We’ve been talking in this Musicality Unleashed series about some powerful insights and mindset shifts for tapping into your inner musician and transforming how free, confident and creative you feel in music.
We’ve talked particularly about mental models – and how it’s a foundation of the right mental models which can set you up for success and turn you into the “natural” musician who can learn new musical concepts and skills quickly and easily, and empower you to do impressive things instinctively, like play by ear, improvise, and create your own music.
We’ve talked about solfa and rhythm syllables as two specific examples of those empowering mental models and about song-based learning as a neat way to make it a fun and musical experience to develop your musical mind.
We also looked at creativity and how it’s something that can actually make your music learning easier and more enjoyable when you include it as soon as possible as the vehicle, not the destination.
Okay, so how are we going to bring this all together?
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So I’m hoping that you’re feeling a new enthusiasm and excitement about your music learning going forwards!
Take one or more of these ideas and apply it in your musical life and you’re going to see some impressive results.
But I know you might also be thinking “I want *all* of that!” and wondering if there’s some neat way to bring it all together.
And there might even be some people who watched the videos and thought “That *sounds* great but surely if it all really worked this would have been discovered ages ago and everyone would be doing it.”
Well it turns out there actually is an established methodology which brings all of this together in a clear, coherent way – and so I wanted to make sure you knew about it.
There is a musicianship training method dating back over 100 years that takes exactly this holistic approach to putting a solid foundation of mental models in place, all using song-based learning.
You might have heard of it before, especially if you’ve been following Musical U for a while.
But I’m hesitant to name it and share the details – because it has a funny-sounding name, and being 100 years old, there are assumptions that come along with that. You might immediately be thinking “outdated”, “hard to understand”, “not relevant to modern life”, and so on – whether intentionally or just subconsciously.
And before I tell you about it I want to come back for a second to that idea of “song-based learning”. When I talked about it you might have found yourself wondering how exactly you choose the right songs to teach you what you need to learn.
We need a set of simple songs. Songs that are like the music we love. But simpler – in each of the ways we need to simplify to make acquiring our new mental models smooth and easy.
We need a big library of songs of various kinds and complexities that we could use to build our step-by-step training.
In fact, we all have access to just such a library.
It’s called folk music.
Now if you’re like me, “Folk” has always just been a genre. To me it conjures up wonderful-sounding Irish and Scottish music with twangey accents and traditional instruments and moving lyrics.
But fundamentally “folk music” just means “the music that society has ingrained in it”. There’s Irish and Scottish folk music that you’d find in the “folk” section of a UK music shop (if those still existed). But there’s a huge catalog of American folk music, and folk music from every country, in fact.
What’s great is that these are typically really excellent music. Not necessarily complicated, in fact some are incredibly simple, which is ideal for our learning. But they stuck in society’s memory because they were musically effective – they cut right to the core of what matters in music. Melodically, rhythmically, harmonically, even with their lyrical content. So folk music is kind of the heart of all the other genres, and that makes it an amazing choice if we’re building ourselves a new foundation.
So it’s actually folk songs which this approach I’m going to talk about uses. And I wanted to mention that because of this idea, that some things have stood the test of time because they tap into fundamental truths that don’t change. And with a little bit of polish they can be just as useful today as they ever were.
Think of Beethoven’s Fur Elise [SING]
Or Michaelangelo’s David.
Even the Bible. We’re probably not going to read it in the original Greek or Hebrew! But whether you’re Christian or not, it can’t be denied that reading a modern translation provides fascinating learning and principles that 100% apply to modern life.
Things which have stood the test of time have done so for good reason – and their age shouldn’t put us off learning all we can from them.
That applies to using folk music for your song-based learning and it also applies to this overall approach I’m going to talk about. The fact that it’s 100 years old is actually a very good thing!
So this strangely-named 100-year old method I mentioned – it originated in Hungary in the early 20th Century with a Hungarian man named Zoltán Kodály. He believed that music belongs to everybody – not a gifted few, or just those who can afford serious training. He developed a new approach using folk songs to teach the fundamental mental understanding of music, the musical instinct. And this quickly spread throughout Hungary, giving every schoolchild a natural understanding of music and ability to express themselves musically with their voice.
Despite being so successful in Hungary in the first half of the 20th Century, clearly it didn’t go on to become the dominant approach to music education worldwide. Why is that, if it’s so effective?
