Kodály Approach in the Crossroad of Education and Therapy

By Luca Tiszai


Zoltan Kodály's unique method for musical education has been adapted to different cultures worldwide. However, the field of music therapy has not overtly explored the significance of his theoretical framework. The aim of this paper is to shed light on the common elements of Community Music Therapy and the Kodály Approach by the use of literature-based research. Kodály was a pioneer establishing a multidisciplinary dialogue between musicology, philosophy, sociology and education. The practice and theory he had established was a powerful response to the prevailing social problems and needs of his time. As a musician and educator he devoted himself to the popularization of community music and choral singing, striving to build a better society. As a researcher he studied the therapeutic effects of his method, especially the transfer to intellectual and social skills. His overall goal of making music accessible for everyone shares striking similarities with Community Music Therapy. Many of his ideas such as choral singing for social connectedness or agency and empowerment through music education are practiced in Community Music Therapy at present. His concept is a fundamental part of music education, and music therapy has much to gain from adopting more of his ideas.

Keywords: Kodály, Music therapy, reform pedagogy, music education.

The Kodály Approach to the Crossroad of Education and Therapy

Zoltán Kodály, the Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, music pedagogue, and linguist is internationally famous for his concept of music education. His holistic approach for music pedagogy can add considerably to the theoretical background of Community Music Therapy. Kodály placed emphasis on the importance of the role that music plays in the intellectual, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual development of the individual. As a composer and teacher he played a crucial role in music education. However, his name is frequently associated with his popular singing exercises or teaching techniques and principles, and only a few studies focus on his overall philosophy behind the methodology. Kodály (1958/2007e) claimed that, “music is an indispensable part of universal human knowledge. He who lacks it has faulty knowledge. A person without music is incomplete” (p. 318). His vision was to build a musical nation where children from and even before birth grow up in an environment rich in the beauty of music (Forrai, 1974/1988). As he mentioned, "Real art is one of the most powerful forces in the rise of mankind, and he who renders it accessible to as many people as possible is a benefactor of humanity" (Kodály, 1974, p. 175). His understanding of this field demonstrates that the pedagogical and therapeutic perspectives within this artistry can successfully complement each other in any kind of music education.

New Concepts in Education and Therapy

In the last decades new approaches of music education and music therapy that reflect on the social and personal development of musicians from a complex, cohesive perspective have resonated with each other. Both therapy and education have widened their foci. Education started to emphasize the nonmusical benefits of musical activities and therapy started to focus on social connectedness as a crucial element of health and wellbeing. While previous definitions of music therapy emphasize the decisive characteristics of therapeutic progress, opposing therapy with education, Community Music Therapy accentuates the common roots and inseparable complex effects of any musical activity. Singing in a choir, playing a musical instrument, or listening to music can be considered as a learning process or as therapeutic activity for the human soul. In some cases, the emotional benefits or other non-musical outcomes of educational activities outweigh the significance of musical acquisition. Key concepts of Community Music Therapy such as "the use of music to give people new possibilities for action” (Ruud, 2008, p. 46) and “music (as) an important factor in social change” (Ruud, 2004, p. 12.) are also being articulated in the field of education. Decades after Kodály, new methods were established amalgamating musical and social goals such us the Venezuelan El-Sistema or the MUSE-E program in Europe.

Katalin Losonczy, director of Leopold Mozart Music School in Hungary pointed out another connection between education and therapy. Discussing the heritage of Zoltán Kodály, she shed light on the fact that music education in a modern society is essential in preventing social problems. Music allows individuals to find fellowship in sharing a common goal. These practices also help in identity formation. Consequently, learning to play a musical instrument could prevent a wide range of social problems in itself, because it inspires students to become members of a musical community where shared motivations and goals strengthen, restore, and reinforce the significance of living in kinship with one another. Further, she attests that music can also defend these individuals from deviancy. She cited Otto Schily, the former German Minister of the Interior, who claimed that, “Closing a music school can endanger public safety” (Madarászné-Losonczy, 2011) .

