The preparation of musical learning by singing relevant repertoire is the core idea of Kodály-inspired teaching. Children should always be prepared through a large variety of song material concerning toneset, rhythm patterns, meter, dynamics, tonality, etc. How the curriculum unfolds itself to the student is not exactly the same as how the song material is chosen. For example, many songs may contain more than two different tones, but in the curriculum we might teach feeling consciously the difference between so and mi. To aurally distinguish these two tones a lot of preparation has to be done with movement: moving up and down to the melodic contour of the songs, expressing the shape of a melody with body movement. And – in a later stage – following the melodic shape of a two-note so-mi-song with handsigns will prepare aural awareness of staff notation. But that does not mean that all the songs that are sung with the children are only so-mi-songs. Then we would limit the children in their musical experience for reasons of the curriculum. The idea is to take out so and mi as two contrasting pitches out of the large variety of the song material that is offered to the children. So the curriculum does not represent the musical experience of the children but the actual musical learning proces concerning – for example – aural awarenes and musical literacy.
Studying song books will mean to search repertoire for certain teaching goals by finding musical elements in a song that are suitable for presenting them to the children after they have learned and completely know the song. So looking for two- or three-note songs in existing song books does not mean that only two- or three-note songs should be sung with the children. As I mentioned above, the curriculum may not limit the children’s experience. The curriculum only gives a choice which elements are first taken out of the rich experience to make conscious. So by creating a curriculum, also providing a rich musical experience should be taken into account. Of course young children are limited concerning the singing voice (vocal range, tessitura, articulation tempo, etc.), which should also be taken into account.
In the bibliography I summed up many song books which I used for this research and which I studied seeking suitable material. The criteria were as follows:
- rhythmic and melodical patterns that are possible to isolate as a target patterns without destroying the text unit
- clear presence of musical parameters (dynamics, tempo, pitch, etc.) and the connection to the meaning of the text (such as slow – snail, high – helicopter, soft – sleeping, etc.).
- possibility to use body movement to experience certain musical layers of the song (beat, meter, rhythm, pitch, dynamics, etc.), so preferably singing-games
- solo-tutti-singing (also to prepare inner hearing)
In the first instance, this part of the research was not limited to a certain age group. The main focus was to get an overview of the material which is available. Concerning the anlysis of the songs I made up an indication for which age group the song/game could be suitable, but this is rather for practical reasons. In future research songs could be collected for specific age groups.
The songs which I found were collected in a searchable database, developed with File Maker Pro.
Database – Example “Salibonani”
In the song collection “Lieder, Spiele, Kanons” I found the song ‘Salibonani’ from Zimbabwe, Africa. It is a traditional song to greet each other in the morning, thus a Good-Morning-song.
In the publication many suggestions are given about voice training, clapping games, a ball game and even dance movements. So the different types of games underline different musical layers which the song offers.
For this song I chose to simply use a more classical clapping pattern to make the beat/meter feelable. In particular the syncopation is a very typical rhythmical element which is performed while clapping the beat/meter at the same time (polyphonic activity). Another characteristic is the possibility to isolate seperate rhythm patterns from the song without ‘cutting off’ phrases or words from the text, which would result in ‘unlogical’ patterns. Every bar of the song can be clapped separately as a unique rhythm pattern. Those can first be aurally recognized as a part of the song and later by the according rhythm language. Once the rhythm language is learned, the same patterns could be aurally recognized in other songs where they occur. So again it is obvious: choice of repertoire, and also the possibility to sequence the repertoire for musical learning is of tremendous importance.
So after a musical methodological analysis of the song I add it to the database:
Next to the score an example video of the game is provided. Other musical criteria are form, meter, upbeat, rhythm- and solfa-patterns, toneset, melodic range, tonality and harmony. Besides, type of game, broader musical goals and extra suggestions are provided. The aim of the database is to be able to search for comparable songs by entering congruent critera. So, for example, the syncopation is also part of the song ‘Epo i tai tai’:
By searching for the rhythm pattern tadi-idi this song will be found and presented. Like this it is easy to sequence repertoire for practicing.
