Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

7-9 Year-old Dalcroze: 12/6/16

  • Back Telephone
    • The traditional game of telephone (whisper a phrase around the circle and see if it comes back the same) only with rhythms gently tapped on the back. We tried 2 rhythms and both came back perfectly. I used the second rhythm to introduce the 4 sixteenth note rhythm (known at Lucy Moses as ‘boo-mah-chi-kah’).
  • Start/stop when you hear 4 sixteenth notes.
    • A review of an inhibition-style quick reaction game meant to warm the group up for starting and stopping.
  • Leading and Following
    • This was done under the guise of a group of elephants finding their way through the streets of NYC to their jobs at the Big Apple Circuse. The lead elephant sings out to the others, who answer her back (call and response), after which she leads the group in her own tempo and with her own phrasing (stopping for red lights, etc.). I intended this as a quick opportunity to practice leading and following before we moved on to a series of ‘tricks’ that elephants would do as part of their act. We ended up spending almost the entire period on it. Many of the kids were inhibited to sing alone or even make vocal sounds to the group. At this stage of their development many are newly aware of a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to do things. Some are aware of the system of solfege singing and attempted to use syllables, which they are not yet adept at using. This same phenomenon was evident in their movement choices as leaders (many leaders needed coaching to prevent them from following the end of the line). Both of these things – singing whatever comes to mind and freely leading a group – might have come more easily to them in the past, but these types of temporary ‘regressions’ are, in my experience, quite normal. In any case, the kids stayed interested in this simple activity, and by the time everyone had gotten a turn, the period was almost over! I played music to match their movements. These are not music theory subjects I had intended to get to (hearing 1 and 5, ascending and descending scales, twice as fast and twice as slow) but they are undoubtedly musical behaviors (knowing how to lead and follow are essential in all kinds of ensemble music making), and I am happy to take the time to explore them if that’s what the kids need at the moment.
  • If You Dance
    • The round from previous weeks. The one ‘trick’ we worked on was stepping the rhythm of this tune, which uses quarters, halfs and eighths. I’ll keep returning to this round (and others) with the goal of being able to move them in ways that reflect the melodic and rhythmic shape of the song. Hopefully we will be able to sing it in a round one day, too.
Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

7-9 Year-old Dalcroze: 11/22/16

7-9 Year-old Dalcroze; 11/22/16

  • Make a shape with curves. Make a shape with straight lines.
    • This seemingly simple direction was first intended to be a physical warm-up. As I watched their choices, I began to play accompanying chords: towards dissonance for the curvy, and towards consonant for the straight-line shapes. After a time, I stopped calling, and let the music speak to them. I experimented with harmonic progressions that moved from tension to release, and many responded well to this. It was interesting to see their interpretations even though there is a good deal of subjectivity when it comes to consonance and dissonance.
  • Toss the scarf on the long note.
    • I played three patterns in 2/4 time, using all the different possible combinations of a quarter and two eighth-notes. I encourage musically a big release on the long note. When we were finished, we looked at how these rhythms are be notated. I choose not to emphasize this too much, as there is so much about experiencing those rhythms that cannot be conveyed by their symbolic representation.
  • Step the beat, clap the rhythm.
    • We returned to this basic Dalcroze exercise known as a dissociation. It stretches their coordination abilities, and allows them to experience the same rhythms in a new way. We’ll keep coming back to these kinds of exercises each week, but without spending too much time as they can be exhausting.
  • When the melody goes up, walk forward; when the melody goes down, move backwards.
    • Another association. They followed the piano for a while, and they I began to sing “If You Dance,” from last week. I let them discover the shape of the melody as we sang and enjoyed moving it with them.
  • Choose a percussion instrument and play a pattern. Another will play with you, improvising freely.
    • Some young players seem naturally inclined to invent and repeat patterns, some seem more interested in generating and exploring new material. The children listened well to each other. Second players were most likely to add something repetitive to another player’s pattern, which of course is a perfectly valid musical behavior (we call that a ‘groove’). If two players locked into a groove, I picked up an instrument and freely played over it.
  • Group improvisation: all play together quietly enough so that you can hear the softest player.