Jampel (2011) analyzed the therapeutic outcomes of musical performance. He argues that continuous practice and rehearsals, which have been previously associated with education rather than therapy, play a decisive role in therapeutic progress. He pointed out that these activities offer a purposeful action and strengthen the identities of the participants’ as they bond and connect with their fellow musicians. Through this process, individuals can experience meaning, identity, engagement and belonging. An essential characteristic of this type of community is the acceptance of the differences, the strangeness or otherness of each member of the group, promoting a better balance between their personal needs and the context of working within a community. People living with or without disability equally profit from the therapeutic outcomes of being a part of a performing group. Ruud (2012) identifies “musicing” as an “immunogen behavior” (p. 88). Lorna Zemke, speaker at the OAKE National Conference 2002 encouraged her audience to “explore other dimensions of teaching music to children and adults through the Kodály concept. […], we need to explore differing creative and innovative ways or delivery systems to impart that knowledge and love of music to children and adults”. Reflecting on Kodály’s life work from both education and therapy perspectives can be one of these new dimensions that could help to determine how we can “… transmit the beauty of music and provide musical experiences based on musical literacy that have meaning for everyone” (Zemke, 2002).

Kodály Concept and its Historical Background

The Antropology of the Reform Pedagogy

At the turn of the 19th century political and social changes in Europe had profound effects on society and its values. As a result, everyday life radically changed. The renewal of society indicated new models in the field of philosophy, anthropology, pedagogy and psychology, such as the humanistic approach, reform pedagogy, life-reform movements (Németh, 2002; Pethő, 2011; Pukánszky, 2005). These new concepts focused on the whole of human development including the physical, intellectual, spiritual aspects of life. As a scholar and researcher, Kodály was conscious of the newly developed methods and programs. Pethő (2011) shed light on the fact that Kodály’s most important goals were highly related to reform pedagogy. “Community, the development of the wholesome human being, the efforts towards completeness and unity are important motifs of the life-reform ambitions, including the pedagogical movement. The creation of a community, life program, reestablishment and renewal are typical life-reform motifs” (p. 10).

The holistic approach of reform education resonates with the system-thinking of Community Music Therapy. Similarly to the social model of rehabilitation and therapy, the anthropology of reform education considers individual development within social systems and cultural contexts. Ruud (2004) accentuates that Community Music Therapy draws on systems theory, and “does not only work with individual problems, but focuses on systemic interventions, how music can build networks, provide symbolic means for underprivileged individuals, or use music to empower subordinated groups” (p. 13).

Reform Pedagogy and Music Education

The new streams in the field of education provided new concepts in music education. New methods and approaches were established under the umbrella of reform pedagogy. In order to respond to these new challenges, Zoltán Kodály in Hungary, Carl Orff in Germany, and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze in Switzerland all developed concepts which emphasized the educating impact of arts by focusing not only on professional musical training, but underlining the role of early music educa personal development (Mészáros, 1982).

In contrast with Dalcroze and Orff, who established their method for music education, Kodály planned a long-term reform concept for general kindergartens, elementary, and secondary schools, making music an integral part of education. He argued,

Music is a manifestation of the human spirit, similar to language. Its greatest practitioners have conveyed to mankind things not possible to say in any other language. If we do not want these things to remain dead treasures, we must do our utmost to make the greatest possible number of people understand their idiom. (Kodály, 1953/2007b, p. 295)

As a composer and researcher he supported his educational concept with writing hundreds of reading exercises and choral works. In order to create a field for life-long participation in musical communities, he promoted the Hungarian choir movement. In addition to his organizational work he also wrote more than a hundred choral works for children, women, and mixed choirs.

Kodály’s Reflexive-Active Attitude: Dialogue with the Sociocultural Contex

The Kodály Approach developed in reflective interaction with the given sociocultural systems, just as Community Music Therapy has. Kodály understood the “wider social contexts of musicing” (Ansdell, 2002) and the need to promote music to “become a social resource” (Ruud, 2004, p. 13.) He also considered “musicing as an engaged social and cultural practice, and as a natural agent of health promotion” (Ansdell, 2002). Choksy (1999), Szőnyi (1978) and Kokas (1999) also accentuate that the Kodály Method is not a static system but a continually evolving and developing process. Kodály responded to the actual sociocultural challenges he faced, and his solutions became pillars of his concept of music education. There are several examples of how, without changing his previous approaches, he enriched them with new color.

National Romanticism- What is Hungarian Music?

