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What Makes Waldorf Music Education Unique? Part 1

One question I get asked frequently: what makes Waldorf music education unique? The short answer: a number of things! The long answer? I'll be walking you through it in a series of posts. These posts are written primarily for music educators and others with classical training, but I'm hopeful that other readers will get something out of it, too. In this post, I'll share what is the same or very similar to other music education styles, particularly the work of Zoltan Kodaly and Carl Orff as well as the key difference. In following posts, I will address various musical elements including rhythm, melody, and harmony.

What is the same/similar?

1. Waldorf music educators begin with singing. If you have gotten the impression that Waldorf music education is all about the flute (whistle), or recorder, I understand - that seems to be the hot topic whenever folks begin discussing music education from a Waldorf viewpoint. You will find flutes for sale, books of flute music, as well as numerous programs that are for teaching flute. Sadly, singing is completely overlooked or rushed through entirely! But singing is the foundation of any great music education - including a Waldorf music education! Steiner himself said that singing was the beginning for all that follows, and though flute playing often steals the spotlight, the star of the show is really the beauty of the human voice. Singing first, followed by playing an instrument or reading music notation is very like the work of Carl Orff and Zoltan Kodaly.

2. Another similarity is that the introduction of concepts and skills, including the introduction of harmony, follows a sequence. In my research in preparing to create Music Unfolds for Waldorf Essentials with Melisa Nielsen, I was delighted to discover that the signposts Steiner left us indicating what concepts and skills to teach and in which order dovetail nicely with the ideas of Zoltan Kodaly. The Kodaly teaching weave is an integral part of Music Unfolds, in fact. We proceed from singing to learning basic building blocks for rhythm and harmony, slowly creating a rich musical language based on the child's experience. As with any great music education, we start simply and build greater complexity as the child's ability and understanding grow.

3. Singing and sequencing work hand-in-hand to provide the student with ear-training. Any excellent music education focuses not only on performing and reading, but on developing "seeing ears and hearing eyes" - that is, the ability to hear music printed on a page and the ability to see notation upon hearing a musical passage. A true musician does not merely recreate mechanically - a musician feels. This skill requires a much deeper connection with music, more than an academic understanding that allows one to play or sing what is printed on a page. It demands developing the powers of imitation, observation, intuition, creation and more.

Where Waldorf diverges from other methods is primarily in the timing. Students following the Music Unfolds curriculum will eventually learn all of the concepts and skills in the Our Music Garden curriculum (Sprouts for preschool and Seedlings for kindergarten), they will just do them later. Music Unfolds is a Waldorf-true curriculum and Our Music Garden, though Waldorf-inspired, follows a traditional framework for when children are introduced to concepts and skills. If you are at all familiar with Waldorf education, this will come as no surprise! For those who are new to Waldorf education, as you learn more, you will discover that whereas Waldorf does indeed get to all the concepts and skills of a traditional education - and often more deeply and thoroughly - it does it in its own time. For example, we wait for academics until around 7 years of age - whereas children of 5 are expected to be reading in a traditional setting! Likewise, whereas in a traditional teaching situation, I introduce the concepts of fast and slow, short and long, high and low, loud and soft, smooth and choppy, same/different/similar in preschool and kindergarten, we wait to draw the child's attention to these spectra until around age 8. Of course, they are experiencing these things, but we do not give them a name or ask them to notice them until later.

In Part II, I'll walk you through how individual elements are treated - rhythm, melody, and harmony. I hope you'll join me Thursday, June 13 at 3 p.m. CST on the Hearth & Gnome Facebook page for my live event. I'll be talking more about this topic and providing additional info there. Questions you'd like me to address? Please send me a message - I'd love to hear from you!

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