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


Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

Drawing Music

For the past few weeks, you may have noticed your children leaving the classes clutching drawings. In the spring of the year, I usually begin to focus the children’s attention on ways that musical events and phenomenon can be visually represented. However, the longer I teach, the more I find myself delaying the introduction of standard notation symbols for younger children.

This is not because young children are not able to hear rhythmic relationships in music. Studies have shown that babies are able to perceive complex musical features that we consider quite sophisticated. (For more on this, see the work of University of Toronto researcher Sandra Trehub.) As they become accustomed to the music of their particular culture, these perceptual abilities are pruned away. And while 4 year olds may have lost some of this natural perceptual ability, I am very wary of reducing their experience to symbols too soon.

One of the main goals of a Dalcroze class is learning initially through discovery and experience, rather than conceptual explanation and visual representation. I can tell a four-year old that eighth notes are twice as fast as quarter notes, but what will those words mean to a young child who has had only limited experience using numbers to add, subtract , multiply and divide? And if the conceptual ground is not solid, emphasizing the symbols seems for these young musicians seems to be the wrong way to go. By this point in the year, I know that they can already perceive the difference – they easily change from running to walking as the music changes.

If I show them a quarter note and tell them that this is for walking music, a great deal of their experience will have been disregarded (not to mention the many ways quarters are used as symbols in music, not always for ‘walking music’ by any means). I would rather ask them questions: How could you draw walking music? Then: How could you draw soft music? Fast music? Heavy music? The fact that something that you see could possibly represent something that you hear is not necessarily obvious, or even logical, to a four-year old mind, and so as I ask these questions I let them draw what they like. I invite them to tell us about their drawings, and, the accompanying sounds that go with them with using percussion instruments or their voices.

And so, while I do now and then show them quarter notes, eighth notes and the like while we play and sing, I don’t make a big fuss over them. The tools of notation, with all of their inherent freedoms and limitations, will be available to them as needed.  But until then, I hope as much as possible to preserve their direct connection with their essential experience of music as we begin the process of mapping sound to visual representation.

Michael Joviala

March, 2014

Children · Teaching

Leading and Following, Up and Down

Over the past few weeks the 4-5 year-old classes have been exploring several different aspects of musical experience that I have written about previously. Now that they are getting used to working together as part of a group, I like to give them opportunities to lead and follow. Recently gingerbread men and women have lead their fellow cookies through the snow to a frozen pond (ice skating ensued…), and elephants have followed their leaders through the crowded city streets on their way to their jobs at the Big Apple Circus.  I have written about these kinds of activities in a previous post which you can read here.

Also, we are continuing to explore musical elements related to pitch. This year I have found myself singing more to the children throughout the class, and encouraging sung responses from them. It is interesting to see the many different attitudes towards singing that have already taken hold in the children. Some are quite ready to sing anything: made up songs, their favorite songs, what they had for breakfast… To encourage those that may be more shy, I attempt to give opportunities where the entire group is making sound with their voice: perhaps the elephants can call out to each other,  or maybe we can all wonder how a monkey would sing Frere Jacques. Previous posts address other ways I attempt to give them experience hearing pitch, register and scale, click here for more.

Got a question? Add your comment here. I’d love to hear from you!


December, 2013

Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

Is my child gifted?


There is one comment that I often hear from parents that still catches me off guard: “He really responds to music!” The sentiment is usually expressed with a mix of surprise and awe, but seeing children respond to music with delight, enthusiasm, passion, abandon, inventiveness and curiosity would likely surprise few teachers of young children. We are more surprised – concerned, even – when we don’t see those things.

Our notions of what children are able to perceive have changed drastically in the last 40 years. Whereas we used to regard infants and young children as blank slates waiting to be inscribed, every month brings more reports on the remarkably sensitive distinctions babies are able to make in the language and music that they hear. By the time they are 4 years old, they have logged thousands of hours listening to the sounds that surround them. They are absolutely ready to engage.

