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Moving to the Music: Dalcroze Method Teaches Students Pitch, Rhythm


Musicians from Wisconsin and beyond gathered in Waunakee this summer to learn about a Swiss music education method.

Music often causes us to move - whether it's tapping our toes or swinging our hips. But music teachers are finding that using movement in their teaching plan also helps students with music comprehension.

The method is called Dalcroze, after Swiss music pedogogist Emile Jaques Dalcroze (1865-1950). He found that pairing movement with rhythms and tempos helped students better understand the pitches and rhythms they were performing. He wanted them to hear music better and to have a physical understanding of their art.

Movements used in the method include running, skipping, walking, patting, clapping, and snapping, among many others.

Dr. Kathy Thomsen, from the Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, recently led a Dalcroze class at the Wisconsin Center for Music Education in Waunakee. And it was clear from the first glance, this was not your average music class.

Stacks of hula hoops and bags of colorful balls lay under tables overflowing with percussion instruments. Tables and chairs lined the walls but were empty; rather, the adult participants were in the middle of the room - dancing barefoot.

Thomsen, the former head of the Dalcroze Society of America and the Editor of the American Dalcroze Journal, says once students can feel tempo, rhythm and even pitch, they can then approach music with more understanding.

"The musical body can teach the mind things that the mind can’t learn on its own,” Thomsen says.

There are three parts of the Dalcroze teaching method: eurhythmics (pairing movement to sound), solfeggio (syllables paired with pitches), and improvisation (making things up on the spot).

Joan Parise has been teaching music for decades, but is a new student to Dalcroze. She  says this connection helps not only performers, but also audience members.

"Dalcroze starts out with listening to the music, feeling the music and then works into reading the music," she says. "So, even students that might not be able to read the music still can have a great appreciation for it because they understand it better."

Cecile Salcedo teaches music at a Montessori school in the Philippines. Musicians have spread Dalcroze worldwide, and Salcedo uses it with her students back home.

But the workshops aren’t as prevalent as those for other educational methods. The workshop in Waunakee is a way for Salcedo freshen her skills while she’s in the U.S. for a performance with some of her students. She says Dalcroze is a fun way to experience music – and not just for kids.

"I feel like a child again, a student. I truly experienced what the kids are doing in our schools. It’s so magical," she says.

For people who want to experience a concert with a dose of Dalcroze, instructor Thomsen has some advice.

"Call the management in advance and say, 'Rip out the seats and let us move,'" she jokes.

You can watch a video of a Dalcroze performance below.

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