Listen to some amazing Konnakol-performances.





This one is even sung a cappella:


Funny Konnakol

Teaching Tools

To teach music based on singing, physical movement and a well-known, ‘owned’ song repertoire the Kodály-method makes use of teaching tools as relative solmization, solfa hand signs and rhythm language. These tools were not developed by Kodály himself but are brought together to form the core devices for musical learning, next to stick notation and staff notation.


The most important thing about relative solmization is the fact that it is a movable system. That means that a melody is sung by its interval relationships and not by its notation or instrument names. No matter in which key it is notated or on which tone it is begun on an instrument, the interval relationship of the tones remains the same. By transposing the same melody the note names change, as well as the instrument (key) names and the pitch names[1].  In all transpositions the actual shape of the melody remains the same, and that typical shape is expressed by relative solmization names. They represent the melodic blueprint, regardless of the pitch or key on which it is realized. So the solmization names represent the melody as it is, whereas singing on note names or numbers will represent the same naming for different sounds[2]. To make it even more confusing in some countries the relative solmization names were used to label instrument fingerings and note names on a staff. This is what we call fixed do. In fact the name do is then another name for C, re for D, etc. For this research it leads too far to discuss the problems of that tradition. Anyway, this has obviously led to a lot of misunderstandings about relative solfa which I will dispel in the next section.


Another strong teaching device is the use of solfa hand signs. Actually they occur already with John Curwen in the 19th century in England.

The hand signs are helping to develop an inner imagination for tonal space. While the arm shows fluently the contour of the melody, the hand sign specifies the actual solfa-syllable. It is a form of kinesthetic learning. By singing songs on relative solfa with handsigning the melody, the movement will be more and more internalized. The inner feeling for melodic contour is evoked, and at the same time inner hearing is activated. Melodies can be handsigned by the teacher, and the children hear the sound from inside. It is also a non-verbal device to give orientation in tonal space. Many musicians who play an instrument which is external to their body have a physical connection to the sound which is produced. They are able to ‘look up’ notes on their instrument by pressing a key, use a certain fingering for the valves or on the fingerboard. A singer does not have this physical connection because the whole instrument is internal. The singer is the instrument. As a singer you can never find notes ‘on the voice’ as you can find them on the piano keyboard. No buttons to be pressed and no tones to be ‘grabbed’ on a fingerboard. For a singer listening skills, musical memory and inner hearing are necessary to find a melody on his or her personal instrument, the voice[3].

[1] Of course I am aware that also intonation plays a role. Pitch is a term actually used for frequencies. In that sense, there is a big difference between the pitch of a tone and the note name and its intonation.

[2] The relationship 1-3 in a melody could be either a major or a minor third, depending on the scale of the melody. A melody beginning with c-f in F-major would beging with d-g in G-major, while the function of the two tones are the same in both ways of notation.

[3] The most intriguing fact concerning the difference between internal and external instrument is that a singer’s scale is actually a glissando. From that millions of possible tones it’s just a few that are needed to produce a (diatonic) melody. The chance to be mistaken is very big. By the way, the trombone comes closest to this. So all solfège-teachers should be aware of the fact that a cappella singing is the most comprehensive form of musical expression and needs a lot of listening and training. Before learning to sing in tune a young child should have heard a melody a thousand times from the parents. The inner image of a song heard a thousand times makes the singing voice wanting to reproduce it. So it is not a surprise that children who never heard a parent sing at home can not sing in tune right away in a classroom.

The next Kodály teaching tool is rhythm language. What relative solmization is for melodic shape and tonal relationships are rhythm syllables for the relationship between different lengths of sounds or rests related to the (regular of irregular) beat. In Hungary, with slight differences, these rhythm names are widely used in music education:


This is a length-oriented rhythm language. For example, two shorter sounds on a beat replacing a longer one are named in a different way. In a 2/4-beat, a quarter note would be called ta and two eight notes would be called titi. The syncopation should then actually be called tita-ti. Perhaps the choice to call it Syn-co-pa is made to avoid the association of the name ta to the symbol of a quarter note.


Next to the rhythm language used in Hungary many other systems of rhythm language were invented, such as the French time names or the systems of McHose/Tibbs or Gordon.


In the 1980’s the American music educators Richard Hoffman, William Pelto, and John W. White developed the Takadimi-system of rhythm syllables. It is a beat-oriented system, which means that the rhythm syllable is determined by the position of the sound related to the given beat. A sound on the beat is always named Ta, regardless of its length. A sound on the second half of the beat is always called di. Four on a beat are called Takadimi, from which the system got its name. The syllables themselves are borrowed from Indian percussion players who use rhythm language since ages to orally pass through rhythmic patterns, called Konnakol.


It is important to mention that the Takadimi-system of rhythm syllables is not used in Hungary as far as I know. I use it a lot in my teaching on the Royal Conservatoire, especially in the Young Talent classes because it is very useful for instrumentalists. It just offers more complexity so that comprehensive rhythmical situations can be approached aurally before turning to the notation.


