Dalcroze Approach to Music Education

Ballance Talent Education

Renton, Washington

Dalcroze Eurhythmics

“The stronger the muscular sensation, the clearer and more precise the image.”
“The acuteness of our musical feelings will depend on the acuteness of our bodily sensations.”

Emile Jacques-Dalcroze

The Beginnings

Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, a composer, theorist, and teacher, was teaching at the Geneva Conservatory in Switzerland. He was frustrated by the lack of musicality, fluency, accuracy, and expression of his students’ performances. According to Dalcroze, he began developing his ideas after watching a student who had terrible rhythmical difficulties walk smoothly and with an even rhythm out of the classroom. Dalcroze believed that if he could help that student to tap into the smooth, natural rhythms of his body when walking, he could help him solve his rhythm problems. Dalcroze’s classes soon began to resemble dance classes, rather than theory classes, with the barefooted students moving around an empty room to improvised music.

Emile Jacques-Dalcroze sought to help his students connect the rhythms, phrasing, and emotions of music to the physical movements of their bodies. His experiments led to the development of Eurhythmics.

Today the Dalcroze approach is one of the leading approaches in music education and has significantly influenced many educational methods, both in music and other fields. Dalcroze is unique in the music education field because it is equally beneficial for all ages and ability levels, from preschool children to conservatory students and professional musicians. In advanced study, participants learn to completely internalize, perform, and embody kinesthetically all aspects of music, such as polyrhythms, syncopations, phrasing, and the emotional affects created by harmony and melody. This enormously improves musical expression, creativity of interpretation, and accuracy in performance. Because Dalcroze produces these results, major conservatories, including Juilliard, the Cleveland Institute of Music, Longy, and Carnegie-Mellon require their students to take Dalcroze Eurhythmics classes.

Three areas of study

The complete Dalcroze approach is composed of three main subjects: solfège (which also includes harmony and ear-training), Eurhythmics, and improvisation. Together they encompass all aspects of music. Eurhythmics is rhythmic training, in the musical use of rhythm, accuracy of performance, phrasing, form, and musical characterization. Solfege studies melody and harmony with a special emphasis on their expressive functions.  Improvisation, although often used in isolated contexts in both Eurhythmics and solfège classes to develop skills, unites all the rhythm and pitch skills to create expressive music spontaneously. Improvisation awakens expressive and musical creativity, leading to more vivid and moving performances of both written music and improvised music.

Eurhythmics is one of the most unique and effective elements of this method. It helps students develop accuracy, fluency, musicality, and ensemble skills through studying, responding to, and performing rhythms using the entire body. It unites listening, analysis, theoretical knowledge, and performance through the kinesthetic sense of the physical movements of the body.

Playing any musical instrument requires great coordination and control. All the physical movements used in playing an instrument must be regulated and organized by rhythm. These movements require both coordination between areas of the body and dis-ordination, when different body parts must move at different speeds and in conflicting rhythms. Eurhythmics develops the physical awareness, control, ease, and rhythmic organization to effortlessly move in all the varieties of coordinated and dis-ordinated movement necessary for playing a musical instrument well. A sensitive Dalcroze teacher can lead students to use and explore motions in their Eurhythmics classes that they will use on when playing their instruments. For this reason and others, Dalcroze believed children should take Eurhythmics classes prior to learning to play an instrument. Other teachers have recognized these benefits. The necessity of mastering rhythm with the entire body as a basis for developing good instrumental technique was fundamental to Paul Rolland’s approach to string playing. He started his students with rhythm games and activities that resemble Eurhythmics.

Eurhythmics comprehensively explores many aspects of music first through experiencing them aurally and physically. These experiences lead to the ability to reproduce and describe the musical material before analyzing or reading it from printed notation. Because moving from the unknown to the known through physical and aural experiences is a gradual process, the study of Eurhythmics often precedes the study of solfège and improvisation. Rhythm forms the foundation upon which melody, harmony, and phrasing are built. Singing and the musical use of the voice without pitch are an important part of Eurhythmics training that prepare for the more complex aspects of music studied in solfège and harmony.