Along with the surprise that parents often express when they see their child so passionately responding to an art form that they themselves may now have little involvement with or feeling for, a question sometimes follows, “Do you think he is gifted?” (Not always stated so baldly, but…) Though I often suppress it, my first instinct is to unequivocally shout, “Yes!” no matter what child I am talking about. Having watched so many children over the years, I am constantly reminded that most are supremely gifted artists in that stage of their lives. We all used to be so: actively engaged in our environment during our waking ours, as all committed artists are; constantly creating and exploring in order to make sense of – and take delight in – our surroundings, ourselves and others.

Over the coming year, if you peak in the door or window, you may see your child skipping with abandon, totally immersed in a drama or story, or lost in a sound world of his or her own creation. Our culture has made a fetish of musical ability – either you have it or your don’t, and only the lucky few who do should spend their days making music. However, the longer I teach, the more respect and awe I have for that special moment in their lives when they are all able to do these things with complete unselfconsciousness.

I am very interested to know what music is to them, and I will carefully try to introduce to them my own conception of it as well. It will be difficult to for them to express what they are learning in class, because in the early ages they are completely full of their own music, and I am loath to disturb that process. (See my earlier blog post for more on this subject). I do have an agenda – a curriculum, if you must – but my primary goal is to let them enjoy their gift while it is still unequivocally theirs.

Michael Joviala

Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

A Basic Structure for 4-5 year-old Dalcroze Classes

Hello Lucy Moses Summer Intensive 2013 participants, and anyone else interested teaching music to young children!

As requested, here is an outline of the structure I use for my classes for young children. Though I do follow this basic plan for most of my classes, this represents only what works for me – there are many possible ways a lesson can go. However, I have found that not having to think about what kind of activity is needed (floor work, movement in space, improvisation) allows me to more easily fine tune what we are doing to the ways the kids happen to be responding.

Floor work/body warm-up

This is an opportunity to bring the group together. Kids enter the class in many different physical and emotional states and they seem to benefit from a sensitive transition period from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’. We start in a circle on the floor with simple body warm-ups that might introduce a musical focus point for the day, often through a new song.

Movement in place

Standing in once place for long periods of time is not something that comes naturally to many children (though there are exceptions!). Whenever possible, I like to find ways to engage the children musically as they ground themselves in one spot – another way to experience the day’s musical focus. Arm swings, body shapes and sculptures requiring quick reaction, waiting and watching as soloists move can all build this ability which will be required of many of them if they begin the study an instrument such as the violin.

Movement in space

Once the children get to know my routine, they know that they will soon be moving around the room with abandon (though always with a listening ear!). The transition to moving in space looms large as they are standing still. I include many kinds of locomotor opportunities, taking suggestions and cues from them as often as possible. After a month, most can recognize and respond appropriately to music that walks, runs, skips and all the rest. I may use images here to focus or inspire movement (trains, horses, taxis, a previous weeks story..). As the year unfolds, I find ways to have them move in different size groups – solo, duos, trios and full ensemble. I often build the movement to a high point, and then invite a rest and relaxation transition.


The story is often the heart of the class. It is hard not to take advantage of the children’s hunger (well – all right, and my own) for image, story and drama. With the right chemistry of elements, they fully invest themselves in the action. Many musical subjects can be explored this way: meter, phrasing, duration, dynamics, tempo…

Cool down/relax

Another relaxation period follows. I usually play a full piece during this time without speaking. I have used short pieces by Schuman, Chopin, Ravel Debussy. If they are especially restless, we might do some quiet relaxing movements on the floor (snow angels, limbs slowly up and down, quiet singing).

Different seated activity

After the story, I try take advantage of the quiet focus that comes after a lot of physical activity and a good rest. I might use symbol work on the board, drawing, a ball passing experience, or the exploration of an unfamiliar instrument to attempt to tie our experiences to whatever musical concept or element has been the focus of the class.


