What is Dalcroze?

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.

Since the early 1900’s, the influence of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze has been felt worldwide in the field of music as well as in dance, theatre, therapy and education. In his own time, Dalcroze’s work was considered avant-garde and it met with some resistance, yet he continued to probe the topic of music education reform throughout his life. Today, his basic ideas of teaching and learning have been confirmed by contemporary research.

Dalcroze was professor of harmony and solfège at the Conservatory in Geneva in 1892. He realized that his students could not actually hear the harmonies they were writing. Their playing showed little sense of rhythmic vitality. In solfège, he began to devise ear training games to develop more acute inner hearing. These games sharpened the students’ perceptions and resulted in more sensitive responses to the musical aspects of performance: timing, articulation, tone quality, and phrase shape. Dalcroze noticed his students would exhibit subtle, spontaneous movements – swaying, tapping a foot, a slight swinging of the arms – as they sang. The body was conscious of the life and movement of the music.

Dalcroze capitalized on these natural, instinctive gestures. He asked his students to walk and swing their arms, or to conduct while they sang or listened to him improvise at the piano. He called this study of music through movement “eurhythmics,” from the Greek roots “eu” and “rythmos” meaning “good flow.”

Dalcroze continued to experiment with eurhythmics, giving demonstrations of his method throughout Switzerland and Western Europe. In 1910 he was invited by the Dhorn brothers, wealthy German industrialists, to Hellerau, Germany where they built a large school for him. Several hundred students lived and studied in Hellerau, and it became a world-famous center for the arts, devoted to the education of the complete human being. In 1913, the Gluck opera “Orpheus” was performed at the school, with Dalcroze conducting a chorus and soloists trained in eurhythmics. The production was a spectacular demonstration of music, movement, lighting, and staging representing the culmination of Dalcroze’s work at Hellerau. The school closed at the onset of World War I and Dalcroze returned to Geneva, where the Emile Jaques-Dalcroze Institute was founded in 1915. Today, the Dalcroze Institute in Geneva continues to attract students from around the world who wish to study this remarkable method of music education.

In a eurhythmics class, students typically are barefoot and are moving in some way – in locomotion around the room, in gestures with hands, arms, heads, upper bodies, either in groups or alone. Their movements are responsive to the music that is sounding in the room. The teacher probably is improvising this music at the piano, although sometimes recorded or composed music is used. The task typically is to move in space using certain guidelines that are specific to the occasion or musical piece. The teacher shapes the music not only to the rules of the task, but to what he or she observes the students doing. The students, in turn, shape their accomplishment of the task to the nature of the music – its tempo, dynamics, texture, phrase structure, and style.

The body is trained to be the instrument, not only of the performance of eurhythmics, but of the perception of music. The body is understood as the original musical instrument, the one through which everyone first realizes music in both its senses: apprehending and creating, and the primary, personal, trainable utensil for musical understanding and production. The movements a student makes in a eurhythmics class do not have the essential purpose of training the body to convey a choreographic picture to an audience. Rather, their essential purpose is to convey information back to the mover himself. The movements set up a circuit of information and response moving continuously between brain and body, which, with training and experience, rise to ever higher levels of precision, coordination, and expressive power.

The comprehensive Dalcroze approach consists of three components: Eurhythmics, 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. It was Dalcroze’s intent that the three subjects be intertwined so that the development of the inner ear, an inner muscular sense, and creative expression can work together to form the core of basic musicianship.

Certified Dalcroze teachers work in conservatories, universities, public and private schools, early childhood programs, and in private studios. The Dalcroze approach is studied by performers, teachers, dancers, actors, young children, and senior citizens. Those wishing to pursue Dalcroze teacher training may do so at recognized training centers throughout the United States. Due to the intensive training process and the many sophisticated skills required to be a Dalcroze teacher, the number of certified teachers remains small, but their impact on music education is significant.

The continued study of Dalcroze eurhythmics, solfège and improvisation tends to heighten concentration and focus, improve coordination and balance, enrich hearing, and sharpen the senses. In a Dalcroze class, students are freed from the constraints of formal performance to experience the deep musical knowledge and feeling evoked through movement. When they have discovered themselves as the source of their own musicality, they have much to bring to the practice room or to the stage. Based on the philosophy that we are the instrument, Dalcroze invites us to live what we hear.

This description and history is a compilation of several articles written by Dalcroze teachers and used with their permission. 
It was edited by Anne Farber and Kathy Thomsen.
Sources:
Barnhill, Eric.  (2007)  Unpublished essay, “About Dalcroze.”
Farber, Anne & Parker, Lisa (1987). “Discovering Music through Dalcroze Eurhythmics.”  Music Educators Journal, 74(3), 43-45.
Mead, Virginia Hoge (1986.).  “More Than Mere Movement: Dalcroze Eurhythmics.”  Music Educators Journal, 72(6), 42-46.