Dalcroze unites the ear, the body, and the brain in working together, responding to and spontaneously creating music in real time. The connections built between the kinesthetic sense, the ear, and the brain, and the fact that work is done in real time, means that Dalcroze is an ideal preparation and continued counterpart for instrumental and vocal training. Dalcroze and Suzuki share many goals and procedures. Dalcroze is an ideal counterpart Suzuki’s educational philosophy and can be used by Suzuki teachers to more effectively help their students achieve the mental, musical, technical, and emotional goals sought by Dr. Suzuki.

Phonomimesis: How Dalcroze Works

“I want [my students] to learn how to listen. To be the best they can, and never play on automatic pilot.”
“I teach students to listen as close to 100% as possible. If they reach to low nineties, believe me, they’re in good shape.”

Itzhak Perlman

Phonomimesis is the fundamental principle behind Dalcroze Eurhythmics and all musical expression. The word phono means “sound” and mimesis means “to mime.” Phonomemisis means to physically and visually represent and express sound without making sound. For every sound there is a movement, unique to each individual, that mimics, represents, and expresses that sound. Conversely, for every movement there is a sound the evokes and expresses that movement.

Phonomimesis underlies the creation of all nuances of sound on an instrument and is essential to fill the role of a conductor. The gesture that mimes any sound is often extremely similar to the physical gesture used to create that type of sound on an instrument. Great conductors can elicit all nuances of sound from an orchestra simply through their conducting because their gestures visually inspire the musicians to produce those sounds and emotions.

To do phonomimesis, attentive and active listening must be developed and turned on. Dalcroze work relies on acute listening and vivd, personal responses to many layers of sound nuances. We learn best through discovering new ideas and gaining new knowledge ourselves through our own experiences. Music is fundamentally a sonic experience and is best explored through experiencing musical sounds. Phonomimesis transforms the sonic experience into a kinesthetic experience, allowing us to understand in our own bodies the similarities and differences between different musics. This also develops more perceptive listening and fosters greater creativity.

Timing vs. Rhythm

Our word rhythm comes for the Greek word rhythmos, which means “measured flow or movement.” Rhythmos could be used to describe the flow of water in a river, waves moving across the ocean or onto the beach, or the ebb and flow of the tide.

Timing describes the particular point at which an event occurs or the exact duration between two event, such as exact moment at which a runner crosses the finish line. Timing is extremely specific, but only measures the exact moment at which an event begins or ends. Timing does not describe the movement from the starting blocks to the finish line.

Both rhythm and timing are crucial in musical performance, but they are fundamentally different. One can walk with exactly the same timing between footfalls on a wood floor, on ice, or through knee-deep mud. Although the timing may be exactly the same, the flow, ease, and care of movement and physical effort to produce each footfall in these situations is extremely different. Timing in music describes the exact moment at which a note begins or ends within the context of beats, meter, subdivisions, or seconds and milliseconds. Rhythm encompasses all aspects and nuances of the flow of movement between individual notes or within the gestures created by groups of notes. Rhythm also describes the yearning or elation of reaching toward, arriving, and relaxing away from the climax of a phrase, movement, scene, or an entire symphony or opera. The exact timing of these events is only a result caused by the nuances of movement and flow through physical, musical, or emotional time and space.

Creating the proper flow of movement will effortlessly and expressively produce the proper timing. Dalcroze Eurhythmics studies rhythm and timing simultaneously using the flow and movements found in the natural motions of our bodies and in the world around us. We seek to embody and experience all aspects of rhythm (all nuances of flow and movement) in relationship to listening, understanding, creating, and performing all styles of music.

The kinesthetic sense, developed through becoming conscious of the flow of movement in our bodies, directly enhances all instrumental performance skills. Kinesthetic awareness is the first step in learning to master any instrumental skill and create nuances of musical expression. Different qualities of physical movement create different sounds on an instrument. Becoming aware of and learning to create nuances of physical movement in response to music will facilitate learning to produce expressive and nuanced music on an instrument.