Well, that’s a story for another day, but suffice to say that for reasons of history and politics and the established institutions of music education, its impact has been limited in a way that’s frankly tragic – because of the immense potential it holds for any musician in any country or age…
The thing that put Kodály on my radar was that I kept hearing about it over the years, and it was often given kind of a legendary status. “Oh, such and such amazing musician – well they’re Kodály-trained.” So I finally looked into it properly myself to see why it had such legendary status among serious musicians.
I took some private one-on-one lessons with one of the top instructors in the UK and it was really interesting… I remember in my first Kodály lesson, I found myself thinking “this is all very basic” – because I knew notation, I was comfortable singing, I even knew a ton of aural skills stuff like intervals and so on.
But in the course of that lesson I came to realise this was a whole new way of approaching music. And by the end I’d done some things with those simple concepts that were actually pretty powerful – like improvising my own melodies to fit a form, like tapping one rhythm while I sang another, and so on. And I came away thinking “Oh, wow, this is actually really fundamental and powerful”.
It took me a while longer to click that this wasn’t just an alternative – it was, in a lot of ways, the missing foundation that all the other stuff I’d learned should have been built on.
Later on I went on a 3-day intensive course where I was surrounded by Kodály instructors and students. And that was fascinating because I got to see the impact it has. These people ranged from amateur musicians, to teachers, to professional musicians playing in national orchestras.
Now I’ve been in tons of situations where musicians get together to learn or perform. And what stood out the most on that Kodály course was the incredibly different atmosphere. These people all had an ease and delight in music. The skills and viewpoint that Kodály training was equipping them with – it just let them *enjoy* music.
There wasn’t that competitiveness or insecurity or one-up-man-ship that’s so common when musicians get together. And they could do some seriously impressive things, in terms of collaborating, creating, playing by ear, and so on. But it was really the spirit that jumped out, the way that having these new mental models let them feel a confidence and ownership in music that just made it all a joy.
Last year I interviewed a chap called Jimmy Rotheram for the podcast – he had adopted the Kodály approach in the UK primary school where he teaches music. And not only did the kids transform musically, it had such a powerful effect on their minds that their school went from being literally among the worst in the country, to being rated in the top 1% of schools nationwide for progress in reading, writing and maths.
Talking to Jimmy what clicked in my head was that Kodály is super successful with children – because it starts from the very basics and gives them the right mental models.
But it’s not just “so simple even a child can understand it” – I’d say it’s “so simple even an adult can understand it”!
So I wanted to make sure you knew about Kodály, and how it is a great way to bring together everything we’ve been talking about in a clear and holistic way.
Like we’ve been talking about – this can be the foundation you’ve probably been missing. But for reasons of history and politics it’s mostly been hidden away in children’s music classes and niche communities with in-person training.
And if you want to seek out a Kodály training course that’s going to be a fantastic way to put a new foundation in place for yourself.
I should mention though that in the real world it’s not easy to get Kodály training. And it’s certainly not cheap, I paid several hundred pounds for that 3-day course, for example. And it was well worth that investment.
But it left me grappling with this weird situation where I was providing affordable musicality training worldwide through Musical U – and proud of what we’d built there. But I had discovered this super valuable missing piece – that was mostly hidden away in the real world with prohibitive prices.
Once I’d seen this I knew we had to somehow incorporate the Kodály approach into what we provide at Musical U.
Because although Kodály training is well-proven and extremely effective, it’s still mostly hidden away…
You can find instructors or courses for in-person training here and there.
But there was no convenient, affordable, instant access way for people to get Kodály training.
So we started to adopt parts of the Kodály approach in our online training at Musical U…
And each new thing we borrowed from the world of Kodály quickly had a massive positive impact on how effective our training system was.
But there were some aspects of Kodály that we couldn’t just “bolt on” to our existing training.
So we decided to go “all in”.
To put together something brand new, based on Kodály principles, and designed specifically to deliver the firm foundation you need for your “musical mind”.
This course has been a runaway success, beyond even what I’d hoped for in terms of delivering students fantastic results – and we’re about to reopen enrolment.
So if you’re interested in an easy and affordable way to get access to this amazing approach then stay tuned for next time where I’ll be sharing all the details!