Dalcroze Eurhythmics

There are four well-known music educational methodologies, namely those of Kodály, Orff, Suzuki, and Dalcroze, and they all are designed to provide mental and physical interactions that stimulate many areas of the brain. The Dalcroze approach, which focuses on experience through movement, is exceptional in its ability to coordinate a wide variety of mental and physical activity with mental and physical creativity.

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze was a musician, educator, composer and he had a keen interest in psychology and the psychomotor aspect of the body. He was born in Vienna in 1865 to a mother who fostered his music education from a young age. When he began teaching himself, he noticed a disconnection between the body and music-making of his students. He questioned why music theory and notation were taught dissociated from sound and the movements and feelings that they represented. Over a 50 year period, he developed an educational approach that focused on the embodiment and inner-world of music. He consulted a wide variety of musicians, educators and psychologists while designing his approach, and there is a lot of evidence that his exercises help to develop a kind of muscular sense that communicates to the mind and the whole body the elements of time, space, and energy as they happen in music. In 1915, Dalcroze opened the Institute Jaques-Dalcroze in Geneva, Switzerland, where his playful and holistic educational approach is still being practiced today.

The three aspects of his teaching are eurhythmics, solfège, and improvisation, and when all are practiced together then the approach is being done the way Dalcroze intended it to be. Eurhythmics (which literally means “good rhythm”) is a form of music education that uses rhythmic exercises and games, and they can be categorized into four major types: a follow, a quick reaction, an interrupted canon or a canon. The exercises are work on a variety of different skills, all of which encourage rhythmicity, musicality, adaptability, and creativity. His approach to teaching solfège is unique in its ability to encourage students to remember and being able to draw on the tonal centre of middle C. Teachers use improvised movement and improvised music in exercises designed to stimulate the cognitive levels of the brain. The Dalcroze approach encourages improvisation in the students as well as the teacher, who can modify and customize the experience to the needs of the class, as well as create an environment that promotes personal spontaneity and growth.

The Dalcroze approach can teach many different concepts in music while using the body as the main instrument. A Dalcroze class looks entirely different than other teaching methodologies; no desks or chairs are present, objects like sticks, balls, and drums fill the room, and students and teachers are often moving around to music in their bare feet. An example of a Dalcroze Eurhythmics exercise would be passing a ball around a circle in a steady tempo. This exercise builds a physical connection between rhythm and being because it takes time for the body to move through the motion of passing the ball, and while it does it internalizes the time, space and energy needed to perform that movement. Dalcroze believed “that we should have mastered our bodily mechanism: a lack of control would cause us either to exceed the space or curtail the time, while, on the other hand, a too long retention would result in either leaving a portion of the space uncovered or in exceeding the time. Neither weakness, stiffness, or inattention should be permitted to modify the formation of a movement, and a properly executed rhythm requires, as a preliminary condition, complete mastery of movements in relation to energy, space and time” (The Initiation into Rhythm, 1907). An element of surprise can be added through sudden starts and stops, or changes in direction and tempo, which encourages both attention and creative action. Movement provides a way of reinforcing rhythmic concepts through kinesthetic learning while supporting other forms of visual and aural learning.

Dr. John Habron, Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Coventry, England, states that in addition to Eurhythmics being recognized worldwide for music and movement education for young children, it has proven itself valuable for helping older individuals with health issues such as gait, speech, and memory by addressing rhythmicity through kinesthetic learning (Habron 2014). In addition to significant benefits realized in mobility, results have shown improvements in speech (such as Tourette’s management) and memory retention (such as a slowing of dementia).

Dalcroze Eurhythmics is very successful in music therapy for all ages. The participatory nature of the activity has many societal benefits, especially in senior residences where sitting alone all day is far too common (Habron 2014). Switzerland recognizes Dalcroze Eurhythmics as a practical method of connecting individuals in participatory community settings. The tiered healthcare program adopted by the Swiss government supports funding for better health using Dalcroze methodology. Dalcroze can address mind and body issues through initiatives such as communicative music therapy, improvisational music therapy, and group dynamic therapy.

Recent studies in neurorhythmics have shown that musical improvisation has a unique and desirable set of characteristics in our brains (Limb 2008:1). Even more studies have shown that experiencing improvisation in any activity (such as musicking, dancing, preventing senior’s falls, negotiating traffic, telling a joke, juggling, or bouncing a ball) has beneficial effects on improvisational capability in other activities as well (MacDonald 2014:1, Stuckey 2010).

Our Eurocentric society needs to accept improvisation and all of its experimental and inevitable errors as part of our day to day existence in all areas of life. The aesthetic formalism movement has created an artistic environment of extremely high musical performance standards combined with a survival-of-the-fittest mentality.

But formalism cannot be a means unto itself; it is part of the journey but it is not the destination. If our desire is to become more creative in every way, not just artistically, then we need more ego-free, uninhibited, zone-inspired, self-accepting participation in our lives.

It is good to experience new things. It is good to make mistakes. It is good to improvise.

Credit: Danièle Loach, Editor (www.byrdsounds.ca)