“Joy arises in the child the moment his faculties are liberated from any restraint, and he becomes conscious of his control over them, and decides on the direction in which that control shall be exercised. The joy is the product of a joint sense of emancipation and responsibility.” – Jaques-Dalcroze
All of the major music education approaches involve movement to some degree. This is supported by years of research indicating that movement, whether purposeful or creative, encourages a stronger learning potential in the learner. Of the major approaches, Dalcroze Eurhythmics focuses most strongly on learning through movement with the basic tenet; “The body is the first instrument.”
The concept of Eurhythmics as an approach to music education was developed in Switzerland in the early twentieth century by Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, a musician, dancer, and educator. While the approach was initially conceived for conservatory students, Eurhythmics soon expanded to include the training of musicians, dancers, and actors of all ages, and later included therapeutic applications.
The body, including the voice, is considered to be the primary instrument. It is the body that hears rhythm and pitch and reacts to it. Emile Jaques-Dalcroze believed that every musician should strive to be sensitive and expressive, and to express music through purposeful movement, sound, thought, feeling, and creativity (Pennington, 1925, p. 9). The goal is to internalize all the elements of music through kinesthetic activities, allowing the learner to experience music physically and joyfully, then expressing the music thoughtfully and artfully.
The idea of joy in learning is also central to the Dalcroze philosophy. Movement, whether creative or structured, ignites a joy in the learner. Movement can free us from the constraints of expectations and can put us into an intense connection with the rhythm and structure of the music. Both during and immediately following the experience, children often reflect joy; not just the joy of success, but the joy of being present with the music and with each other. It is always goal in a eurhythmics class to allow for moments where joy can arise and be present.
Robert Abramson (1980) created the concept of a fluidity in music learning through eurhythmics that helps to clarify the philosophy:
While participants do not experience all of these actions in one lesson, during a eurhythmics class they are moving through various levels of this sequence.
Virginia Mead (1994) cites four basic premises that encapsulate the philosophy of Eurhythmics:
Modern music educators and music therapists often identify the approach as Eurhythmics, which encompasses the three components of eurhythmics (rhythmic and purposeful movement), rhythmic solfège (pitch and inner hearing), and improvisation (physical and musical creativity). The three related components are often taught as an integrated lesson, complementing the facets of each, but the components can also be taught in isolation as focus lessons.
Eurhythmics: The first is rhythmic movement, or eurhythmcis itself. The term eurhythmics comes from the Greek “eu” meaning good, and “rhythmy,” meaning rhythm, proportion and symmetry. All elements of music, including pulse, beat, rhythm, meter, phrasing, dynamics, and form, can be taught through kinesthetic experiences, both through space and within space. The instructor leads a eurhythmics session using a tambour, a piano, and also recorded music, while the students react physically to the elements of the music. Participants work individually, in pairs or in small groups to physicalize what they hear. The lesson often flips where students create the movement and the instructor accompanies what is being physically created.
Rhythmic Solfège: Jaques-Dalcroze believed that students must learn nuanced listening skills and develop “inner hearing.” Musicians should be able to hear with their eyes and sing with their ear. Music notation then becomes meaningful when realized in real performance or in the imagination. Solfège is often taught using the fixed-do approach, based on the French system. Students develop sensitivity to pitches, the relationship of pitch to each other, and to the tonal framework. What makes rhythmic solfège unique is that it is always combined with rhythm and movement, both locomotor and non-locomotor. See a sample lesson below.
Improvisation: Improvisation skills are developed sequentially and used in many settings. An instructor might improvise at the piano while students react to the sound and create movement; react spontaneously to verbal instructions; or change in musical character. Conversely, a student might improvise movement while another student accompanies with a drum, at the piano, or vocally. Students soon develop skills to be able to improvise musically and expressively on their own instruments. According to Mead (1994), these spontaneous performance activities are designed to communicate musical intent and to improve response time.
A eurhythmics classroom consists of open space for movement, a piano, hand drums, a sound system, and white boards for writing notation. A typical introductory lesson involves activities or games that require total mental and physical awareness. The lesson is presented in a somatic approach that allows the participant to hear and react physically to the musical stimulus, which produces body awareness and sensations. These physical sensations are transmitted back to the brain as emotions and a more developed comprehension of the experience. It is common to begin a eurhythmics lesson with walking to improvised music and responding to changes in tempo, dynamics, and phrasing in quick reaction games. Through these activities, the students begin to understand how physical adjustments, such as energy and flow of the body weight, need to occur in order to physicalize the music. Through these basic introductions, the teacher can address basic musical elements.