Every class of mine includes some kind of improvisation – to say nothing of all of the improvised movement that has gone on up to now – using percussion, voice, xylophone or tone bells. This is a time for us all to observe and learn from each others’ musical responses and ways of playing. I rarely have all of the children playing the same instrument. Through individual musical interaction with me, I sometimes encourage children to discover new ways of playing, or attempt to steer them toward a desired musical goal. (I always hope that it emerges unbidden, however!) Often, I find myself affirming something I have heard in their playing by reflecting it in my own musical response. It is a time to see how our experiences are influencing musical development.


Though I do not use goodbye or hello songs, I do like to end the class singing. I often ask, “What should we sing?” or “Who’s got a song?”. If no one pipes up, I’ll offer one that we’ve done in the class, sometimes playing just the rhythm on a percussion instrument to see if they can recognize it. (A variation on the Mystery Tune, see Farber, Anne for more details!) I often try to adapt favorite class songs to the day’s musical focus.

And then, “See you next week!”

I hope that answers a few questions, and doesn’t raise to many new ones. If it does, feel free to ask! Also, I’d love to hear about your own basic class plans. I’m sure there’s lots of variation! Feel free to comment here on the blog, or in person at our next meeting.

Michael Joviala

Children · Dalcroze · Teaching

Leading and Following

Because music is often a social activity, the Dalcroze classroom is a great opportunity for kids to experiment with roles that will also be important for them as they move through life. Over the past several months, I have become interested in giving them experiences of leading, following, working with a partner and being a member of a large group, all areas good musicians navigate with ease.

At 4 and 5, children are such natural followers that, when asked to become the ‘engine’ of a train, they will very often simply end up following the ‘caboose’. I gently encourage them to make a directional choice that allows the train to follow a winding path throughout the room. As they go the music mirrors their movements as closely as possible, giving them a more solid experience of their own tempo choices. Of course, when they speed up, it is easy for many children to loose track of the ones following them as they become caught up in the thrill of moment. If their train falls apart, we regroup and I encourage them to carefully lead the cars so that the train stays together, and the passengers safely arrive at their destination.

Once they become skilled at this, they are ready to lead a partner in a room full of pairs making independent choices. We become taxis drivers and passengers, and an observer stepping into the room would see (on a good day!) many different things happening: taxis driving alone and with a passenger, stopping for red lights, going slowly in traffic or on the expressway, and many other surprises the children come up with on the spot. This is done without music, so that I can narrate what I see, helping the children become aware of possibilities other than their usual favorites.

The older children seem to be moving into a more social phase of their development. I often notice that the 5-6 year olds are more interested in directing their playfulness towards each other than are the younger children. They have experienced walking alone vs. walking with a partner vs. moving with the whole group, taking their cues from the music. In a follow-up activity they mimed playing an instrument while I ‘conducted’ solos, duets, and full orchestra to the opening movement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I have also made time to improvise freely with different combinations of non-pitched percussion instruments in solos, duets, trios and whole ensemble configurations.



Children · Dalcroze · Teaching


snowflakeA phrase can perhaps be best described as a musical sentence. Phrases can be long, extending over many bars of music, or short, lasting only a few beats. And just like a spoken sentence, phrases are often separated by a breath, or at least a feeling of a breath. The ends of musical phrases can imply the punctuation of a written one: commas, periods, question marks, exclamation marks can all be heard in music. Musicians who play with a good sense of phrasing communicate a feeling of beginning, middle and end to each phrase they play.

These may be challenging concepts to explain in words to a four-year-old, but children can easily experience phrasing in movement. At first, they are given musical or dramatic cues to encourage them to stop – something they are not always inclined to do on their own. Imagery can also play a role: this time of year, in any given class, snowflakes are apt to drift out of clouds and roll from one drift to another as we transition between activities.

