So much more than just singing

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
The hills are alive with the sound of music, thanks to a teaching system adopted by the national youth choir, Di Hope says

The National Youth Choir of Scotland was founded in 1996. Such has been its success, it now manages area choirs for primary and secondary pupils, the National Boys Choir and a NYCoS training choir.

The organisation offers vital education support in the form of publications, resources and staff training, which includes helping local authorities to develop training programmes in schools. It also provides workshops for teachers, choir leaders and parents.

Training weekends are aimed at specialist music teachers, choir leaders, teachers and nursery staff, and following the resounding success of last year's inaugural event, this month's course, at Strathclyde University's Jordanhill Campus, was fully booked. Delegates came from all over Scotland to take part in workshops, training sessions and demonstrations.

The principle attraction was the fact that this was a Kodaly musicianship training weekend, based on the teachings of the Hungarian musician Zoltan Kodaly, championed by NYCoS.

The NYCoS involvement has boosted interest in Kodaly's work in Scotland over the last few years, with many delegates already enthusiasts and eager to learn more.

The Kodaly principles are that singing is fundamental to life, and should be at the heart of music education, the voice being the first musical instrument. Singing engages the inner ear, the inner hearing, without the development of which even a child playing an instrument may remain unmusical for life.

The teaching practice encourages the use of singing games, folk songs and quality music, with pentatonic music used in the early years. Singing is also free and central to creative expression and development.

Three main tools are used in teaching the Kodaly principles - relative solfa, handsigns and rhythm techniques.

During the weekend delegates had a choice of musicianship classes, with sessions on Dalcroze, basic principles of singing (including the How to Teach a Song hour from Christopher Bell, NYCoS's artistic director), repertoire for choirs and Kodaly for instrumental teachers, including percussion. Pam Dow, who led the percussion sessions, has had 30 years'

experience with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Her percussion teaching is geared to the Kodaly system and uses pitch to develop pupils'

inner hearing.

"Music has to be taught in a structured way that is stimulating," she says.

"Children who have had this background have a training in musicianship which means that when they do pick up their first instrument, it all makes sense."

Pam Dow teaches the Kodaly principles to the junior department of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music on Saturdays with Lucinda Geoghegan, of NYCoS. Ms Geoghegan was a music teacher looking for a more effective way of teaching when she discovered Kodaly on a training course in Cheltenham and is now a qualified trainer. Explaining the system's success, she says: "It's so logical, so child friendly, very easy to impart. That's why we have a waiting list for this course."

Norman Bolton, the music development officer for Highland, shares her enthusiasm.

"As part of the national music initiative, we have created five new posts for vocal tutors, which means that 147 Highland primaries will get 12 hours' work with P3 classes," he says.

He finds the method and the materials excellent. "It provides the security of a logical system, which over time inspires confidence in the non-specialist class teacher, as it is so effective and they can see results."

Sandra Bordon, from North Lanarkshire, says: "It enhances the teaching of other things, as you can adapt the techniques for other areas of the curriculum.

"Kodaly may sound mysterious, but it's common sense."

As Christopher Bell puts it, NYCoS provides the inspiration over the weekend, "like an ideas factory". Then it does what it can to roll it all out further through more training schemes.

NYCoS, tel 0141 287

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