Adults on the Move with Dalcroze!
Say the word "Eurhythmics" to a group of age-forty-plus adults and they would likely define it as a pop music group from the 1980s. College students might even give the same response. The same word given to a group of music educators would likely be defined as movement-based music instruction, primarily used in general music classrooms. Indeed, images of college applied and group piano students and leisure adult group piano students might not readily come to mind in conjunction with Dalcroze Eurhythmics, nevertheless the methodology is quite applicable and highly effective with adults ages eighteen to sixty and beyond.
Dalcroze and Eurhythmics Defined
According to the Dalcroze Society of America website, "The Dalcroze approach to music education teaches an understanding of music—its fundamental concepts, its expressive meanings, and its deep connections to other arts and human activities—through ground breaking techniques incorporating rhythmic movement, aural training, and physical, vocal and instrumental improvisation."1
As early as 1892, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950), professor of harmony and solfège at the Conservatory of Music, Geneva, Switzerland, began developing new ways of helping his students play with rhythmic vitality and hear the harmonies they wrote. The Dalcroze Society of America website describes the three components in the method of music instruction he ultimately developed:
- Eurhythmics (Greek, "good flow"), which teaches concepts of rhythm, structure, and musical expression through movement;
- Solfège, which develops an understanding of pitch, scale, and tonality through activities emphasizing aural comprehension and vocal improvisation; and
- Improvisation, which develops an understanding of form and meaning through spontaneous musical creation using movement, voice and instruments.
Like Dalcroze, I noticed that my undergraduate group piano students and piano majors had difficulty keeping a steady pulse in their solo piano repertoire speeding up or slowing down to accommodate changes in technical demand. Furthermore, many if not most of the students struggled with communicating the character of the music, even after the notes, rhythms, tempo, articulation, and dynamics were secure. A pivotal moment occurred while teaching a late-elementary minuet in one of my piano classes. All of the students played the piece heavily with equal emphasis on all pitches. I asked them what the title meant and they responded, "a type of dance." I demonstrated what their "dance" looked like by stomping while singing the melody. They laughed. I then sang the melody while demonstrating waltz-like steps. The class played the minuet again, and it was instantly transformed! I began my training in Dalcroze shortly after that experience.
We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one….All of us (with very few exceptions) can perceive music, perceive tones, timbre, pitch intervals, melodic contours, harmony, and (perhaps most elementally) rhythm. We integrate all of these and "construct" music in our minds using many different parts of the brain. And to this largely unconscious structural appreciation of music is added an often intense and profound emotional reaction to music….
Listening to music is not just auditory and emotional, it is motoric as well: "We listen to music with our muscles," as Nietzsche wrote. We keep time to music, involuntarily, even if we are not consciously attending to it, and our faces and postures mirror the "narrative" of the melody, and the thoughts and feelings it provokes.3
Furthermore, the field of music therapy exists because of its usefulness as a tool for physical and emotional healing. In the chapter, "Keeping Time: Rhythm and Movement," Dr. Sacks shared two examples of the way in which the rhythm of music allowed himself and a patient to transcend physical injuries and "remember" how to move and respond. Dr. Sacks "rowed" himself down a mountain after seriously injuring his leg in a skiing accident by mentally singing and moving to "The Volga Boatmen's Song"; and he overcame the challenge of re-training his injured leg to walk by mentally hearing and focusing on the rhythm of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor. His patient, whose massive brain tumor took away his memory, spontaneity, and most of his ability to respond, "came to life" at a Grateful Dead concert, shouting and chanting the name of one of his favorite songs, and moving and clapping to the music with the rest of the audience.
So if movement and music can have a profound effect on the injured, what might we accomplish with those who have no significant physical or mental challenges? I have witnessed senior adult beginners with no prior musical training perform black-key improvisations with a perfect sense of steady pulse at the end of their very first piano class because we began the class with Dalcroze Eurhythmics exercises and reinforced the rhythm of every piece with physical movement. Perhaps even more satisfying were the looks of joy, pride, and amazement on the faces of the students as they left the classroom.
Following are some Dalcroze exercises I have successfully used with college-age students and older adult beginners. The exercises are organized by space requirements.
