August 16, 2021
Anyone who has young children or has the privilege to work with young children knows about the qualities they possess; qualities that adults and teens can feel were lost very early on in life. The ability to experience joy in anything and everything. To be engrossed in an activity for hours without any loss of flow or awareness. To be able to conjure a whole world from the imagination or to turn a repetitive task (practice, essentially) into a game. The list goes on. Is it really inevitable that these qualities are completely lost as we master a skill or just learn how to function and survive in the world?
Either there was a lack of care, thought and nurturing or, at the other end of the scale, they were expected to submit to the so- called ‘adult’ way of learning so that these so-called ‘childish’ qualities were suppressed.
When I was searching for a way to teach music, I hoped to find something better for both my students and for myself; some way of nurturing and celebrating these ‘childish’ qualities and bringing out the music that exists innately in every one of us.
Great creations often build on and develop what has gone before. In the case
of Colourstrings, this is the work of Zoltán Kodály, the Hungarian composer,
ethnomusicologist, pedagogue, linguist, and philosopher (1882 –1967). Kodály dedicated
himself to studying the benefits, perils, and pitfalls of many types of music
education. Amongst many things he recognised the need for balance in the
musical development of a child; “The characteristics of a good musician can be
summarised as follows: A well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a
well-trained heart and a well-trained hand. All four must develop together in
constant equilibrium. As one lags behind or rushes ahead, there is something
Moreover, in terms of the quality of both music and teachers, Kodály’s
sentiments were quite simple and direct; “only the best is good enough for
children”. Music is spiritual food. It should be completely integrated into the
daily lives of children and we need to take care that they have a quality diet!
Géza Szilvay arrived in Finland in 1971. As well as leading his family
string quartet, he found himself both expecting his first child and teaching
Finnish children. He began the work of translating Kodály’s approach for
strings with the needs of his daughter and these children in mind. This work
When a child begins their journey in a Colourstrings kindergarten, they areintroduced to a world of folk songs, characters and stories through The Singingand Rhythm Rascals books.
At our school in Kingston, SW London, the
children come from age 18 months and this world of music seeps seamlessly and
unconsciously into their lives. I have seen this from the other side with my
four-year-old son, who loves his weekly moment of games, friends and singing
with his beloved teachers, Nod and Cath. There is no sense of any need to
accomplish or even the realisation that this is ‘learning’. At home he sings
and dances a lot... and so do we!
Children at Colourstrings start an instrument anywhere between age 5 and 7 when they are both ready and keen.
The four-coloured characters of the strings (hence ‘Colourstrings’) are
introduced on the first page. Importantly, the kindergarten repertoire forms
the musical basis from the very beginning, so the musical material is already
deeply known. As one young child said, “I sang the song and now my cello is
going to sing it"
Every moment of Colourstrings teaching allows for maximum creativity in both
student and teacher. The Colourstrings books form a flexible framework that
relies on teachers to use their own intelligence, ingenuity, and imagination.
There is so much scope for variation and exploration that every child can be
given exactly what they need when they need it. All the senses are used.
Reading, writing, improvisation, composition, and transposition are all there
to balance musical development. The extensive use of harmonics and left-hand
pizzicato is utterly ingenious and a game changer in terms of both mechanical
development and in removing the burden of intonation in the earliest stages.
Colourstrings teachers are trained as to how to carefully mould and physically
support their students. Chamber music and ensemble repertoire is integral and
introduced from the start. I imagine I will be preaching to the choir when I
say this, but we know how much playing music together helps us to understand
other people. It is a communication beyond words, and I really think the power
of a music education such as Colourstrings is tremendous. Imagine a world where
every child could be given this opportunity and every adult had experienced
There is so much more to describe, but as this is only the introduction to the ‘Introduction to Colourstrings’, it is beyond the scope of this piece to go further.
Rachel is a guest blogger and participant at The Exhale. She is also
director and teacher of violin at Colourstrings Music School: https://www.colourstringsmusicschool.co.uk/Visits to the school by interested teachers are welcomed.
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