New Resources: Xylophone, Claves, ‘Kodály-Inspired Teaching’

*cue dramatic mountain scenes… Julie Andrews coming into view… rising scale…

# The hills are alive with the sound of music

With songs they have sung for a thousand years… # *

For those who grew up watching the film ‘The Sound of Music’ (1965), these lines may well bring back some great childhood memories. For others, the lines may seem hackneyed – little more than a cliché. Others may never have heard them. Whichever way, for me this film was on repeat in the 90s when I was growing up, and I loved it!

Although it was seemingly treasured by two generations, few young people know it today.

This is unsurprising given the volume of films, media, and information available - and the film is, after all, over 50 years old. Worst of all, you won't find it on Netflix. It seems to me, though, that those who do not know The Sound of Music are missing out on something special.

Needless to say, the information available to us today - and the speed with which we are to absorb it - has greatly increased since 1965. For some young people, they will still use the old adage of ‘trial and error’ - learning a piece note-for-note until it sounds ‘right’.

In the digital age, will this approach cut it for young learners?

If time is a person’s most valuable resource, children (and adults, too) must find ways to practise better, not necessarily harder. There can be little doubt, of course, that repetition increases skill and speed – and when paired with keen experimentation and careful listening, this often achieves fantastic results – but the question remains: how can keen young students achieve great results with busy schedules and with so many distractions?

Resource #1: Susan Brumfield, ‘First, We Sing! Kodály-Inspired Teaching’, Hal Leonard, 2014.

The key lies in developing their methods of learning and practising in fun and engaging ways: cue Kodály. Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967) was a Hungarian composer and teacher who, along with his students, reformed musical education from the 1920s. He developed upon existing methods of teaching two key components of music learning: pitch (the note) and rhythm (how long the note is held for).

Resource #2: Xylophone (pitch)

The method he used for pitch was based on a tool he observed, known as ‘solfege’. Here is a well-known clip from the Sound of The Music with solfege in action:

The Xylophone will be used to develop understanding of pitch though various games involving Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, and their hand signals.

Resource #3: Claves (rhythm)

Kodály used rhythm syllables from a French sight-singing method – ‘ta’ for longer beats, and ‘ti’ for shorter beats. The claves will be used with this method alongside games for learning tempo and rhythm.

In Lessons

In a recent lesson with a beginner teenage student called Monica, we used the xylophone and claves along with solfege and rhythm syllables to learn this Ariana Grande song, which is from The Sound of Music, incidentally…


The Sound of Music teaches some incredible lessons - lessons which are as useful today as they were over 50 years ago when the film was made. Though the film is perhaps outdated, the concept of solfege can be taught fresh with new and stimulating games for the student.

These new resources will allow the student to develop their aural skills though an enriched understanding of pitch and rhythm. The benefits of this approach are numerous, and - at the very least - provide a sustainable foundation for learning, reduce the time spent on learning notes and rhythms, and allow for a more effective use of lesson and practise time.

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