Elementary General Music Educators: Which system do you use to teach rhythm?

The History Behind this Poll:

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this question to the Music Teachers Facebook Group. The reasoning behind this question is because I utilize and am very familiar with the Kodály method of counting rhythms (ta, ti-ti) and the Orff method (words) for my younger grades and being trained as a pianist, clarinetist, flutist, and saxophonist, using the number system (1e+a) is second nature to me. Therefore, I use these three systems daily in my classroom, depending on the grade level and on the students.

When I presented at TMEA this past February, I made sure to attend many elementary music sessions. When it came time to speak rhythm patterns, the teachers were very well-versed in the takadimi rhythm solfege system (ta, ta-di), developed by some of my favorite music theory professors from when I attended Ithaca College back in the 1990’s, Dr. Richard Hoffman, Dr. William Pelto, and Dr. John W. White. I then researched the philosophy behind Takadimi (from http://www.takadimi.net/basics.html, “Takadimi works like solfege, but for rhythm.  It assigns a distinct syllable for each attack point within a beat.  The beat is always spoken on ta.  The division of the beat is always spoken on ta – di in simple meter and ta – ki – da  in compound meter.”) and found this method very interesting and impressive. I like how it combines certain factors of Kodály and Gordon.

As I began to reflect on my own teaching and what I learned when I was in elementary to middle to high school, I felt like I came to

from http://breakthroughmiracles.com/goals-dreams/crossroads-prelude-transformation/

a crossroads of how to teach rhythm and I needed to ask other elementary music educators the following question: “Which system do you use to teach rhythm?”

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The Poll:

I set up a poll on the Facebook Music Teachers Group with the following options you see to the left. The music educators had the option to write in another method, so “Kodaly but use ti-ki instead of tiri…” and “Kodaly but use tibi instead of tiri…” were added by music educators. I also encouraged elementary music educators to clarify their responses if the poll did not present their options.

The Results:

I was thrilled to have so many elementary (and some non-elementary) music educators respond. This poll also produced 75 separate responses that ranged from music educators stating that they begin with a Kodaly/Gordon/Orff system in PreK-grade 2/3/4, then change over to the numbers system, to those asking which system was which, to those not realizing that if you click on the poll, all of the options appear (darn iPhones!), to those using a combination of two or more systems at the same time. I also appreciated that Greg DiCristofaro shared the results from his, Daniel Peters, and Michael Klenk’s research titled “Rhythm Syllable Method Preferences.” In their research, which was conducted a couple of weeks before I posted my poll, over half of their participants were band directors and they did not include takadimi or the Eastman Counting System. Therefore, the audience was different than the one I was asking. I appreciated that Greg shared his research as I found it enlightening. I encourage you to read it yourself here.

Here were the results from my poll:

Kodaly with tiki as 16th notes: 51

Numbers: 46

Gordon: 33

Kodaly: 23

Takadimi: 17

Orff: 14

Kodaly w/tiki and Orff: 7

Takadimi and Orff: 6

French: 4

Kodaly w/tibi as 16th notes: 2

Eastman: 2

None: 2

41% of the answers resulted in some form of Kodály was being used to teach rhythms to elementary music students. Around 22% were using solely the numbers system and 16% were utilizing the Gordon method. Those were the top three responses. If a person wrote that they used one system and then changed to another system during a certain grade, then I added one point to each system. If they were utilizing two systems at the same time, I made that into its own category. I did try to account for all who took the poll and for those who left comments, however, I knew that it led to some human error with the results.

These results are very similar to pages 13 and 14 of DiCristofaro, Peters, and Klenk’s research where Kodály was the most popular method to use in general music and elementary general music, with numbers and Gordon coming in closely behind Kodály.

Where To Go From Here:

I will continue to think about this as I work in an independent school, so I am not feeding into a district where I can speak to the middle and high school music educators to get their feedback. Our school does have a conservatory that has a nice percentage of the school’s students taking private lessons. I have posed the question to those teachers to ask them how they are teaching rhythms and does it vary with the age group (piano lessons begin at ages 4-5 and go up to ages 13-14). I will dive into this further and come to some answer before our school year begins in September.

Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award and the 2016 NJMEA Master Music Teacher Award. TI:ME . You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com
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