Intermediate eurhythmics lessons can address more advanced concepts such as polymeters, polyrhythms, canon, tension and relaxation, breathing, conducting, counterpoint, and the intention of anacrusis, crusis, and metacrusis. Creativity is pervasive throughout the lesson. All classes are in a group setting where the participants interact with partners or small groups to develop the nonverbal communication skills and creativity necessary in music and movement.
Plastique animée, often referred to as plastique, is seen as a culminating experience or performance in a eurhythmics class. A plastique combines the skills addressed throughout the lesson, and from previous rhythmic experiences, into an expressive embodiment of the music through individual or group movements (Frego, 2009). The participants are provided with the basic musical elements and are asked to spontaneously create an interactive composition with the music. In essence, in a plastique experience, the participants are asked to be the music. While the music may be improvised, it is often recorded music that highlights the focused skillset presented in the lesson.
Modern music educators focus on active and differentiated learning for all students. This implies less instruction and more experience for the students (Caldwell, 1993). The eurhythmics approach also places emphasis on musical behavior and expression, and their demonstration through observable movement. Visible evidence of musical understanding through experience takes of mystery out of the verbal definitions of musicality. Assessment of learning is informal and often measured through visual, aural, and kinesthetic cues. Creativity and imaginary play are encouraged through improvisation. Music class is student oriented, with groups of students actively thinking about, listening to, and analyzing and creating music (Johnson, 1993).
Eurhythmics activities and pedagogical principles are easy to apply to most teaching situations (Johnson, 1993). Because multiage classrooms are increasingly popular, eurhythmics activities can be adapted to suit a variety of student skill and experience levels. Pre- and in-service training in eurhythmics allows instructors to become creative and flexible in the give-and-take of modern education. The ability to be spontaneous in the classroom is valuable for all educators. Teachers can follow through unexpected teaching opportunities and provide students with a model of an adaptable and creative personality.
Today, Dalcroze Eurhythmics is taught as a component of the music theory and aural skills curriculum in conservatories and universities throughout the globe. It is also found in K-12 music education, studio instruction, dance and theatre education, and in therapeutic environments. National and international professional organizations exist to support eurhythmics teachers and those interested in pursuing training. The American Eurhythmics Society posts locations of training sites in the United States.
Goal: Antecedent and Consequent Phrasing
Musical Objective: The participant will physically and vocally express melody in canon.
Musical Objective: The participant will create antecedent and consequent phrases both physically and vocally.
Social Objective: The participants will work cooperatively with a partner to create musical phrases.
Abramson, R. M. (1980). Dalcroze-based improvisation. Music Educators Journal, 66(5), pp. 62-68.
Caldwell, J. T. (1993). A Dalcroze perspective on skills for learning music. Music Educators Journal, 79(7), pp. 27-28.
Frego, R. J. D. (2009). Plastique Animée: A dance genre and a means to artistry. Le Rythme, pp. 87-89.
Jaques-Dalcroze, E. H. (1921). Rhythm, music and education (H. F. Rubinstein, Trans.). New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. (Original work published in 1921).
Johnson, M. D. (1993). Dalcroze skills for all teachers. Music Educators Journal, 79(8), pp. 42-45.
Mead, V. H. (1994). Dalcroze eurhythmics in today’s music classroom. New York: Schott.
Pennington, J. (1925). The importance of being rhythmic. New York: Knickerbocker Press.
David Frego is professor and director of the School of Music at Penn State University. He joined the music faculty in 2017 after serving for nine years as chair of music at the University of Texas at San Antonio and 12 years as faculty and associate director at The Ohio State University.
Dr. Frego is past president of the American Eurhythmics Society and the Dalcroze Society of America, and regularly presents workshops on Dalcroze Eurhythmics throughout the globe. While performing artists of all ages benefit from rhythmic training, eurhythmics in teacher training is an important focus of Dr. Frego’s research. Other teaching and research areas include dance philosophy and the application of Dalcroze Eurhythmics as palliative care for adults with post-traumatic stress.
David Frego has published book chapters, DVDs, books, and articles in both music education journals and medical journals for arts medicine. Meaningful Movement: A Music Teacher’s Guide to Dalcroze Eurhythmics was co-authored with Dr. Marla Butke.
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