This is an overview of the Takadimi rhythm language:


Two elements are characteristic for the Takadimi-system.


1) In different time signatures choosing different symbols for the note representing the beat, the rhythm syllables stay the same. So the same rhythm expressed by the same rhythm syllables can be notated in different time signatures. And also vice versa, the same rhythm notated in different time signatures leads to the same rhythm language in performance.

2) Every rhythm pattern gets its own unique rhythm word[1]:


Rhythm pattern ‘words’ like Tami, Takami, Tada or Tadida (see above) become recognizable as a unique group at once, again without having to calculate or decipher. Even quite complex rhythmic structures become accessible just by the language itself:




The most important thing above all is – like with relative solmization – that any rhythm language has to be taught aurally first, without explaining the system as such, especially with children. Learning the notation is a second step. First children have to aurally distinguish basic rhythm patterns by translating known songs into rhythm syllables. Also rhythmical improvisation plays an immense role here. After this is achieved notation can be introduced step by step.


In one of the lessons of the Higher Professional Education we were concerned with Schubert’s “Der Wegweiser” from Winterreise:

The time signature is 2/4, so we should call the quarter notes ta, the eighth notes tadi and the sixteenth notes takadimi. Actually we get a problem to name the ‘overdotted’ rhythms in the melody and the left hand of the piano-part, due to the 32-notes which can not be named anymore. I decided to ask this to one of the founders of the takadimi-system, Richard Hoffman:

Interestingly, I discussed the same question with my colleague Erik Albjerg, a jazz solfeggio teacher. He came up with another view which is sometimes used in jazz theory: beats or bars of sudden double tempo called ‘double time feel’. In the case of Schubert this would mean switching to double time feel on the beats with an overdotted rhythm. Actually this confirms the solution of ‘small’ tami’s that the students suggested. Anyway, I agree with Rick that creativity and flexibility in teaching is always more important than following a rigid system. At the end we tried both in the lessons: adjusting the beat level for the whole song or just using local ‘small’ tami’s. For the students it led to a deeper understanding of the rhythm and its ‘dragging’ character, underlining the meaning of the words of the song.

[1] This is only true for regular subdivisions of the beat like in 2 and 4 sounds or 3 and 6. When it comes to other or further subdivisions (like quintuplets or septuplets) the auxiliary syllable ti is added. In that case the system reaches its end because the same syllables are then used for another subdivision (Takadimiti = quintuplet). In practice this appears to work well because if Takadimi is really known well it is easy to perform quintuplets using the auxiliary syllable. So this choice is made for practical reasons.


“Dear Richard Hoffman,


my name is Daniël Salbert, and I am working at the Royal Conservatoire of Music at The Hague, The Netherlands. Here, many colleagues and me are using the takadimi-language in our teaching for some years now, from young children up to conservatoire students. The language makes sense and works excellent for teaching purposes, really improving aural skills and reading from notation.


Anyway, there are questions. Like some weeks ago, when I worked with some students on Schubert's Der Wegweiser from the Winterreise. In bar 17 (melody), there is an extra subdivision in 32nd-notes. The 16th-notes are groups of takadimi of course, but how to further subdivide takadimi? The students came up with a very practical solution: just call the first four notes of bar 17 'small' tami's. So you would say the whole bar 17 like: tamitami-tami, which means that the same rhythm syllable would mean two different positions within the beat. (So two different sounds for the same rhythm syllable.) Also we would then call the position of the eighth-notes tata instead of tadi.

Are there also rhythm syllables for the further subdivision of four on a beat, which means eight on a beat? How should we deal with this?


Thank you in advance,

kind regards,

Daniël Salbert.”



“Dear Daniël,


Regarding divisions beyond the 2nd: Basically we believe that trying to do syllables for the 3rd or 4th divisions level would create hundreds of patterns, most of which never happen.  So we decided to stop at the 2nd division (ta ka di mi, or ta va ki di da ma) and handle further divisions contextually.  There are a couple of options.  If the tempo is slow, it is reasonable to adjust the beat level so that the eighth note is "ta," then the 32nds are second division and everything works again.  That will always allow you to work out a difficult rhythm accurately, even if at some point you have to speed it up and reset the beat for performance. For me, this happens a lot in Baroque music.  Many of the solo sonatas I play have very elaborate passages with 3rd divisions.  I just slow these down and think of the beat at a smaller note value.  That allows me work it out using the common second division patterns, then I can speed it up in performance.  Another possibility is to add an extra "filler" syllable.  Often 3rd divisions are elaborations of other more common patterns.  For example a "dotted eighth - sixteenth" can be expanded to a  "dotted eighth - two 32nds."  The basic rhythm is still "ta  mi," the "mi" is embellished with another note.  So I say "ta  mi" to work out the basic rhythm, then add "ti" like "ta    mi ti" for the embellishment.


I like your solution also.  It is similar to what I do in practice myself.  Clearly the art of music requires some creativity and flexibility in teaching.  I’m also very glad to hear that you are using Takadimi and find it useful with your students.  Let me know if you would like to follow up again.


Best wishes for a happy holiday season,