This simple direction is meant to encourage closer listening, which can be challenging for any age when playing in a large group. I was curious to see whether they would fall into a recognizable beat and meter. They almost did. I am perfectly happy if they don’t for right now, just as long as they are really listening to each other as they play. We ended with a group sing and play-a-long of Bim Bom.

Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

7-9 Year-Old Dalcroze, 11/15/16

This weeks activities:

  • Move to the music. At signal, stop and clap 4 times. At next signal, stop and pat knees 4 times. Continue to alternate at each signal.
    • This is a continuation of the same game we played last week, with an added challenge: keeping track of a past event.
  • 1 voice/2 voices: walk alone if you hear a single line melody, find a partner when the music changes to a melody with a second voice added in harmony.
    • We built this up slowly to get used to finding partners (a different one every time). First, I simply called “Change.” Then I gave a verbal signal while playing the piano. Soon, I was able to take away the verbal signal. We added a quick reaction turn around after a while.
  • Toss the Beanbag-scarf on the highest note of the sequence.
    • I never actually gave the students instructions for this. I grafted the game onto a story (at their request) that I invented on the spot (they seem to be good at getting me to do this – it is another keeper). A forest full of hungry tigers (their suggestion) wakes to find magic balls of light next to them. They discover that by tossing them into the air, they are led to food. I used patterns of 4 quarter notes, changing the timing of the high note every so often.
  • Hey Ho
    • At the end of the story, I began to sing this round, which is actually about not having “food nor drink nor money” but still being “merry.” We’ll come back to it next week.
  • Solfege: Glockenspiel Exploration
    • I brought out a glockenspiel which has the notes arranged into the black and white formation on a piano. We used numbers to sing La Cloche from last week. We improvised call and response phrases. They were free to sing back any melody they liked, with or without numbers, most chose to experiment with numbers. A few are able to do this accurately, most not. If their numbers did not match what they were singing, I simply played back what their melody would have sounded like if they matched. I did this without comment as I do not want them to worry about ‘being right.’ This ability will develop on its own over time. All of the melodies made good musical sense apart from this. We were able to discuss the effect of ending on C, or not ending on C (C being ‘home’ in the key of C).
Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

7-9 Year-olds: 11/8/16

Here’s what we did this week…

  • Move to the music; when the music stops, stop and clap 4 times.
    • I had to tweak the directions to this until the music felt right to me. In the past, I have made it work with a signal (usually a high accented note from the piano). It ended up being a study in cadence and call and response. We tried it in a variety of tempos, but the most successful was with a lively skipping rhythm. We had to practice changing from feet to hands (this requires the ability to stop the momentum of the body). The students can really only do this successfully when they begin to anticipate when the stops are going to come, in this case at the cadence points.
  • 2, 3 and 4 time
    • Quick Reaction, with me calling ‘2’ for grouping of two beats (e.g. 2/4 time), “3” for three time, etc. We reviewed this first sitting in a circle, with patterns of clapping, patching and snapping. After they got good at switching without much effort, I started singing “Bim Bom,” from last week. I asked them which meter felt like it fit the best. They came to 2 time pretty quickly.
    • Step/Clap, Quick Reaction. Same game with movement. At first I called out the number. Later, they were able to Follow (another common Dalcroze game) the changes in the music without me calling out. I embedded this activity in a story (since they crave stories each week) involving three kinds of clocks: a Tick Tock Clock, a Tick Tock Tock Clock, and a Tick Tock Tock Tock Clock. I improvised this story, but enjoyed telling it – it may be a keeper!
  • La Cloche
    • I had planned to returned to this song about chimes, but one of the students remembered it and requested it after the story because it seemed to fit the theme so well. We spent the rest of the tine learning the words (I also gratefully received some help on my French pronunciation), exploring the melodic contour with gesture and on the xylophone. We tried to sing it as a round, but they are not quite ready for that. I am sure we will get there eventually with this very sharp and musical bunch.



Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

7-9 Year-olds: 11/2/16

We had a long break (4 weeks) after only a few classes. It was as if we had just seen each other last week, though. Here’s what we did:

  • Warm-up: A group of children stand throughout the room. They cannot move unless they have the magic ball. The ball only retains its power if it keeps moving and, like any gift, is given away.
    • We start with one ball. The children each get to see different ways of moving, and eagerly await their turn. I soon add more balls. Some find it difficult to stand still when there is lots of activity around them. They must practice inhibiting their natural impulse. This game seemed to be a hit.
  • Meter (groupings of 2, 3 and 4 beats)
    • Students seated. Practice hearing and responding (patch and clap) to different meters played on the drum. First I call the changes (this is called a Quick Reaction game), next I just play and they show me what they year.
      • The students demonstrated mastery pretty quickly.
    • Students move in the room. Association game: If you hear music with no meter, move alone; music in 2 means move with a partner in space; music in 3 means move with a partner in place; music in 4 means move all together.
      • There were a lot of directions to this game. Some were able to discern the various meters (I was at the piano); some were able to remember the directions; and some were able to do both. I would reduce the number of responses next time.
    • Hearing 4 sixteenth notes
      • To the above game, I added a start/stop game, which I framed as a story (some were requesting a story): A magic fairy flies through the town waving her magic wand whenever she feels like. She has no idea of the effect, though. Everytime she waves it, the entire city freezes. When she waves it again, everyone is again able to move. The sound of her wand is 4 sixteenth notes.
        • I was able to make fairly sophisticated melodies, and, over time, did not have to emphasize the 4 sixteenth notes as much. The story puts many of them directly into the work.
      • Bim Bom
        • I introduced this song, which is in 2 and features 4 sixteenth notes frequently. I’ll return to it next week. We sat in a group and they wiggled their fingers whenever they heard the 16th note rhythm.
      • Review of beat, division and multiple in binary meters (this simply means quarter, eighth and half note)
        • I modeled each rhythm, and handed out percussion instruments, asking each student to keep the rhythm going. I brought out note cards with the notation symbol on it. As we layered up the sounds, it began to remind me of a clock, so I began to sing a French round called La Cloche (a round which I discovered I did not know as well as I had hoped – I have to practice it for next time!).
          • All of the students seem well able to maintain a steady rhythm, but find it hard to synchronize with the group. This is natural, and something I will work to address in future classes. We traded instruments and tried to build up the ensemble a second time. Eventually, I just encouraged everyone to play freely. It seemed to me most were listening to the other instruments as they played. I like to work with ensembles of different instruments (as opposed to all playing sticks, for example) to encourage this kind of listening while improvising.
        • The Human Scale
          • The students remembered this game from a month ago, and requested to play it. Our time was almost up, but we got into formation (there are 8 students – perfect!). The range was a little high (I’ll fix that for next time), but I am surprised that many can hear and reproduce their note (especially hard in some positions). I dictated the round to them with numbers, but we did not have enough time to really execute this well. As they left, I reminded them of the other round we did the previous class (over a month ago) “If You Dance.” Many seemed to remember it.



Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

7-9 Year-olds: 9/27/16

The 4:45 group (7-9 year-olds) had their best session yet. Here’s what we did:

  • Explore ways to walk (heels, toes, sideways, large steps, small steps, through molasses, without picking up your feet, etc.)
    • Sometimes at this age, creativity can take a back seat for a while as skill mastery moves to the fore. In this case though, the students were quite actively exploring from many different angles. Music accompanied each soloist’s walk, as did, eventually, the entire group.
  • Quick Reaction: Students walk; at the command ‘hop’, execute one skip.
    • The music for the skip is a dotted eighth and sixteenth. The quick reaction exercise requires close listening to perform well. The changes in the music hopefully are a good balance of expectation and surprise.
  • Register follow: if you hear high notes, move your hands; low notes move your feet.
    • I played quarters, eighths and half notes. The students became pretty adept at switching in unexpected places. We began to combine two different rhythms in feet and hands, known as a ‘dissociation’.
  • Song: If You Dance
    • This is a round which we will return to. It contains quarters, eighths and half notes. We practiced stepping the rhythm of the song. By the end of the practice, the class was able to sing the round (without me ever explicitly teaching the song).
  • Human Scale
    • Students are arranged in a row, and assigned a particular note of the scale (1-8). Conductor (me or a student) points to a student, and he or she sings their note. The kids got pretty good at this. They were able to sing up and down with their individual notes, and could match pitch with the piano if the conductor called for larger leaps. Towards the end of the exercise, the conductors became smarter about their melody making, facilitating greater accuracy in their human ‘instrument’.