Kodály’s lifelong commitment to folk music started when, as a young university student, he recognised the need to study the ancient folk heritage of Hungary. The 19th century was a time of revolutions and national independence movements all over Europe. National romanticism was an artistic response to these historical and political factors. Composers in Russia, Eastern, and Northern Europe found inspiration in their own national cultural heritage. Since the 16th century Hungary had been a part of the Habsburg Monarchy. Thus, the musical culture of the Hungarian aristocracy had been influenced by Vienna, the musical capital of Europe. Through the ignorance and misunderstanding of Hungarian folklore, the romantic national trend of the 19th century in Hungary was associated with contemporary popular music. The origin of this music was the 19th century’s popular songs cultivated by gypsy musicians. As Tari (2012) mentioned, “Hungarian nobles had at that time a new convention, namely they engaged gypsy musicians (various gypsy bands) instead of Hungarian and foreign musicians (as in earlier centuries) as a special form of court musicians” (p. 84). Another influential element of the Hungarian National Romanticism was the Verbunkos style developed during the 18th century in the anti-Habsburg movements (Ittzés, 2002). Berlioz, Liszt, and Brahms used the stylistic elements of Verbunkos called “Hungarian tunes”, “Hungarian style” or “Hungarian Dances” spreading them throughout Europe. The Hungarian national opera was born during these decades and reached high artistic quality. The most prominent figure was Ferenc Erkel. His most popular opera, Bánk Bán became the symbol of Hungarian national identity. As Szabolcsi (1964) describes this masterpiece, as being “in close and organic connection with the ideas of national freedom” (p. 69) using the “biggest forms of verbunkos music both in instrumental and vocal pieces” (p. 70 ).

At the turn of the century a new generation of composers faced a socially and musically divided society. While many people identified themselves and the Hungarian national spirit with the newly developed style, the conservative middle class had cultivated the Italian-German music (Ittzés, 2002; Tari, 2012). The discovery of the foreign origins of the Hungarian musical Romanticism led to disillusionment. As Kodály (1939/2007g) summarized, “dilettantism in music began to monopolize the guise of nationalism” (p. 77). Understanding the need for a re-definition of Hungarian national musical culture, young Kodály devoted himself to discovering the real ancient folk heritage of the country. His doctoral dissertation entitled Strophic Structure of the Hungarian Folk Song was based on the analysis of his own folk song collection in Galánta (Kite, 1990/2014). His dedication to folk music became one of the key elements of his life-work. Together with Béla Bartók he founded Hungarian ethnomusicology. He collected and recorded nearly 5100 melodies from 235 villages (Vikár, 1996). In addition to collecting songs, he worked on the notation of the songs and conducted comparative research by analyzing and serializinging the songs. The result of his work was the publication of Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae [The complete Edition of Hungarian Folk Songs]. In his work “What is Hungarian Music?” published in 1939, he emphasized the importance of the common cultural heritage for the whole nation.

Together with the implements of culture we also imported the substance and whole atmosphere of an alien culture that penetrated into everything. All Hungarian experiments were dwarfed alongside this. […]Educated people turned a deaf ear to Hungarian music […] those who are cultured musically should be rendered more Hungarian and the Hungarians made more cultured in music. (Kodály, 1974, p. 31)

His extensive research on folk music was internationally accepted and, in 1961, he was elected president for the International Folk Music Council. As an educator and a composer he was also well known for the popularization of Hungarian folk music. As he summarized: “This is the only way in which a spiritual community can be created; the active participation which is imperative to the establishment of living national art” (Kodály, 1974, p. 31). In the preface of the first volume of the Thesaurus of Hungarian Folk Music (1951) he wrote, “Folk song is one of the mighty cornerstones on which our nation can be rebuilt. The songs of the people are the heralds of life - life that goes on forever” (p. 190).

Lifelong Commitment to Education

Kodály (1937/2007k) himself reflected on the event that turned his attention to music education.

