The Follow: A Reaction of Nuance

The follow is a uniquely American Dalcroze teaching strategy and combines elements of association, dissociation, improvisation, and group exercise. Here, Leslie Upchurch describes the elements that comprise a follow activity, as well as several examples of how to use the follow when teaching students of various ages.

My first Dalcroze eurhythmics experience was as a freshman music major at Carnegie Mellon University. It was wonderful that this was a required musicianship class. Dr. Marta Sanchez improvised beautifully, and I recall following her playing as we moved around a large space. I enjoyed the class. She was not one to speak much about what we had done. There were no lengthy instructions. She said a few words after class.

Her teaching process gave me my first concrete information about musical interpretation. Piano teachers I had were more like coaches. For example, they did not regularly talk about analyzing phrases or structure. They would say things like “play a crescendo” or “decrescendo” or “lift your hands to breathe,” maybe mentioning a phrase.

My eurhythmics classes opened my ears and my eyes to what made music so engaging. My amazing eurhythmics professor, Dr. Marta Sanchez, rarely explained with words. I was able to craft music more intelligently, beyond my natural instincts. Yes, I had learned musical forms before, and I studied harmony and analysis in different classes. Eurhythmics made it all come alive. I became intrigued to the point of becoming a lifelong Dalcroze teacher.

I was learning to put the movement into practice, interpreting music in a more informed fashion. I was more aware of phrasing, anacrusis, crusis, and metacrusis. This helped me better understand the coaching my teachers were offering me when before, I had been dependent on them. Eurhythmics gave me skills for self-interpretation.

The Term “Follow” in a Dalcroze Eurhythmics Class

The Dalcroze eurhythmics pedagogical process has several specific procedures, and one is called a “follow.” While historically, in the United States, there have been varying definitions of a follow, nowadays, the DSA’s T2 program directors have agreed that the follow is a reaction of nuance. Sometimes the term is misunderstood, as students are generally directed to follow the music provided by a Dalcroze teacher singing, playing the piano or another instrument, or a recording.

In a follow, students listen to, move to, then memorize a rhythm pattern at an appropriate level of difficulty and length for the level of the class.

A follow is an example of an association, dissociation, and an improvisation. The students first begin with association: moving with the music. The teacher asks the students to respond when they notice the change. The response could be something like “walk alone when you hear a steady beat, then find a partner, join hands, and swing your arms together when you hear the big or macro beat. Return to walking when the steady beat is played again.” The skill to respond to associations is one of the initial exercises.

A standard sequence for a follow typically looks like this: The teacher plays or sings a rhythm pattern. Students clap, gesture, or tap the pattern, then step the pattern. Once the class knows the pattern, the teacher will direct the students to move the pattern regardless of what they hear. The teacher will not continue playing the pattern, but the students keep performing the initial pattern.

A follow, no matter what label is used, is a staple of every Dalcroze eurhythmics class.

An Example

The pattern is short-short-long, also known as an anapest. The teacher plays the anapest until the class is moving the pattern correctly. This is when the teacher starts to change what they are playing. If this anapest is beat-beat-half, the teacher may play half-half or just beats. The teacher could also choose to play only whole notes. As the class moves, the teacher evaluates the class and, if they lose the pattern, returns to support the students by playing the rhythm.

The follow can only occur once the pattern is established. Both tempo and dynamics, as well as articulation and register, can be changed in the teacher’s playing. Students are asked to express the changes through their movements, large or small.

Anne Farber is credited with originating the follow as it is currently practiced in the United States. I recall being in a workshop with Anne decades ago. She had established a rhythm pattern which we were asked to recognize, then step into a hoop on the floor when we heard it. It was a simple and easy exercise. Anne was clapping the pattern and steady beats as a contrast. She started changing the tempo and dynamics of the pattern and my enthusiasm for the activity jumped from “This is okay” to “Wow!” I always considered Anne a master clapper. She could perform amazing nuances with clapping.

In my decades of teaching, I have taught students from toddlers through high school, college-aged through senior citizens. I also teach for two Dalcroze teacher training centers. A follow, no matter what label is used, is a staple of every Dalcroze eurhythmics class. Some interpretations of follows for different ages and levels of students are below.

Children from 18 months to 3 years old

One early observation I made of babies listening to music was when I was doing a practice run-through of a recital. I had just purchased my Steinway M and it was in my parents’ house. We had invited some neighbors. They had a baby under the age of one. The baby was fussing but always stopped when the music stopped, started, or changed dramatically. I had never taught very young children at this point, but I never forgot that experience. I now teach music for toddlers. I used that realization, the idea of change, to keep them engaged for classes forty-five minutes in length. They attend these classes with a grown-up.

Preparation for follows with associations is a part of the work with these very young students. Work based solely on stopping and starting is the beginning. One association begins with children sitting on a grown-up’s lap. I sing a song about riding, which I accompany with the autoharp. I sing one tempo and one dynamic level. I observe whether or not movement stops when the music stops. I follow the class response as the grown-ups “ride” the children on their laps. I notice the ways riding is being done. Everyone tries these different ways. I adjust my playing and singing to match the different movements. This groundwork of changing tempos and dynamics to fit the movement happening in the class prepares children for moving independently to music in later classes.

Children from 4 to 7

These students are generally alone in class. I set up musical cues for instructions that they remember and follow, such as standing up, sitting down, finding their own spot, choosing a partner, or getting into a circle (see below). These cues are introduced throughout the early part of the year. I may change tempos, dynamics, modality, keys, or registers on the piano for the cues once the students are familiar with them.

These signals are included in my initial use of follow. I can play gradual tempo and dynamic changes such as  accelerando, ritardando, crescendo, and decrescendo for them.