Because of the way the Jewish Holidays fall in the month of October, there are no classes now until November. Enjoy the month!


Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

7-9 Year-Olds: September

Welcome parents and family members of the new Dalcroze class for 7 to 9-year-olds at the Lucy Moses School. I am pleased we were able to expand our program to include older children this year! Because it is sometimes difficult – even for adult Dalcroze students – to be able to articulate just what happened in class, and what the objectives were, I will periodically share some of our activities and my observation of the students.

Dalcroze education can be thought of as a music theory class in which the learning through direct experience. As this is only our second class, we are still getting to know each other. Most of the things I have been doing have allowed me to watch and gauge their responses in different contexts.  Some of the activities gave the children complete freedom, and some were very specific. Both told me a lot about what kinds of experiences the students have had. My sense is that the class members have had many different kinds of musical experience in their lives so far. Fortunately, the Dalcroze work can support them all.

Here are some of the things we did yesterday.

Activities from 9/21/16

  • All move freely. Teacher chooses one student, and plays music to match their movement. Students later guess which student was being played.
    • This was an attempt to explore free movement. Students all have different experiences with creative and purposeful movement: some with dance, some with Dalcroze, maybe some without formal experiences. This gave me a chance to get to know them in this context. Many seemed unsure as to what to do, so as a preliminary, I introduced some basic oppositions: fast/slow, high/low, curvy/straight, etc. The other large idea here, a signature for Dalcroze, is that improvised music can match a person’s movement. For some this was a new experience, and seemed to generate a bit of self – consciousness. This is natural for this age group, and will likely disappear over time.
  • Associate gestures and syllables with quarters, eighths and sixteenths. Respond to music that changes between the different durations.
  • Each child stands in a hoop. For quarter notes, they march in place. For eighth notes, they run around the hoop. For 16th notes, they sit.
    • These activities called for a very specific response, as opposed to getting activity.
  • All move to the music. if the music ends on V (sol), find a hoop to stand in. If the music ends on I (Do), find a hoop to sit down in.
    • This activity is more of a combination of free and specific. Some found this activity more challenging. Others, were quite successful right away.
  • Free improvisation with percussion instruments. Play so that you can hear the softest instrument.
    • I decided to end with something very free to balance out preceding restricted activities. Many of children seemed to really respond to this opportunity. We will do more!


Please check back for future updates on our class. I welcome your comments, questions and feedback!

Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

A Class for 5-6 Year-olds

So many things can happen over the course of a Dalcroze semester that you can often get a better idea of what a class has been doing by simply describing a single class in detail. Here’s a description of a recent class of exceptional 5-6 year-old girls that I am fortunate enough to see every week.

I began the class by placing the girls in the 4 corners of the room. I played a chromatic scale with the left hand ascending and the right hand descending, and I asked the girls if that suggested a way of moving. (The previous week, they had found a way of moving 4 even phrases in the shape of a square.) After a bit of thought, one student pointed to the center of the room, which was exactly what I had in mind. The girls followed the piano through different shifts of tempo, and then I let each one lead a turn. By the time we were done with this warm-up, the class was quite in tune with one another.

Next, we played an ‘inhibition’ game, a standard Dalcroze technique. I asked them to move with the music, but at the call ‘hop’ they were to stop for 4 beats. At first, the piano stopped with them. As they got used to the game, I kept playing, which required them to feel four beats internally. After a while they got good at this, too, and I was able to try different kinds of tempos and dynamics.

Next, I played a rhythm pattern (quarter-quarter-half) and asked them to move it. They picked up the basic pattern right away, but stopped at the half note. This is a typical reaction, as we are naturally drawn to the start of a musical event. Indeed, that is where the influence of a pianist pretty much ends as far as the sound goes. Not true for singers and string players, though, who must continue moving the breath or arm in order to continue the duration of a sound. I encouraged the girls to move through the note, using their arms or shifting their weight in space to show the entire length of the half note. We explored many ways to do this. For pianists or future pianists, this gives them the internal experience of sustaining a sound that they can’t get from playing the instrument itself.

