An Introduction to Colourstrings

By Rachel Erdos

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?


I have spoken with so many people who are unhappy with the beginning of their journey into the world of music.

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.

I found a path in the work of Géza Szilvay and the world of Colourstrings that he created.

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 wrong.”

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 became ‘Colourstrings’.

When a child begins their journey in a Colourstrings kindergarten, they are
introduced to a world of folk songs, characters and stories through The Singing
and 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 it...

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.

You will certainly hear it all from Géza himself from August 29th 2021 at The Exhale.

Rachel is a guest blogger and participant at The Exhale. She is also director and teacher of violin at Colourstrings Music School:
Visits to the school by interested teachers are welcomed.

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