Until 1925, I also lived the ordinary life of an ordinary musician, which means that I never cared about schools, believing that somebody who doesn’t have musical hearing is lost anyway for music. I was robbed of this illusion of mine by an unexpected event. On a nice spring day, in the Buda hills I met a group of young girls going on an excursion. They were singing, and I stopped to listen to them for half an hour. But as they sang I became more and more shocked. [...]I knew that they were students of the Teacher’s Training College in Budapest, and I suddenly saw that the mothers and teachers of future generations were going to grow up into something even worse than analphabetism, total musical depravedness. [...] The fact that what they were singing was not merely trash, but actively harmful from an educational as well as musical point of view, made me ponder as to what could be done about it. (p. 74)

This quotation is an excellent example of Kodály’s holistic view, sensitivity and systematic thinking as experiencing the dysfunctions of the Hungarian education and cultural life, which led him to take a more and more active part in the education (Gönczy, 2012). This approach resembles Community Music Therapy, which responds to social and cultural challenges through musical interaction.

Psalmus Hungaricus: Starting Point of the Choral Movement

Kodály (1953/2007d) declared, “without playing chamber music and singing in choirs, nobody can become a good musician” (p. 238). In addition to emphasizing the role that part-singing and chamber music plays on musical acquisition, Kodály also recognized the social aspect of common, shared music. He considered choir singing not just a key for understanding music but also as a powerful instrument to create solidarity and unity.

He strived to establish singing communities nationwide. Pethő (2011) summarizes, “Kodály wrote about the problem of Hungarian society, about the lack of unity and solidarity in several works. In his view, “the unity of society, social solidarity can be established by means of choir singing” (p. 8-9).

After performing the Psalmus Hungaricus in 1925 with the participation of 200 schoolboys, his attention turned to the renewal of the choir movement and the creation of a new vocal culture. As Ittzés (2002) explains, “his interest radically turned towards the genres of the community instead of the earlier private world of chamber music” (p. 167). Kodály became a promoter of the renewal of the Hungarian choir movement. Inspired by the the tradition of English choral singing and the German musical youth movement, Kodály invited Fritz Jöde, one of the leading personalities of this movement, to disseminate its principles and methods. In 1934 together with his disciples he started a nationwide successful musical movement called Singing Youth. Behind this movement was a vocational college group of music teachers, who commited themselves to the popularization of choral singing: Lajos Bárdos, Jenő Ádám, György Kerényi, and Benjamin Rajeczky. They shared their experiences, organized trainings and founded a periodical , (Éneklő Ifjúság [Singing Youth]) in 1941. They also organized an annual series of festive concerts, where different children’s choirs could meet and sing together. With a gap from 1948-1978, this movement still exists in Hungary.

Szabó (1996) mentioned that Kodály frequently attended rehearsals of different children choirs where he realized the need for material to improve part-singing. As a result of this understanding, he wrote two and three part exercises for sight-singing and ear-training “to practice sustaining perfect intervals, to create harmony of mutually responsive parts” (p. 31); as Kodály wrote, “to the better musicians of a better future” (1955/1964, p. 3). As a composer and educator he wrote his coral works in high artistic quality but at various levels of difficulty taking into account the different vocal and musical ability of the performers. Through these masterpieces, novice children and adult choirs can develop into well-trained ensembles.

Elementary Education

Kodály was 60 years old when he turned extensive attention to elementary education, composing the first volume of Pentatonic Music, the 333 reading exercise book, published in 1945. In the Preface he wrote, “Our growing pedagogical literature has up to now not included sight-reading exercises [...] the small numbers of sight-reading exercises found in textbooks are not sufficient” (1945/2007i, p. 127). In 1947, he published the second volume, 100 Little Marches, writing, “We have very few pentatonic folksongs of sufficiently limited compass and rhythm. For this reason smaller children need tunes written in the spirit of folksongs but without their difficulties” (1947/2007h, p. 167). He wrote other collections of elementary reading exercises and other materials for elementary schools together with his disciple, Jenő Ádám.

In the late 1940s Kodály became one of the prominent figures of Hungarian science and education; he was honored several times and elected president of the Academy of Sciences. In 1950 he was allowed to establish the first music-oriented Singing Primary School for one experimental year. He proclaimed (1941/2007l, p. 93), “Musical education contributes to the many-sided capabilities of a child, affecting not only specific musical aptitudes but his general hearing, ability to concentrate, conditional reflexes, emotional horizon and his physical culture.” Almost ten years later he was able to prove his presumption with the support of the Ministry of Education. The success of the first class convinced the communist leadership to establish other Singing Primary Schools throughout the country and standardize the “Kodály Method” as the system of musical education in Hungary. Kokas (1999) also alleged that after that point the development of the Kodály method was strictly limited in Hungary where the communist area centralized teaching methods and standards, while abroad the method remained more flexible. However, the benefit of centralization was the establishment of hundreds of Singing Primary Schools and the application of Kodály method in compulsory education and the increased number of music classes in general schools.