The rhythm pattern was part of a round I wanted them to learn, called “Ah, Poor Bird”. The round contains this pattern twice, followed by a new 2 bar pattern with eight notes, and then a return of the first quarter-quarter-half motive. I was hoping to get them to step rhythm and clap the beat, but that proved challenging. To move toward this goal, I put them in pairs. We decided we were birds, and that one bird would flap their wings to the beat throughout the song, while the other bird would move to rhythm, which sometimes goes fast than the beat, sometimes slower. It was not easy for them to separate parts like this. One often gets drawn into the other. However, this ability to feel two (at least!) things simultaneously is an essential skill for musicians in countless (pun somewhat intended) ways. The Dalcroze classroom is the perfect place to externalize this very internal skill.

It was time to take our experience to a more abstract and symbolic realm, however. We sat down with cards with quarter, half, and eighth notes printed on them. After establishing gestures for each duration, and names for each, the girls figured out the rhythm pattern of the song. (In college courses, this is known as dictation!) I set them up with their partners, one with a percussion instrument and one with a particular duration. (We first spent a moment to decide which instrument might be best suited to which duration.) The pairs improvised. When one partner help up their card, the other played the rhythm. Then we tried it with the rhythm pattern of the song. I had to dictate the rhythm first, but they soon were able to do it by themselves. It was quite an impressive display. Finally, it was time to loosen up, so I let them freely improvise to St Louis Blues.

The musical material was simple, but the girls managed to take it far beyond where many discussions of quarter, eighth and half notes usually end, and that is one of the many things I love about the Dalcroze work.

Children · Teaching

Infrequently Asked Questions About Early Childhood Dalcroze Classes

Aside from one or two perennials, I don’t get asked too many questions during my Dalcroze classes for young children. With busy toddlers demanding attention, there just isn’t a lot of time for chatting. (There are one or two questions I am commonly asked. See if you can guess what they are – I’ll include them at the end.) But here are a few questions I imagine some might have:

1. What’s the goal of the class?

I know that seems like an obvious question, but the answer may not be so obvious because we don’t really have time to talk about it. My hope is to immerse the children in music as much as possible. I sing, tap, clap, walk, move and play in music, and hope to encourage an environment in which everyone feels fully comfortable and free to do the same. For musicians, this is a more or less natural way of relating to others. For those with less experience in music (whether formal or informal), this may be new. I hope that everyone leaves the class inspired to try the activities at home – or make up their own ways of relating to each other through music.

2. My child is not ever asked to do anything special, and sometimes does not even seem to be paying attention. What is she really learning about music?

Children’s ability with language (speaking, reading, writing, etc.) is closely correlated with the amount of language they have heard from infancy. Music works the same way. (I would also argue that we learn this way at all ages.) We don’t have to teach children what a noun or verb is, or what order to put them in before they can fluently communicate. Children are actually capable of using quite sophisticated grammar from a surprisingly early age, all without formal instruction. If we want musical children, we surround them with music. We make it irresistible. We make it as natural as speaking, and we do this by simply being musical with them as often as possible.

3. Why does Michael discourage me from talking to my child in class, and yet he talks all the time?

For children, being musical is no more unusual than anything else they encounter minute by minute. It’s all new! For the adults, who perhaps are not as accustomed at this point in their lives to being musical on a regular basis, it is sometimes unclear: What am I supposed to do? And then: if I don’t know what to do, I am sure my child doesn’t!

My goal is always to make the room move and breathe in music together. I model with movement, or a ball, or a scarf, and I hope to look out and see uninhibited musical expression and experimentation. If I don’t see it, I keep working until I do. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes not, but my verbal coaching is entirely for the adults. The kids don’t need it! Children absorb by their own combination of being and doing. The best mode for the adults to be in is to ‘be the music that you want to see’. Just know that you may not see that music right away, just as they don’t utter every word they hear the first time they hear it.

What’s the most frequently asked question? The winner is: “When can my child start an instrument?” My answer is always the same: 1) when the child asks for it, and 2) when you think the child is ready to sit down and play everyday. But what’s the rush? The cello, the piano, the violin are instruments for musical expression. What needs to be developed, nurtured and fed (at all stages of musical life) is the need – the hunger – to express and engage musically. Then, the rest is easy.

