Using Recorded Music in a Dalcroze Class

Today’s Dalcroze teacher has easy access to a world of recorded sound that would have been unfathomable to M. Jaques. How do we take advantage of this rich resource and still retain the essence of eurhythmics?

Louise Mathieu helps us sort through the issues in this reprint from the American Dalcroze Journal (Vol. 23, No. 1).

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Can we reach the essence of eurhythmics with the use of recorded music?

Obviously, this question leads to another: What is the essence of eurhythmics? In my view, the essence of eurhythmics is the awakening to and the awareness of the life of music. What a Dalcroze teacher attempts to do in a eurhythmics class is to have the students be awakened by the music and to have them experience it in such a way that they will develop a real understanding of what it is: They will become aware of the life of the music. One could argue that this is the aim of any music teaching approach, and I would agree. For us, eurhythmics is the means through which this goal is reached, the how through which the awakening to and the awareness of the life of the music is attained.

Eurhythmics uses a holistic approach. In asking the body to hear, move, and express the music and the mind to recognize and analyze it, eurhythmics connects the body and the mind in a way that makes these two worlds work together in symbiosis. Eurhythmics commands the whole person to incarnate the music in becoming a moving, thinking body. Virginia Mead writes in her book Dalcroze Eurhythmics in Today’s Music Classroom:

I believe that someone who incorporates Dalcroze techniques in teaching is one who has experienced that joyful awareness and understanding of the power of an integrated physical, emotional and intellectual experience with music.

But that experience—the incarnation of the music—has to be meaningful.

The music itself, through the power of genuine aesthetic quality, makes the eurhythmic experience meaningful; that is, an aesthetic experience. Can we reach the essence of eurhythmics with the use of recorded music? One could answer yes, if the previously described conditions are met:

  • the piece of recorded music should have an intrinsic aesthetic quality
  • the music-teaching approach used should involve the person as a whole, a moving, thinking body described by Jaques-Dalcroze as the incarnation of the music.

Improvisation vs. Recordings

Improvisation has always been seen as one of the main characteristics of the Dalcroze approach, the cornerstone of eurhythmics. Jaques-Dalcroze wrote:

Each teacher of eurhythmics should have made a serious study of improvisation at the pianoforte, and of all the connections between the harmony of sounds and that of movements. He should be able to translate rhythms expressed by movements of the body into musical rhythms, and vice versa. 

Improvisation is indispensable to a eurhythmics class. Recorded music cannot replace it.

Improvisation is a live performance. It has a special quality—it has presence. Improvisation is flexible, creative. It can adapt to the expressive qualities of the student’s movements. It mirrors the movement exactly, expressing the varieties of dynamics, the articulation, the phrasing, the tempo, the style. 

Improvisation can emphasize various elements of the music to help the student feel the music in a specific way, to keep the student alert, to enhance the student’s listening, to provoke appropriate movement responses. These specifics are not proper to the use of recordings.

However, I believe that the essence of eurhythmics can be met while using recorded music and that it is a powerful tool to explore and develop the ability to translate musical rhythms into body movement rhythms.

  • Recorded music makes possible the use of music from different periods, different types, various styles and various cultures; music composed for various orchestrations and instrumentations, exploring timbre, dynamics, and textures. (For instance, the “legato” quality can be grasped in a very effective way while using recordings of string instruments.)
  • Recorded music broadens musical cultural knowledge, is instructive, refreshing, and avoids monotony. It enhances the student’s expressive abilities, enlarging movement vocabulary. It also helps to develop adaptability.
  • Recorded music can facilitate certain teaching strategies such as conducting, modeling (teacher as a model), imitating. Not being confined to the piano, the teacher can work more closely with the students, move with them, sharing their experience in an empathic way and observing them more closely.

Thus, the use of recorded music will not replace improvisation but can enrich the musical as well as the pedagogical content of a eurhythmics class.

Choosing and using a piece of recorded music: pedagogical considerations

  • Choose a piece you like which possesses a genuine quality.
  • Choose a piece that makes you want to move.
  • Move—incarnate the music.
  • Concentrate on the music: What comes to your attention?
  • Focus on your physical sensations. Dalcroze wrote: “The intensity of our musical feelings depends on the intensity of our physical sensations.”
  • Analyze the characteristics of the music and the responding movements of the body.
  • Imagine how you can work on these characteristics in a eurhythmics class. Your imagination is the limit. Remember that eurhythmic experience develops the awareness of music through the body/mind connection. You can create exercises to explore any musical concept as well as exercises to develop physical, mental, social skills.
  • Pay particular attention to the tempo of the piece in terms of its relation to the body movements. Not all tempos and rhythms are appropriate for full body locomotion. Certain parts of the body are more difficult to move than others; some activities are difficult, even impossible, at a certain tempo.

As mentioned earlier, these remarks were followed by a practical exploration of the use of recorded music in a eurhythmics class. The musical works presented were:

This article was originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Dalcroze Connections, Vol. 7 No. 1.

About Louise Mathieu

Dr. Louise Mathieu, Diplôme Supérieur, is a retired professor of the faculty of music of université Laval (Quebec, Canada) where she taught from 1976 to 2016. Director of studies of Dalcroze Canada, she also acts as president of the Collège of the Institute Jaques-Dalcroze (Geneva) and vice-chair of the International Conference of Dalcroze Studies. Louise serves on the editorial board of the journal Recherche en Éduca- tion Musicale and on scientific committees. A frequent lecturer and workshop leader, she holds the Dalcroze diplôme supérieur (IJD, Geneva) and a Doctor of Arts (New York university).

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