Common Elements of Kodály’s Theoretical Framework and Community Music Therapy

The Kodály Concept is an educational approach that promotes social changes on a national level while Community Music Therapy focuses on individuals or groups of participants and considers the social context from their perspective. In terms of therapy the former can be described as a model of prevention and the latter as a model of intervention. In terms of systems theory both the Kodály Concept and Community Music Therapy emphasize the importance of the sociocultural context and promote social changes through music. While Community Music Therapy "expands the notion of 'client' to include a community, environment, ecological context" (Bruscia, 1998, p. 229), Kodály expands the notion of “musical student” to the whole of society. They agree that music has the power “to heal and strengthen communities as well as individuals” (Ruud 2010, p. 27).

Recreating identity- Folk music

Folk music is also a fundamental tool of connecting. Customs derived from ancient, national, and cultural forms of music can build strong ties within the community; where individuals can form a common social identity through music. Kodály also considered folk songs to be a child’s own cultural world. He pointed out that the folk songs of children’s own culture are a special “musical mother-tongue” (1941/2007j, p. 192). He underlined the importance of folk heritage from the early childhood.

Children's singing games allow a more profound insight than anything else into the primeval age of folk music.  Singing connected with movements and action is a much more ancient, and, at the same time, more complex phenomenon than is a simple song. [...] In the same way as the child's development repeats in brief the evolution of mankind, his forms of music represent a history of music; indeed they offer a glimpse into the prehistoric period of music.  From the reiteration of the smallest motif, comprised by but a couple of notes, we can observe all grades of musical development up to the average stage of the European folksong.  (Kodály, 1929/2007c, p. 190)

Kodály’s academic work in ethnomusicology was a source of inspiration for his compositions. Folk songs, melodies and motifs are an essential part of his instrumental and vocal music as well. As an ethnomusicologist he made comparative research with the folksongs of the neighboring countries. He also used these folk songs in his educational concept. As he wrote in the preface of 101 Hungarian Folk Song, “Let Hungarian boys sing the songs of other people; sing these songs with their original text. So from these songs they can get acquainted with the nations. [...] But first we have to know ourselves” (Kodály, 1929/2007a, p. 47). Ittzés (2002) concluded the educational goals and steps that Kodáy established:

Kodály imagined a nation-centered culture and music education which opens the doors for other people’s valuable cultural productions as well [...] Common elements of different cultures make the pedagogical process easier [...] the knowledge of music and generally the culture of other countries helps mutual understanding, the development of appreciation and tolerance. (p. 268.)

Inseparable “Progress” and “Product”

In contrast with the standpoint that separates music education from therapy, Community Music Therapy marked a new field where the benefits of commonly shared music can be considered. The new common field does not consider the musical product and the progress of personal development through music as two different entities. Both are equally important for therapists and educators who design their work in a social context.

The aforementioned inflexible opposition between product associated with high musical quality and progress where musical quality is not as important can be a result of achievement oriented thinking in music education. It is far from the Kodály concept, where music should be a natural and joyful part of everyday education from early childhood. Kodály (1929/2007c) emphasized that we should:

Teach music and singing at school in such a way that it is not a torture but a joy for the pupil; instill a thirst for finer music in him, a thirst which will last for a lifetime.  Music must not be approached from its intellectual, rational side, nor should it be conveyed to the child as a system of algebraic symbols, or as the secret writing of a language with which he has no connection.  The way should be paved for direct intuition. [...]  Often a single experience will open the young soul to music for a whole lifetime.  This experience cannot be left to chance; it is the duty of the school to provide it. (p. 39)

In his understanding, it is impossible to reach high musical quality without joyful progress, and also impossible to expect any personal progress without using music of the highest artistic value. As he mentioned, “only art of intrinsic value is suitable for children!” (Kodály, 1929/2007c, p. 41).  The essential role of intrinsic motivation is a common element of pedagogy and therapy. According to Sloboda et al. (1996), in order to reach a professional level of musicianship one should practice approximately 10,000 hours. Although research underlines the role that the social environment plays in perseverance in music training, only intrinsic reward can motivate children and adolescents to sacrify their free time for mastering their musical skills (Moore et al., 2003). Similarly, in Community Music Therapy, especially performance-based practice, the rewards of music-making are considered to be the most important conditions and motivation for engagement.