Goals of Dalcroze

Mental, emotional, and social goals:

1. Development of attention and awareness
2. Convert attention to concentration
3. Convert concentration to active and responsive listening (aural, visual, kinesthetic)


4. Objective observation and assessment of one’s performance leading to...
5. Self-correction and developing increasingly more skilled and more accurate performances through practice, which develops...
6. Confidence through observing one’s own improvement


7. Social integration (develop awareness of the similarities and differences between oneself and others; develop appropriate responses between oneself and others in a group; develop ensemble, teamwork, and cooperation skills)


8. Develop memory (aural, visual, kinesthetic)
9. Develop acute physical responses to and expression of all nuances of sound and feeling
10. Develop creativity and explore new ways of thinking, feeling and listening through experiences and experimentation

Physical goals:

1. Ease, comfort, and fluency of performance
2. Accuracy of performance
3. Personal expressiveness and creativity of performance, utilizing the physical laws of:

Time + Space + Energy + Weight + Balance + Plasticity
Within a field of gravity and subject to differing degrees of resistance

4. Develop inner hearing and conscious kinesthesia

Musical goals:

1. Quick, accurate, comfortable, creative, and expressive personal responses to music
2. Convert personal response to music into expressive representative performance (phonomimesis)


3. Discover musical elements that created the character and affect, such as nuances of tempo, dynamics, accents, articulations, trills, rests, cadences, phrasing, etc. (analysis)
4. Convert representative performance into sound performance using both one’s voice and instruments
5. Convert performances (mime and sound) into representative symbols (notation)
6. Convert symbols (notated music) into expressively creative physical and musical performances


7. Create expressive music spontaneously in real time (improvisation)
8. Explore and create many new and effective interpretations of music (creativity and spontaneity)



Dalcroze Education

1. Music is the Teacher. Music presents concepts, develops skills, and deepens our understanding. Music Stimulates and Regulates learning activities.

2. The Body and the Voice are the Instrument. We learn through moving, utilizing variations of Time, Space, and Energy, and through making music with our voices. We learn through Social Interaction, moving and singing together with our friends.

3. Dalcroze inspires Discovery-Based, Imaginative, Experiential Learning. This learning experience is created by the Spirit of Play that infuses all Dalcroze work.

4. Dalcroze nurtures Imagination, Creativity, Active Listening, Improvisation.

5. Theory Follows Practice. First we experience and respond to a concept in music through movement or singing. Next we may echo music that uses this concept. Next we may create or improvise music incorporating that concept. Then we discover what it is we heard, echoed, and by describing and analyzing--figuring out what we were doing. Finally we give that concept, already experienced and used in music and movement, a name and its notational symbol and compose, notate, or read music using our new knowledge. This entire process may take place over the course of many classes. Further practice and repetition over a long period of time will transform this knowledge into a skill.

Dalcroze/Abramson/Ballance: 38 Elements of Rhythm

1. Time + Space + Energy + Weight + Balance + Plasticity
Within a field of gravity and subject to differing degrees of resistance

2. Regular Beats--Extrinsic Forms

Crusic, Meatacrusic, Anacrusic beat qualities
Beats with the Laban effort qualities of Glide, Dab, Flick, Float, Punch, and Press
Beats created through moving against various levels of resistance, both real and imaginary
Beats with curvy and straight movement qualities (beats with binary vs. ternary subdivisions)

3. Tempo

The rate of speed: All tempi are studied and responded to with movement activities.

4. Nuances of Tempo

Accelerando and ritardando

5. Dynamics

All levels of energy and weight

6. Nuances of Dynamics

Crescendi and diminuendi at different energy levels and with different pacing and durations; Subito piano and subito forte

7. Articulation

Staccato, legato, portamento, tenuto, attack, sustain, release, vibrato possibilities: All these possibilities are also studied in combination with nuances of dynamic energy and in many different tempi.

