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  • Writer's pictureJenny Ferris

Kodaly and the Brain

A number of days ago I had the privilege of attending a workshop presented by KMEIA and the wonderful Robyn Stavely - a researcher and lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Robyn Stavely

The workshop was looking at the connections between neuropedagogical research and the Kodaly philosophy of music education. The core idea was that we receive information about the world around us through our whole body - all of our senses teach us everything we know about the world and we simply couldn't learn if we were an isolated brain in a jar.

Brain in jar

This really got me thinking about the importance of getting our students up and DOING something when learning. The Kodaly methodology is ideal for this: we pitch-pattern high and low sounds, we keep rhythmic ostinatos on our bodies, we learn folk dances while singing.

We are learning about abstract sound through very grounded, real movements.

Robyn also spoke about the power of mirror neurons - neurons in our brains that help us mimic what we see around us. These neurons are what help humans develop empathy (eg. feeling hungry when we see someone else eating, or flinching when we see someone else get hurt).

These neurons are also a godsend when it comes to teaching, because it allows us to convey a lot of powerful information and instruction through gesture: Copy me, go here, sit down, stop etc.

Robyn demonstrated this by teaching us an entire scarf dance to this great recording of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" without uttering a single word.

As Kodaly teachers, this allows us to trim down the amount of time wasted on verbal instructions and instead pack in as much experiential music activity as possible.

The next time you go to give a direction to your class, think about whether it can be shown instead of spoken. Save your voice for the music-making!

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