Product and progress, enjoyment and acquisition are inseparable in this way of thinking. According to Csíkszentmihályi (1990), music is one on the most rewarding areas of human activity where people experience flow: immersion in a particular activity, focusing on the present moment losing the sense of time and self-awareness. He states that one experiences flow, when, “a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (1990, p. 3). Ironically, musical acquisition as well therapeutic benefits are increasing when the student or the client is doing it for its own sake. Furthermore, Csíkszentmihályi argues that the experience of flow increases self-esteem, leads to the development of autotelic personality, which is characterized by a curiosity and interest in life, low self-centeredness, and increased general motivation for learning and participating throughout the lifetime in a wide range of activities that enable frequent experience of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, 1996; Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2002). Consequently, flow helps to reach therapeutic goals, is an independent enity that can be described or measured with scientific methods, yet it cannot be planned or expected.

Music Affects the Whole Personality

Kodály was conscious of the non-musical benefits of music education. As a humanist and reformer he emphasized the importance of music education in the development of the whole personality. His pedagogy didn’t consider professional musical performance as a “final product” of music education. The improvement of musical skills and personal acquisition was equally important for him. In his understanding, learning and appreciating music is a key of intellectual, emotional, and social development. Similarly, Ruud (2004) suggests that the purpose of Community Music Therapy is “to create a space for common musicing and sharing of artistic and human values. Music has again become a social resource, a way to heal and strengthen communities as well as individuals” (p. 13).

As the director of the Academy of Music in Budapest he said,

The characteristics of a good musician can be summarized as follows: 1. A well-trained ear. 2. A well-trained intelligence. 3. A well-trained heart. 4. A well-trained hand. All four must develop together, in constant equilibrium. As soon as one lags behind or rushes ahead, there is something wrong.  So far most of you have met only the requirement of the fourth point:  the training of your fingers has left the rest far behind. You would have achieved the same results more quickly and easily, however, if your training in the other three had kept pace. (Kodály, 1953/2007d, p. 283)

This description of the well-trained musician highly resembled the overall goal of the reform pedagogy: to help children become wholesome human beings.


A significant part of Kodály’s life work was to make musical literacy available for all, “Music should belong to everyone” (Kodály, 1952/2007f, p. 7.) is one of the most popular quotes attributed to him. Stipkovits (2012) notes that before World War II music education was a privilege of higher social classes led by strong acquisition-oriented thinking focused on the training of “talented children”. As Kodály highlighted “we have trained a musical elite, but we have forgotten to train an audience for them” (1937/2007k, p. 73). In contrast with the practice of music education of his time, Kodály committed himself to prove the egalitarian availability of music education from early childhood. The most revolutionary idea of Kodály’s philosophy is that the success of the concept does not depend on professional musicians, music educators, or professionally organized music schools but on parents, kindergarten and elementary school teachers. In order to make the Kodály Concept real, pedagogues of the elementary school and kindergarten must be musically trained. It is impossible for the teacher to share the joy of the music with the student that she or he has never experienced. It is also impossible to share quality music without previous musical training. Kodály underlined the importance of two fields: early childhood education, and the education of their educators. He toiled to reform a centuries old education system. According to the frequently cited anecdote he said that “music education should start nine months before the birth of the mother” (Kodály, 1951, p.264)

In his understanding, music is an essential part of human knowledge, therefore he was against any kind of discrimination between students. In order to prove his point, he underlined the importance of teaching those who were not considered to be talented. Kokas (1999) described the development of “tone-deaf-first graders (sic) who were admitted at the special request of Kodály” (p. 72). In sharp contrast with the concept of innate musical talent that leads to elitism in music education, he believed in the essential role of early and quality music education to all children.