8. Accents

Dynamic, Metric, Agogic, Tonic, Ornamental, Pathetic, Harmonic, Articulation, Textural, and Syncopated accents

9. Measure

Cycling beat qualities and energies to create meters, meters created from straight and curvy beats (simple and compound meters)

10. Hyper-Measure

Groups of measures in which each measure as an entire entity functions with a crusic, metacrusic, or anacrusic energy within the larger measure group. For example, a given passage may group together into 3-measure units, in which the first measure of each has the downward energy of a crusic beat, the next measure the relaxing energy of a metacrusic beat, and the final measure the growing energy pushing upward and forward into the next measure of an anacrusic beat.

11. Rests

Rests as an active silence or replacement for a sound: Qualities, moods, and emotions of silence created by rests in different musical contexts

12. Duration

Variations of length created by addition - The study of agogic weight and the movement through notes longer than one beat

13. Subdivision

Dividing a beat into smaller units of equal length, creating a change of speed and quality of movement: Eighth-notes, sixteenth-notes, triplets, etc.

14. Patterns

Constructions, designs, and gestures made from rhythmic elements

15. Intrinstic Beat

Extracting the underlying beat background from a rhythmic pattern or musical composition in which the beat is not explicitly stated, only implied

16. Phrasing

Patterns are joined to create phrases whose cadences are created by the appropriate placement of rests, accents, and comparative durations.
Crusic, metacrusic, and anacrusic phrase forms are studied with attention to the different effects created by these different phrase forms.
Regular and irregular phrase lengths and cadences on different beats

17. One-Voice Forms

Motive, Phrase, Period, Theme; Theme and Variations; Song and Dance Part-Forms

18. Rhythmic Diminution

Twice as fast, three times as fast, four times as fast.........

19. Rhythmic Augmentation

Twice as slow, three times as slow, four times as slow......

20. Rhythmic Counterpoint

The ability to perform two or more different rhythmic patterns simultaneously while preserving their individual qualities and expressing new qualities created through their interaction. When combined with melody, this develops the ability to hear two or more lines of music simultaneously with inner hearing. Develops the ability to interact with other musicians and their musical lines in an ensemble.

21. Syncopation

Syncopations created by Retardation or Anticipation, creating a violent disruption of a normal beat pattern, The musical and expressive effects created by, and the differences between, the different types of syncopation, Accurate performance of syncopated rhythms

22. One-Voice Forms With Accompaniment

One-voice with ostinato, chordal, and contrapuntal accompaniments

23. Contrapuntal Forms

Ostinato layers
Ostinato accompaniment with variations: Bicennium, Chaconne, Passacaglia, Medieval and Baroque dance variations

24. Canon

Interrupted (antiphonal call and response) and continuous (imitative counterpoint) canons

25. Fugue

The mixing of strict canonic imitation with episodes of free rhythmic counterpoint

26. Complimentary Rhythm

Complimentary beats are those which “complete” the rhythmic pattern by responding to beats of longer duration with beats of shorter duration, thereby articulating the beats unstated in the primary melody. Complimentary beats always occur after the initial attack of the original pattern and are never speak simultaneously with the primary pattern.

27. Additive Rhythm

Durations created by addition, Building beats by grouping smaller pulses together to create beats of varying, but related durations (chronos protos)
Beat groupings such as: 2+3, 2+2+3, 3+3+2, etc.

28. Unequal Measures

The beat remains constant but the number of beats in each measure changes. Music in which the meter changes frequently, moving for example between 5/4, 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4
Musical effects created by the changing groupings of crusic, metacrusic, and anacrusic beats in these meters

29. Unequal Beats

Changes in beat sizes, such as eighth notes, quarter notes, dotted quarter notes, half notes, etc. The number of beats in each measure remain constant, but the size of the beats change.
Musical and movement quality effects caused by these changes

30. Unequal Measures and Unequal Beats

Combinations of the previous two rhythmic and metric elements

31. Polymetrics

Layering two or more different meters simultaneously while maintaining an underlying beat relationship

32. Polyrhythmics

Layering two of more different rhythms simultaneously.
Layering two or more different rhythms, each composed of notes of equal value, that fit into the same time span (within a measure or beat). Cross-rhythms such as 2 against 3, 3 against 2, 3 against 4, 4 against 3, etc.