I hope you will be encouraged to try some of the things we do at home. You might want to play some of the recordings I have used in class. Many of these come from larger sets of music. It’s great to play the whole set (in the car, in the background at home, etc.) Get out the balls, the scarves, the stuffed animals; walk/gallup/tiptoe/dance as the louds and softs, fasts and slows of the music change. (A streaming service like Spotify, Rhapsody or now Apple Connect are wonderful resources and well worth the $10 subscription fee.)

Make it a part of your every day life, and your child will enjoy the gift for life.

Here’s a list of some of the pieces I have used recently:

1. The Old Castle by Mussorgsky, from Pictures at an Exhibition

2. Rockin’ in Rhythm and Daybreak Express by Duke Ellington

3. Des pas sur la niege (“Footprings in the snow) by Claude Debussy from Preludes for Piano

4. Prelude to the Mother Goose Suite by Maurice Ravel

Happy playing… And keep those questions coming…

Michael Joviala



This Summer, Breathe Some Life Into Your Music Theory

Although I am often hired to teach music theory, I am never quite comfortable with that term. Of course, there are many interesting theoretical questions we could ask about music: How does music convey emotional meaning? What are the origins of music? Why is music so important for so many of us? Like all theoretical questions, there will never be definitive answers to these. And while they may inspire wonder in us, and perhaps point the way to discoveries about human nature, and maybe even lead to new directions in music itself, the curriculum for music theory courses is most often unrelated to this type of exploration.

I think it’s more useful to think of the work of a typical music theory class as being closer to the study of language arts. A thorough understanding of grammar, syntax and form are essential to understand what another has written. The way something is said can have a profound effect on the way an idea is received in the listener. Real communication with another requires a very specific set of listening skills. We rightly do not call work to develop these types of skills ‘Language Theory’. It is simply the study of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Translated into musical behavior, this is the act of sight reading, composing, improvising and listening.. Some children learn to read without any explicit instruction. Others need a slow and steady approach. The same is true for music. Some hear and play far more than they can write and read. Some can write and read far more than they can hear and play. This is true for both adults and children. Music we all know and love deeply has been – and will continue to be – made by people from both camps. Most of us are a mix of the two, but I sometimes wonder whether those with a special musical aptitude start out strongly in one or the other.

In my teaching, I simply want to give opportunity – and sometimes create the necessity – for as many modes of musical communication as possible. Key signatures move from theoretical to practical knowledge when my improvising partner is using a different scale from the one I am using. If the rhythms that I have written – which feel so right to me – cannot be played by my friend, I am finally forced to do the math: too many beats in this bar… not enough in that one… There: just right!

Summer ‘music theory’ projects can put this theory of music learning to the test. Choose a foggy area and create a path towards the light. Can’t remember a key signature rule (e.g. 2nd to last flat names the key)? Write a short melody in a major key every day, and you won’t need the rule. Don’t know the difference between a binary and ternary beat (i.e. quarter vs. dotted quarter)? Make a list of the rhythms for both, and improvise phrases using a rhythmic language in every possible meter. Take a simple song in either binary (e.g. Frere Jaques) or ternary (e.g. Row Row Row Your Boat) and translate it to the other mode. Sight read for one week only in 6/8, the next week in 2/4.

It is tempting to think that once students can reproduce a fact about music on paper (e.g, ‘there are three beats in a measure and the quarter note gets the beat in a bar of three four.’) that they ‘have it’. Most of us, however, need to encounter a musical subject from many different angles before we understand the fact thoroughly enough to do anything with it. This is the joy of music, though. Where would we be without the obsessive exploration of one or two basic ideas in Beethoven and Bach, not to mention Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk? This is also the central idea (this, and not simply moving to music) of the Dalcroze approach to music education which continues to be so inspirational for me as a musician and teacher.

For my Special Music students this year, I will be sending home completed work. Look through their folders, manuscript books, and workbooks to see where they’ve come from and where they are going.

Happy exploring and happy summer to all!

Michael Joviala

June, 2015