The image of a horse and rider is very powerful for young children, as anyone who has witnessed a room full of children galloping with complete abandon can verify. Since the very first class we have been riding to songs that gallop such as “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain”. They are practiced in pulling the reins to stop the animal, and so now their attention can be brought to the places in the song that feel like the horse is taking a pause. Very astute groups will be able, after a while, to notice when the horse galloped for a long time as opposed to a short time. Their awareness of phrasing will enable us to explore larger forms in the coming weeks. We have also applied the concept to a song called, “Who Stole My Chickens and My Hens”, which you may have heard your child singing recently. In this song, rests of varying lengths separate the phrases. While the children are singing they walk around. During the rests, they pause to look for their lost chickens. As the year goes on, they will be given opportunities to find ways to initiate, continue and stop movements on their own. This, to me at least, is one of the essences of improvisation. In future posts, I’ll address some of the ways I attempt to transfer the work into the playing of simple percussion instruments.

A more challenging exercise asks the students to stand in their own space, while one student delivers a ball to another during a phrase of a song. Many skills are required here, not the least of which is standing still until it is your turn to move with the ball! But to perform this game well, students must have a clear sense of the arc of each phrase, as they have to decide whether to walk to someone near or far depending on the length of the particular phrase.  The five and six-year-olds will work on this exercise to an Irish lullaby called “Cucanandy”, which has a short-short-long pattern of phrasing. This year, I have used the “Cuckoo” movement from Saint Seans’ Carnival of the Animals to illustrate phrasing. In this short magicall piece, a cuckoo calls out at the end of each phrase. We walk quietly through the forest, stopping to point out near and far birds as we go.

Besides having their attention drawn to one of the most pleasurable aspects of music, the work has obvious application to instrumental work. For example, a violinist or cellist performs a version of the ball game each time she puts the bow to the string. The Dalcroze work allows the students to experience on a large canvas what must eventually be made small.
January, 2012



Register And Scale

Image converted using ifftoanyTranslating musical phenomena into verbal language can be tricky. Most adults are familiar with the use of the words high and low as applied to musical pitch. Specifically, these words refer to the frequency of the musical tone. Higher tones have a more frequent wavelength than lower tones. When physicalizing these concepts, we take advantage of the other meanings of high and low, which refer to points in space. While adults may take this type of synesthesia (mapping of one sense onto another) for granted, these concepts may be beyond the immediate intellectual grasp of young children. In the Dalcroze class, physical experiences can draw their attention to this very elemental musical phenomenon. After a while, many can intuitively demonstrate the awareness of high and low frequency sounds through high and low gestures in space.

            To encourage this kind of perception, we have gone apple picking. As they walk around the apple orchard, accented sounds in the upper register of the piano ask them to ‘pick’ an apple from way up high in the tree. Accents in the lower end of the piano ask them to scoop up apples from the ground. This focuses their awareness on specific registers of the piano: high, middle and low in very general terms.

            Further exploration of pitch begins with the scale. From the beginning of the year, I have asked them to stand up using the first five notes of the major scale while singing, “Will you please stand up?” Lately, I have been able to drop the singing and just used the piano, the Pavlovian response of standing shows me that they are beginning to hear scale degrees.

            I have also used a poem called, “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There” as a way to apply the idea of scale to a dramatic situation. Many of them know it by now – you might ask them to sing it for you. It begins, “As I was walking up the stairs…” As the melody slowly ascends the minor scale (this is the version I sing, there are actually old swing band renditions of this poem), a mystery unfolds. For the older children, we have dipped our toes into scales other than major and minor. Using the xylophone, they have been asked to choose a starting note, other than C, and climb up 8 steps (as the song does). Each new starting point provides a different scale, known as a mode. These modes each have a very different feeling, and I like to give children an aural experience of them, even if they are not quite ready to grasp the music theory behind the concept. As the play up the new scale on the xylophone, the class shows the man ‘climbing up the stairs’, while I provide an accompaniment on the piano that gives them a feeling of whatever mode they have chosen.

Many well known pieces of music use modes. One that the children have been hearing in class include Sleeping Beauty’s Pavane by Ravel.

Finally, older children might enjoy this educational video of Tchaikovsky’s march from the Nutcracker. As the music plays it highlights some of the instrumental and pitch events as they unfold.

Enjoy, and enjoy the holiday season!


Source: via Michael on Pinterest