33. Hemiola

Hemi means “half” and ola means “whole.” Hemiola is an interplay between metrics and temporal proportions involving groupings of a larger group of three superimposed against a smaller group of three.
This occurs most commonly in measures of 6/8 or 3/4 (and their larger companions 12/8 and 6/4). The groupings of the six subdivisions are temporarily changed from 3 groups of 2 subdivisions (quarter notes) to 2 groups of 3 notes (dotted quarter notes) by accents, note values, or melodic groupings of notes.

34. Rhythmic Transformation

Changing rhythmic groupings from simple to compound meter (or straight to curvy beats). This change produces a shift of accent, a change of movement quality (from straight to curvy), or both of those changes combined.
Several different types of transformation are possible:
Those in which the number of beats in the meter remain constant (2/4--6/8, 3/4--9/8, 4/4--12/8).
Those in which the number of subdivisions remain constant but the number of beats in each measure change (3/4-6/8).
Those in which both the beats or subdivision may change, resulting in unequal beat patterns (2/4-5/8, 6/8-5/8, or other similar changes; 4/4-8/8 [3+3+2], 9/8 [3+3+3]--9/8 [2+2+2+3], or other similar changes.)

35. Divisions of Twelve

By grouping and regrouping into division of twelve, one can clearly observe and experience the possible shifts of beat and meter, and feel the effect and interaction among two or more rhythmic groupings.

36. Rubato

Rubare in Italian means “to steal.” Rubato is the lengthening or shortening of rhythmic values within a musical pattern for expressive purposes while maintaining an underlying steady beat. Use of rubato also involves the ability to vary lengths of both rhythmic patterns and underlying beats while still arriving together at important harmonic cadences in tempo.

37. Dance Rhythms

The rhythms of dances underlie much music throughout the world. Studying the dance steps, dance rhythms, and phrasing leads to a better understanding of music overtly and covertly based on these dances. Studying the dance rhythms in connection with specific pieces helps to create more characterful and expressive performances.
Dances such as the Pavane, Minuet, Allemande, Courante, Gigue, Sarabande, Bourree, Chaconne, Waltz, and others are studied.

38. Five Worlds of Rhythm

Comparative study of the worlds of:
Non-metric rhythms
Metric rhythms
Additive rhythms
Unequal measures
Unequal beats
Each of these five worlds can exist independently in different regions of the world and at different points in history. In Western music of the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, composers often combine more than one of these rhythmic worlds in a single composition.


Five Skill Levels

1. Unconscious Unskilled

You do not have a skill and do not know that you do not have that particular skill. You lack the knowledge and understanding of how to perform a task and are unaware of your deficiency. “Sure, I can play the Dvorak concerto or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” although you have never heard or played them, nor know what technical and musical skills you would need to perform these pieces. Because you are completely unaware of what is required to play these pieces, playing them does not seem challenging to you.

2. Conscious Unskilled

You still do not have a particular skill, but now know that you do not posses a skill. You have become aware of something you cannot do and know that steps must be taken to master that skill. You now realize that you cannot play the Dvorak concerto or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” yet and are aware that you will have to develop many new skills to play them. You desire to master these new skills and music and achieve a higher level of performance.

This is the stage where all learning begins.

3. Conscious Skilled

Through proper practice you have learned to execute a new skill, but it takes great focus, concentration, and conscious effort. You can now play the Dvorak concerto or “Twinkle, Twinkle,” but must constantly be focusing intently on executing the notes, rhythms, and bowings. The task is still very challenging. You know that you can play these pieces, but do not own them yet.

Your knowledge is not yet fluent, easy, or consistently reliable. Sadly, this is the stage at which many teachers let their students stop, moving them on to the next piece, activity, or skill.