Database – Example ‘Vader Krokodil’
The next example is a little Dutch children’s song with another type of game. Here silence, especially the tension which comes from silent expectation is felt. The song is very suitable for soft singing because the crocodile is sleeping and could be dangerous when woken up. There two rests in the melody where the children perform a soft ‘ssh’-sound to remind each other to be quiet. I found this song in the publication “Zingen met likkepot”.
Again we can see that some suggestions are given for playing games, but in this case there is not really a game which underlines musical elements of the song. It more about free expression of the text. The idea of a circle game could be worked out towards feeling the beat by letting the circle turn around walking on the beat. Also this could be extended to a classical chasing game (one child wakes the crocodile, the crocodile runs around the circle after that child to catch it).
The song is especially suitable to prepare the musical rest, not as a symbol, but as a felt beat of silence inside. The first two bars can be isolated as the rhythm pattern tadi-tadi-ta-(ta), and because of the repetition it can also be performed in two groups after each other or as solo-tutti (or even tutti-solo). Besides, it is a song in the minor key, which should also be part of musical experience. This is how it appears in the database:
Database – example ‘Arie Bombarie’
In older Dutch songbooks we can still find references to rhythm language, as we can see with the song ‘Arie Bombarie’ from the pulication “Hoy een lied”, first published in 1974. Interestingly many methodological steps are mentioned throughout the book with nearly every song, mostly without any further connection to a curriculum.
Anyhow, rhythm patterns are isolated by speaking and clapping, played on instruments and spoken in rhythm language. Also responsorial singing is suggested. Suggestions are given for musical improvisation with a 4-toneset on a xylophone (d-f#-a-b) as well as an activity for the formal structure extending it to a rondo. For this reason it is particularly interesting to study not only recent song collections for elementary schools but also the older methods. That’s why I started also searching for song collections which are only available through second hand shops using websites such as boekwinkeltjes.nl, abebooks.com or antiqbook.nl.
This song is particularly interesting because next to rhythmical patterns it also gives an opportunity for isolating melodic patterns like s-ll-s-m, d-m-s-s, dr-mf-s-s or d-mf-s. In practice I have actually chosen to move with the children in a circle (holding hands) while walking the beat. Then one child could be in the middle to be ‘Arie Bombarie’ and sing solo in the middle section. It is possible to extend the game to make a chain after the soloist so that there will be a group in the middle and one which forms the circle. After a while it is necessary to break open the circle due to the larger middle group. By this the song is constantly repeated and practized, as well as the movements that go along.
The song appears in the database like this:
Database – example “Hoedje op de zon”
The song “Hoedje op de zon” is a good example of a short 4-note-song with a clear aab-form, being quite similar to a Satz. So this song prepares very universal principles of phrase building. Again the children will move to the beat and have an opportunity for responsorial singing. Concerning rhythm patterns the song is suitable to teach ta-a, a sound lasting two beats. And also the fourth s-d’ is prepared. Interestingly, in the second half it is inverted to d’-s, so both directions are practiced. In the last two bars the fourth is ‘filled up’ with ascending diatonic steps which makes it easy to count that it is a distance of four tones. So this song is a concentration of many different aspects of musical learning and is, so to say, music theory in a nutshell.
This is how the song looks like in the database:
 I am convinced that this is very comparable to language learning. From the first moment on children are surrounded by the full language: parents are talking to each other, they are speaking to the child, they are singing songs to the child, etc. As the childs physical abilities grow, there is also more and more physical control of imitating these sounds. From babbling up to the first single words, children learn to imitate sounds from a much more complex environment than they can yet actively take part in. But without that environment there would be no need for developing complex language skills at all. And, on the other hand, it would be rather ridiculous if the parents would only babble to each other or to the child for the benefit of teaching how to speak the language.