He emphasized the importance of singing, proclaiming that it is not only the most natural musical ability of a human being but also a powerful instrument of participation; it makes music accessible to people without instrumental training. As he wrote, “The best approach to musical genius is through the instrument most accessible to everyone: the human voice. This way is open not only to the privileged but to the great masses” (1929/2007c, p. 42) The training of mature musicians as an essential part of elementary education served a two-fold purpose: to educate audiences for classical music, and to make musical participation available for all. He said that “part-singing develops the capacity to hear and appreciate music and opens up the masterpieces of world literature even to those who do not play any instrument at all” (Kodály, 1941/2007j, p. 81). 

Upward Social Mobility and Transfer Effect: Agency, Empowerment

Accentuating the comprehensive nature of music and its relationship to intellectual, psychological and social skills is similar to the view point of Ruud’s definition of agency: “the sense of mastery, empowerment and social recognition” (Ruud, 2012, p. 88). Community Music Therapy attends to social-psychological and socio-cultural perspectives. Kodály insisted that children with low socio-economic status should also be part of his music program. He was convinced that his educational program would alleviate differences in class, status and well being.


While the Kodály Method is used worldwide, bringing together nations and cultures from Finland, Japan, Thailand, Spain, Canada, USA, it still remains almost undiscovered for therapy. Kodály was a pioneer establishing a multidisciplinary dialogue between musicology, philosophy, sociology and education. As Klára Kokas (1999), one of his disciples and coworkers mentioned, Kodály also encouraged his students to remain open to new ideas. He established theory and practice at the same time. As a musician and educator he devoted himself to the popularization of community music and choral singing, thus building a better society. As a researcher he studied the therapeutic effects of his method, especially its relationship with intellectual and social skills. His concept is justly a fundamental part of music education and music therapy also could profit from his ideas.

Kodály’s approach was a practical answer to his time’s social needs and problems. If his educational concepts are to be moved forward they need to be reframed in the light of recent interdisciplinary research and theory. Although the effectiveness of everyday music education is well recognised, Kodály’s overall reform of general music education could never be truly realized in modern Hungary. In order to adapt it to the 21st century’s social and cultural contexts several questions should be answered. Ruud (2004, p. 13) shed light on the fact that, “Something was lost when music became an art-form within aesthetics that became disentangled from everyday life and separated into its own sphere”. Can we restore this connection with the aim of Kodály, who “advocated teaching love for music supported by knowledge about music” (Kite, 1990/2014, p. 30). His concept of accessible early musical training as a part of compulsory elementary education might be a powerful tool for the prevention of distress especially in marginalized regions. The question is whether musical literacy and the Kodály concept could lead to the restoration of our broken relationship with music. How can it support the practice of Community Music Therapy? How can we establish new musical communinties based on the heritage of Kodály with the knowledge and experience of Community Music Therapy?

Kodály's concept of music education is still very much alive today, but education requires an update in order to adapt to the 21st century. As Gönczy (2012) mentioned, the detailed methodology of different levels of education is not the work of Kodály, but it was worked out by his eminent diciples and coworkers: Jenő Ádám, György Kerényi, Benjámin Rajeczky, Erzsébet Szőnyi, Katalin Forrai, László Dobszay, and Helga Szabó. Kodály himself did not want to establish a detailed methodology, and he never published a comprehensive guide to his methods. Therefore the Kodály Method is not a static and closed approach; it should be discussed and rephrased in the light of needs and opportunities of the actual sociocultural context, scientific research and methodological concepts. As a clear evidence of its universality and flexibility, the method, principles and materials can be found worldwide adapted to different cultures.

Kodály's overall goal to make music accessible to everyone highly resembles to Community Music Therapy. Many of his ideas align with different Community Music Therapy projects such as choral singing for social connectedness and musical activity that is a “joy and not a torture” (1937/2007k, p. 74). Bringing nations together and building mutual understanding through singing each other’s folk songs is also an existing practice in the field of Community Music Therapy (Gilboa & Hanna, 2014). What does it mean for us to strive for higher artistic quality, keeping in mind that at the same time we are working for upward social mobility, promoting autotelic personality, and striving for public security? Are we brave enough to forget about nonmusical goals and immerse ourselves fully in music for its own sake, knowing that this is the best way to experience the wide range of extent benefits? The theory and practice of Zoltán Kodály created a field where education and therapy can meet, complement and fertilize each other, but it still needs to be explored.


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