4. Unconscious Skilled

Through continued effective practice you can perform the skill effortlessly and without thought. At this stage of development, the skill has become internalized and something you can execute flawlessly in many situations and contexts. Playing the Dvorak concerto or “Twinkle, Twinkle,” is now easy and comfortable.

Your knowledge is now embodied, internalized knowledge.

5. Unconscious Proactively Skilled

You now completely own your performance and are “at one” with the music you are performing, able to personally convey its meaning to your audience. The Dvorak concerto or “Twinkle, Twinkle,” and all the skills needed to play them effortlessly and flawlessly, have become so much a part of you that you can freely express the emotional meaning of the music and spontaneously create a new interpretation of the music in the moment of performance. We see and hear these performances from the greatest musical artists. This is the highest level of artistry--the ability to perform a piece, and while performing, be available to be musically responsive, make artistic decisions, and to express the music you are performing so intimately that it is as if you had created the piece yourself. In ensemble performances this also includes continually and spontaneously interacting in real time with the other musicians musically, visually, and emotionally.

Achieving Unconscious Proactively Skilled

“As far as I am concerned, the point of practicing at all is to increase the probability that you are going to get it right in the concert. The only way I know how to do that is to repeat the passage correctly as many times as possible.”
David Finckel

“The point of practicing is not to do it until you get it right. It is to do it until you never get it wrong.”
Colin Carr

“Work to enjoy your craft. You can only do this if you practice with great intent and very slowly. Not fast and stupid.”
Richard Aaron

Talent is not inherited, genetic, nor an arbitrary gift. The skills we recognize in “talented” individuals are the results of much dedicated practice over the course of many years. The only way that a person can achieve excellence at any task or skill is through daily practice and much repetition. The pursuit of the fifth skill level requires dedication far beyond simple practice. This is demonstrated by many Olympic athletes who train strenuously for many years, regulating their diet, sleep, and social activities very carefully. Their entire life revolves around their athletic pursuit.

Every child is capable of achieving the fifth skill level with every piece and at every level of development, but few do. The primary reasons for this lack of achievement are:

1. Teacher does not believe or have the vision that their young students can achieve this level of expertise.

2. Teacher does not posses him/herself these skills, or understand and communicate the process for developing these skills to the students and parents. The teacher does not analyze and break down the task into its component parts so that the child can practice and master the necessary skills.

3. Parent does not provide the opportunity for child to develop these skills through regular, consistent, and focussed daily practice, or the proper equipment and environment. As children get older, this responsibility rests more on them and less upon the parents.

4. Parents, teachers, and students, are impatient, forging ahead too quickly to master any piece or skill completely. A piece is finished and new one started as soon as the child can barely squawk through the first one.

Many parents wonder why their children do not play their instrument well or make noticeable improvement, especially when compared with other children in their teacher’s studio. The reason for their lack of improvement can usually be traced to the amount, consistency, and quality of practice. Suzuki frequently assigned his students to practice a particular task or skill 10,000 times before their next lesson. “Knowledge x 10,000 times = ability,” he said.

What we repeatedly do will become internalized, habitual, and natural. In order to achieve the fifth skills level, these 10,000 repetitions must be correct repetitions. Each repetition must be evaluated by the practicer to determine if the desired result was achieved. If not, the cause of the mistake must be discovered and solved. This process requires intense concentration, very attuned listening, and kinesthetic awareness. Repeating something over and over again incorrectly will only solidify and internalize the bad habit.

The same practice, review, and internalization time must be utilized by the Dalcroze teacher and teachers using his approaches. In private lessons and group classes, teachers must frequently continue reviewing, practicing, and interalizing skills and musical concepts. It is essential to refrain from moving forward and teaching a new topic in each class or lesson.

Children who have had very careful and thorough training early in life rarely forget the skills they have learned. Children who have learned an instrument poorly, using unhealthful and inefficient techniques and undeveloped listening, must unlearn all of these poor habits later in life if they wish to succeed. In many cases they will continue to fight these early-learned habits for the rest of their lives. For this reason, musicians who become successful professionals have usually had exceptional early training that allowed them to flourish extensively later in life.


Ballance Talent Education