Exercises for Large Spaces
Explore the room: Leader directs members of the group to:
- Walk steadily around the room to explore the space
- Walk in the opposite direction
- Notice room contents while walking and trace them quickly in the air with a hand\
- Trace contents with the other hand while walking
- Leader notices the pace at which the group is walking and begins to add music (can be improvisation, folk song, or common song such as "When the Saints Go Marching In," or other repertoire with a steady pulse; common time is good for initial experiences)
- Leader directs the group to stop tracing and stop walking when the music stops; resume walking when the music resumes
- Leader instructs the group to stop when the music stops and clap the beat they were walking; stop clapping and resume walking when the music resumes
Goals: Coordinating visual, aural, and kinesthetic senses; listening and responding to commands; internalizing pulse; flexibility; ensemble; cooperation; primordial binding; and functioning as part of a collective
Experiencing rhythms with a partner (can initially be done individually): Leader directs members of the group to:
- Link an arm with a partner and step to the pulse of the music (improvised music is best to allow the establishment of a regular rhythm pattern that may be repeated and changed at will)
- Randomly explore the room (as the group begins walking in a circle around the piano)
- Move in the opposite direction
- Continue stepping the pulse and clap non-linked hands to the rhythm of the leader's right hand (treble) part
- Leader changes the right hand rhythm pattern once the group hears and successfully claps the previous pattern
- Step the pulse of the music and reflect the difference in weight of beats within a measure by stepping heavily on the downbeat (crusis), lighter on weaker beats (metacrusis), and lift off the heel onto the ball of the foot for the upbeat (anacrusis)
- Randomly explore the room while stepping the meter
- Clap the rhythm pattern of the right hand/treble part while stepping the meter
Experiencing rhythms in the feet: Leader directs members of the group to:
- Step in place to the music (beside or away from instruments) and reflect the length of beats in the steps (begin with repetition of single, basic rhythms such as quarter notes; change to other rhythm values, like half or whole notes; change to rhythm patterns—mixtures of basic beats like quarter-quarter-half note)
- Step for sounds and stop for silences (add different values of rests)
- Variations could include adding ritardando, accelerando, fermata-a tempo
Goals: Listening, feeling, and responding to sound and silence in rhythms and changes in tempo/pulseExperiencing rhythms with the hands: Leader directs members of the group to:
- Stand in place and clap the rhythm of the music; reflect the length of longer rhythm values with circles; separate hands for silences
- Same variations listed in Experiencing rhythms in the feet
Goals (as with feet): Listening, feeling, and responding to sound and silence in rhythms and changes in tempo/pulse
Responding to pulse and rhythm patterns simultaneously: Leader directs members of the group to:
- Step to the music of the left hand (bass) and clap the rhythm of the right hand (treble); initially, bass can be a steady pulse and the treble can be a repetitive rhythm pattern
- Variation, reverse the parts—treble is steady pulse, bass is rhythm pattern
- Variation Two, with a group, do the exercise in pairs or small groups of students—step the pulse of the bass and clap (ala "patty cake") the rhythm patterns of the treble
Goals: As with the previous two exercises, listening, feeling, and responding to sound and silence in rhythms and changes in rhythm patterns; responding to steady pulse and rhythm patterns simultaneously; ensemble
Following: Leader directs members of the group to: Lightly tap to the music on the key cover or closed piano lid (grand piano) and reflect changes in rhythm patterns, articulation, dynamics, tempo changes, etc. Goals: listening; responding to rhythm, dynamics, articulation, tempo changes, etc.
Like children, adult students frequently begin piano lessons full of hope and excitement about learning to use the piano to make music. Unlike children, learning a new skill may no longer be commonplace for adults, resulting in self-consciousness and anxiety that inhibit achievement of the original goal. Dalcroze methodologies, through the use of ordinary activities such as stepping and clapping in extraordinary ways, enable adults and children to bypass their inhibitions and find the fast track to expressive musicianship.
1. "What is Dalcoze?," Dalcroze Society of America, accessed August 31, 2018, https://dalcrozeusa.org/about-us/history.
2. "What is Dalcroze?"
3. Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia (New York: Vintage Books, Random House, Inc., 2008), xi-xii.
Sacks, Oliver. Musicophilia. New York: Vintage Books, Random House, Inc., 2008.
Schnebly-Black, Julia and Stephen Moore. The Rhythm Inside—Connecting Body, Mind and Spirit Through Music. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 1997.
Schnebly-Black, Julia and Stephen Moore. Rhythm: One on One, Dalcroze Activities in the Private Music Lesson. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc., 2004.
Timothy Caldwell. "A Dalcroze Perspective on Skills for Learning Music," Music Educators Journal 79, no. 7 (March 1993): 27-28, 66.
Farber, Ann and Lisa Parker. "Discovering Music Through Dalcroze Eurhythmics," Music Educators Journal 74, no. 3 (November 1987): 43-45.
Elizabeth Medert Taylor. "Teach Music Concepts Through Body Movement," Music Educators Journal 59, no. 8 (April 1973): 50-52.
J. Vann. "Music and Movement." Music Teacher 89, no. 12 (December 2010): 17-19.
Dalcroze Society of America https://dalcrozeusa.org/
Dalcroze Eurhythmics with Lisa Parker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEyyeoc_t-U
Dalcroze Eurhythmics Stopping-Starting Quick Reaction with Greg Ristow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsROX7pQdZM