. The students, in turn, shape their accomplishment of the task to the nature of the music—its tempo, dynamics, texture, phrase structure, and style. Change is a constant in each lesson. The Dalcroze approach allows for incredible variety in teaching styles and methods.

I am a product of the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, where I studied with Dr. John Feierabend. He developed his Conversational Solfège books, as well as his First Steps in Music while I was studying with him, and our class was able to hash out and contribute ideas related to his endeavor. We had the opportunity to explore all three of these philosophies but studied Kodály in depth for four years. Truth be told, I am partial to the Kodály pedagogy, which I have been incorporating into my lessons for the past 25 years of K-University teaching. I appreciate the structure and the integrity of the sequence, as well as the Curwen hand signs that I use for step/skip spatial awareness. This is not to say I abandoned Dalcroze and Orff, but rather, I intertwine activities from all three music educators, as I encourage you to do as well.

This blog is shared courtesy of Music ConstructED, West Music’s home for the general elementary music teacher. Find high-quality, peer-reviewed lesson plans, resources, and professional development in this collaborative online community at www.musicconstructed.com.

For further reading:

5 Principles of the Kodály Method,” 24 February 2022. Masterclass.com

American Orff-Schulwerk Association, “Music Literacy,” 2022. Aosa.org

Dalcroze Society of America, “What Is Dalcroze?” 2022. Dalcroze USA. 

About the author:

Meegan Hughes headshotMrs. Meegan Samantha Hughes has been making musical magic with students in grades K – University since 1997. Meegan earned her B. Mus.Ed, summa cum laude, from The Hartt School of Music (Connecticut) and her M.A. in Music History and Literature degree, summa cum laude, from LIU Post (New York). Her Master’s thesis stressed the importance of folk music and instruments as living history. She currently teaches K-5 General Music, chorus, recorder, ukulele, and yoga in East Meadow, New York.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

April 16, 2024


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April 16, 2024. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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