Through the use of other activities such as clapping, tapping, locomotion, and manipulating scarves or bean bags, students can begin connecting to tempo, dynamics, and nuance.

Rhythmic patterns may be introduced, such as the pattern clapped for bingo. Varying the way the pattern is clapped can include some tempo and dynamic changes. As a visual aid, I use a bigger stuffed lamb for forte and a tiny stuffed lamb for piano. The class is now associating with different dynamics. I also use three tempo words: adagio, moderato, and presto. Students as young as four may be able to choose both a dynamic level and tempo, such as forte and adagio together.

With six- and seven-year-olds, I may do formal follows with a rhythm pattern. This would be a short pattern. Four beats could be the length. Simple/binary or compound/ternary could be my choices. Once the class is accustomed to moving many note values and tempos, they may move to rhythms found in songs they know. Rhythm patterns from “Frère Jacques” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” make good starting material.

Children from 8 to 13

Once this age group has become familiar with the earlier material, they can begin more specific work on rhythmic and tonal concepts in their follows, like meters and major and minor modes. The class may display more refined choices for responses.

Moving freely to music could precede a follow. This is most useful when children have not had sufficient experience gaining Dalcroze class movement vocabulary. Their responses will visually inform the teacher of what they are noticing. Building on those responses, the teacher can present rhythmic material, whether a measure or two, or a phrase, to have the students do a follow. Students could identify each rhythmic pattern, eventually leading to an entire piece or song. At this point, rhythmic notation is definitely used. This builds on the limited amount of rhythmic notation incorporated into the younger classes.

For the older children in this age group, the teacher must realize how uncomfortable many students may be with movement if they have no previous Dalcroze or even dance experience. Starting with movement where they focus on something like the floorboards or a place in the room helps them get ready to follow.

For example, the teacher can ask students to follow the music by stepping and seeing how many floorboards or tiles they cover with each step. Counting the number of steps it takes to get across the room or toward a location frees the students at this uncomfortable age to follow without thinking about themselves.

Ultimately, students need to connect to each other, but initially, gaining individual movement confidence prepares students in this age group. Once they gain confidence, more difficult rhythmic work can start. This can include associations and tempo dynamics exercises.

High Schoolers and College Students

Students in this age range who are serious music or dance students are quite attracted to Dalcroze eurhythmics. They are generally at the height of their physical capabilities, and they are past much or at least some of the discomfort that middle school students experience. They are ready for changing and mixed meters, cross rhythms, harmonic and modal listening, and just about anything you can think of. Since much of foundational Dalcroze training is movement-based, I have always found these students at an ideal age for the work.

A more advanced follow could involve a pattern with a change of meter. Students may be conducting as they move. This example could be played with equal beats or equal divisions.

Foundational activities in regular meters prepares students. Just because they are more knowledgeable about music theory does not mean they will be ready for moving more intricate rhythm patterns. These must be experienced individually in movement and gesture.

An Example

Rhythm patterns can be as long as two measures of  12/8 or two measures of 4/4. Or there could be uneven beats, such as performing the above example with the divisions/eighth notes staying the same.

As with all follows, the teacher establishes the rhythm pattern, the class performs then memorizes it, the teacher supports the pattern in playing, then stops supporting. The changing of the tempo, dynamics, articulation, and register challenges the students to express these nuances in movement, both with locomotion and in gestures.

Older Adults

One quite gratifying age group of students can be adults aged fifty and up. They often attend class to enjoy moving to music. The use of follow may be a bit more limited. Simply having them move to music is the place to start.

Associations work well where they clap, gesture, tap, or step tempos initially. Follows are often limited to clapping, gesturing, or tapping. Stepping patterns can be challenging, depending on the mobility of the students.

An Example

Students are stepping a steady beat around the room. They are instructed to stop stepping and clap when they hear a rhythm pattern. Or they find a partner to tap the pattern with. I often use paper plates instead of drums so they can tap another student’s paper plate. The follow work can be a lot of fun for these students.

If the group is more capable of intricate locomotor movement, that should be included. The teacher must be sure the class is comfortable. Never assume they are incapable. Present the material at the level of the class.

Unusual, Even Reluctant Groups

There are times when a group of teachers may be required to attend a Dalcroze eurhythmics workshop. The best strategy is to meet them where they are. If they are at tables with pencils, sing or play, and someone will move. A foot will wiggle or a pencil will tap. That’s where you start your association. Contrast it with another movement and you have set up material to start your class.

“Someone always moves” is my theory. And it works. After getting people going, you can lead them to many activities, including short rhythm patterns in follows.

(Note: I experienced this exact scenario twice, once where teachers were saying right in front of me, “I am not moving.” By the end of the workshop every single teacher was skipping around the auditorium. Talking about it would not have been productive. I followed their initial responses and curated my lesson from this. I basically do this in every single class I teach. Start where they are.)

The teacher must observe the students and carefully craft the classes to meet their needs.


Follows are goals for Dalcroze students to accomplish. The students are initially trained to move to various tempos, dynamics, note values, rhythm patterns, articulations, and styles. The work of recognizing how to match the music is first. The type of follow known as an association builds the skills needed for classes to be capable of performing rhythm patterns. The teacher finds the skill level of the class, matches the activities to what they can do, then expands their capabilities.

The performance level depends on the experience of the class. Since Dalcroze eurhythmics trains students to use their bodies as instruments, the teacher must observe the students and carefully craft the classes to meet their needs. One thing I have learned to do is use the skills the students have, acknowledge those skills, and then expand upon them. As in many forms of arts education, giving students the comfort and confidence to expand their skills leads to the best artistic outcome.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Dalcroze Connections, Vol. 8 No. 2.