Dalcroze Pedagogy: Motivating Repetition and Improving Movement

(adapted from Dittus’s Embodying Music)

In each lesson, Dalcroze students will need to engage in a fair amount of repetition until they achieve mastery or automatization of the required skill. This takes time and energy for the student and requires the instructor’s watchful eye to ensure that the students are sufficiently challenged and engaged. Furthermore, the difference between disinterest and focused attention can be difficult to ascertain. Students who appear bored may simply be concentrating on the task at hand. I’ve seen many instances of students looking as if they were not enjoying the activity when, in reality, they were focused on achieving its goal. It is essential for the teacher to nurture and guide students to find their own path while fostering a joyful environment.

Cultural differences, socioeconomic differences, differences in age, differences in level, and many other factors contribute to student demeanor in class. Sometimes, it can be difficult to read what students need to be successful, but often the right encouraging phrase or piece of helpful advice is all that is necessary to change a moment of frustration into a moment of achievement. This is why Dalcroze teachers need to keep their eyes on the movers in the room—they must see who is doing well while devising a plan to help all the students discover a path to success. As Fran Aronoff would often say, “Joy comes from meeting a challenge,” and when students can do something new as a result of the teaching environment, the joy will be palpable. Their delight will feed upon itself: students will be intrinsically motivated for even more challenges, knowing they will feel more joy as they arrive at mastery.

Sophisticated correction can lead to inspiration and success in the Dalcroze classroom, but learning to do so in a way that inspires and encourages joy can be difficult in part because of the complexity of the instructor’s job. In addition, each group of students will be different and present varied challenges to the teacher. Ultimately, a successful Dalcroze teacher must meet those challenges and determine the best course of action for each particular group of students. Regardless of the level of challenge, here are some ways to inspire the students to continue developing skills while maintaining joy and interest throughout the class.

Inspiration Through Encouragement and Correction

In Dalcroze Education, as in an instrumental lesson, the instructor needs to have taught the students a specific skill through movement while correcting and encouraging them to perform the task to the best
of their abilities. In my opinion, the more Dalcroze teachers think of our job in the Eurhythmics hall the way instrumental teachers might see themselves, the easier it is for them to pinpoint problems and help solve them. The challenge is always maintaining a balance of joy and personal expression with the demanding rigors of concentration, focus, hard work, difficulty, and complexity.

Of course, it isn’t necessary (or possible) to improve everything all at once. Students need time to experience, explore, and try out their own solutions before a teacher steps in and attempts to “fix” the issue. This can be challenging for new Dalcroze teachers because they will want everything to work out right away. However, perfection is not the goal, and it’s seldom the case in the Dalcroze classroom. Rather, the primary objective is to move toward mastery through the method itself, using Dalcroze principles, strategies, and techniques. It’s the ongoing dialogue between the music, the student, and the teacher that results in a deeper, more expressive understanding of the subject material.

As you offer suggestions and encouragement to the students, consider the following ideas. I usually aim for about 80 percent of the class to be able to demonstrate success with a given task before moving on to a new activity, but each Dalcroze teacher might view this differently, especially depending on the teaching environment and audience.

Begin by showing the students that you are aware of what they do. Comment on the things that are going well. Address concerns you might have. It is critical that students feel seen when there are issues and for them to receive instruction on how they might improve.

Do your best to be specific in instruction and correction. The degree of specificity is directly related to your level of trust with the students. This will vary from group to group. The teacher needs to assess
the students and then follow with specific actions to address and fix issues that are taking place in the Dalcroze hall. How a teacher corrects and encourages is unique; all teachers will do this in the way that will suit their personality and style. In the end, we aim to address issues in the room without sacrificing joy. Here are some scenarios.

If you offer specific criticism, be sure the students have your trust before you correct someone publicly. To avoid making individuals uncomfortable, apply the commentary to everyone. At first, one might address the students using general commentary, such as, “I see some people stepping like this…what is wrong with that picture?” or “I appreciate when I see people moving like this…what is it that I like about this movement?” If you want to address a specific person, you might consider having the class offer the criticism and encouragement instead of you, the teacher. This will help you assess what they know and can heighten the focus of the students.

When you do point out an issue with a student, praise them when they fix it. If you address one person, quickly address another person to diffuse the possibility of someone feeling singled out. Aim to address issues in the positive. Rather than state, “Don’t do X,” you might say, “Try to do Y.”

Always be ready to support, explain, and even defend what you are asking someone to do. This means that you have to think through all your movement and musical goals carefully. Consider what you move (precision) versus how you feel when you move (affect, mood, character, etc.). How you move and how the movement relates to the music contributes to a large portion of the artistry associated with Dalcroze Education. This doesn’t happen by accident. It must be cultivated through careful planning, expressive and precise movement, and constructive, encouraging words from the Dalcroze teacher.

In early Dalcroze experiences, students may not have the skills to make the artistic relationship between music and movement immediately. Everyday movement is not artistic until it becomes imbued with meaning. To offer meaning requires the mover to consider how and why they are moving in a given way. It is the teacher’s role to help students connect the how and why to the music.

For simplicity, sometimes it may be necessary to tell the students what to do. Other times, they must experience it for themselves. A balance of discovery versus a more didactic approach can be useful. Nevertheless, discovery-led learning provides deep learning. One of the best ways I know to correct movement is through discovery, either through visual, tactile, verbal, or aural means. Pointing out what is positive in the room is a great way for students to discover what to do as well. But this is not universal: different audiences, teachers, and cultures will have varied opinions on how to correct students. In the end, if you address and fix issues while maintaining joy, then it is good Dalcroze work.

Be sensitive to the students’ needs. Gain a sense for when you might be pushing or asking too much of a student. It depends on the group and their trust in you. In some cases, you may not be able to fix the problem, but you should at least address it. Some problems need time to marinate and will get fixed over time. Here, adaptation manifests as a two-way street—students must adapt to the teacher, and the teacher must adapt to the students.

Inspiration Through Experience

There is no magic recipe for becoming a Dalcrozian! It takes time to develop and experience this work: trial and error, practice, repetition, discovery, and above all, courage. However, the more we can identify and share the key elements of our practice that have helped to shape our experiences, the more we can accomplish as a community. I am always interested in how others motivate students and improve their movement through the Dalcroze practice. Perhaps this could be a dialogue for future DSA Dalcroze Connections articles? Let’s keep the conversation going as we move forward together.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of Dalcroze Connections, Vol. 5 No. 2.

About Jeremy Dittus

Jeremy Dittus enjoys an international career as a pianist, theorist, and Dalcroze Education Specialist.  He currently directs the Dalcroze School of the Rockies, teaches on the faculty of Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and serves on l’Collège de l’Institut Jaques-Dalcroze.