Demystifying Kodaly For Older Beginners

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Is it possible to adapt the Kodaly method for older beginners?

If the kids miss the earlier concepts when they’re young, what do you teach them?

Of all the questions I’m asked by pre-service teachers or other music teachers at conferences, these are the ones I hear all the time. 

A lot of teachers hit a wall when they think about sequencing and concepts. But all the concept maps and lesson plans are built around the assumption that you’ve been working the kids through the curriculum the whole time. 

Faced with this, many just don’t give it a shot. 

That breaks my heart, but I’m here to help because I’m really passionate about using this dynamic teaching method with my students. 

I’ve had the opportunity (or misfortune) to be moved around a lot, so I’ve taught with older beginners in mind more times than I’d care to. 

It’s not impossible by any means. 

I’m here to help. 

Kodaly For Older Beginners 

When looking at Kodály for older students, you need to build a sequence using concepts that exist in the music you choose to teach the older kids. This means starting with do-re-mi instead of so-mi and moving faster along the rhythm sequence (and possibly introducing triple earlier than you may normally). The key is pulling your sequence from the music you use with the older students. 

Older Beginners Music Sequence

If you’re looking for ways to adapt learning sequences, you can do it all on your own with your own work by looking at every song you teach, analyzing it, and then assigning places in the sequence based on the frequency and logical scaffolding.

Or you could just go off the list I like to use. 

It’s pretty simple, but it may be enough to get you started. 

Note: This sequence only covers pitches and rhythmic concepts. Also, the most important thing is always to inspire a love and appreciation for music. 

Everything else is secondary. 

RhythmPitches/Melody
Quarter note vs. eighth notesDo, re, mi
Quarter restSol
Half noteLa
2, 3, and 4 meter in dupleExtended pentatonic (low sol, low la, high do)
Dotted quarter vs quarter eighth in tripleLa-based minor pentatonic
Three eighth notes in tripleFa
Dotted half noteLow ti, High ti
Half rest, whole note, whole restMajor Scale
4 sixteenth notesMinor Scale (la-based natural minor)
eighth-two sixteenth, two-sixteenth eighthKey of F (Bb)
Dotted quarter-eighth noteKey of G (F#)
SyncopationModes

Depending on when you start your concept teaching, you may not get through all these (or you may want to add some I didn’t include). The pitches, in particular, are slow going at first. 

That’s OK! Do what you can with the time you have. 

Moving Through The Sequence

As you move through the sequence, you don’t want to just jump the students straight into reading the notes. 

I strongly encourage you to first explore a concept without notation through movement, discussion, performance, and using visual icons or other representations. 

Then, label the concept with its standard notation and syllables. 

After it’s labeled, practice and develop the knowledge through: 

  • Echoing
  • Decoding
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Composing
  • Improvising
  • Arranging
  • Part-work
  • Listening
  • Memorization
  • Performing on instruments

Tips And Ideas For Teaching Music To Older Beginners

A classroom with older students may be tough to handle. 

Of all my behavior problems, it’s the older student attitudes that bug me the most, personally. 

For some, the squirrely-ness of the younger grades drive them nuts (though I love the energy!). 

You may also want to check out games for 6 music games for 10-year-olds

With this in mind, here are some tips for handling the older beginners you may want to try: 

  • Make it a game/challenge. 
  • Ask them for help. 
  • Take their input and feedback (builds the buy-in for engagement).
  • Use their social energies. 
  • Embrace the weird.
  • Never embarrass them if you can help it. 
  • It’s OK to embarrass yourself. It humanizes you and helps you make a connection.
  • They still love playground games – but adapt them to make it not feel young by adding extra challenges, points, or some sort of competitive element.
  • Find something they like and use it as a bribe (no shame; do what you’ve gotta do!). 

Older Beginner Resources

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s hard enough to harness the older energy of your students. 

This is why I turn to activities with more complicated material, challenges/games, and movement. 

Here are some I pull out regularly when I’m looking for something to do with my older students. 

Disclaimer: Links may be affiliate in nature, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks in advance! 

Conversational Solfege – Though this curriculum is modeled on a sequence starting from second grade, it has a sequence and song material a little more appropriate to older beginners. 

Play, Sing, And Dance – Though this is an Orff book, it provides good resources and tricks for engaging the older student with creativity and movement. It’ll just be up to you to organize it into a sequence and Kodaly structure. 

Older students love xylophones. And the recorder works well with mi re do as well. 

Together In Harmony – This book is actually an Orff and Music Learning Theory combo book. But, MLT uses a similar sequence to Kodaly, and this book does a great job of organizing activities by grade level. 

Alabama Gal – This collection of folk dances and games is killer in my classroom. Students love every single activity I pull from it, especially the older beginners. 

Final Thoughts

I hope these Kodály for older beginner resources helped you not be so scared of trying this powerful method with your kids. 

It may seem impossible, but you don’t have to do everything at once. 

Maybe start with the younger students or one grade level at a time. 

As long as you’re providing the best you can, your students will appreciate your sincerity and develop a passion for music. 

The rest is just icing on the cake. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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