Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dalcroze and the Rhythmic Brain

Review: Janet Spring
Music and Imagination: The Rhythmic Brain
Eric Barnhill Guest Speaker

In his address to the members of the Philoctetes Centre, Eric Barnhill discusses his theories of the rhythmic brain as related to his studies and practical teaching experiences using Dalcroze Eurhythmics. He begins his lecture by outlining the different theories of the brain and music that have existed for many years. He also points out that alternative methods such as the Alexander Technique and Dalcroze Eurhythmics have been very popular for the past few decades because they have been very successful for music educators who have worked with students with special needs. The Dalcroze method has of course been around for a century and is a methodology attributed to Emiles Jacques Dalcroze of the 19th Century. Students that have disorders such as autism, motor perception difficulties as well as adults with Parkinsons and Alzheimers have been able to make progress in musical cognition when movement is involved. Students who cannot organize their bodies in terms of the beat, speech, and who experience language difficulties demonstrate further perception when movement is incorporated into the lesson. Movement activities also enhance language perception as music and speech is so interrelated.

Eric Barnhill discusses the different theories of the brain in terms of structure and process, where the study of the brain in regard to structure has been more popular in the past. He outlines the theory of the grandmother cell where a pyramid structure exists in the brain. All neurological processes are completed then linked to the grandmother cell that processes the final product. He also relates the findings of the 40 hertz hypothesis, first introduced by Francis Crick and the important findings that have advanced brain research today. Mention also is made of James J. Gibson and his work with vision perception as well as Mary Jones’s theory of attention. Communication studies completed by Madeleine Hanes and James G. Martin are discussed. These stress the significance of movement. Today, researchers are investigating brain functions in terms of processes where he feels that movement to music plays a very large part of understanding these processes.

Movement is a very significant part of the understanding and internalization of music: beat, rhythm, and melody. Eric reiterates that through Dalcroze, students are connected to the teacher at the piano who is improvising, to their fellow students who are engaged in a group movement activity, and to themselves: their minds and their bodies. Dalcroze is particularly helpful to those students who have difficulties with rhythm, for the brain predicts what the continuing rhythmic pattern is doing, while the body is experiencing it. The body then can experiment with an action, or rhythm, then move with it. As Eric demonstrates these concepts, the viewer is made aware of the importance that Dalcroze will have with understanding music. The Dalcroze methodology will provide the opportunity for the student of music to feel connected: through mind and body.


As Sharon presented her paper topic last night, and provided us with an excellent demonstration of the Dalcroze technique, I reflected on my use of Dalcroze in my elementary music classes and how this methodology has assisted my own students to understand beat, rhythm, melodic contours, harmony and chord progressions as they listen to and move to the music. I feel that the Dalcroze method has enhanced their understanding of musical concepts and has provided them with opportunities to experiment with sound through movement as they do so in a group setting or individually. For students who struggle with beat and rhythm, they learn from others around them and they do not feel centered out or insecure, for their fellow classmates’ movement responses reinforce concepts that may be difficult for them individually to master.

Where does Dalcroze fit in, in terms of the brain? Dalcroze is significant for brain entrainment, where the body is connected to and is coordinated with the music. In turn, there is a strong link between the muscles, the nervous system, the mind, brain and body, a link that produces a sharp understanding of the musical environment surrounding the student. Movement then becomes instinctive, where all of the above are in synchronization with each other.


Lampy said...
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Lampy said...

Does Dalcroze differ from Orff or Kodaly methods? Could you get the same sort of brain/physical stimulation from other methods of learning music that also incorporate body movement? I have my Orff Level I and never studied Dalcroze except to read about it and realize that I wouldn't be very good at it because of my lack of piano skills.

Sharon Dutton said...

Does Dalcroze differ from Orff or Kodaly methods? Yes. Simplistically, Dalcroze approaches music education from and through the body. It is holistic, in the sense that the body is used for improvising, for interpreting, and for expressing all pertinent musical concepts, and that movement is used for developing listening and expressive abilities. Dalcroze seeks also to develop the ear with regards to melodic structure (intervals, phrases, etc.). It is insightful and beautiful on its own, but is intended as preparation for musical performance.

Orff approaches music education from a rhythmic base, incoporating rhymes, body percussion (clapping, tapping, etc.), pitched and non-pitched percussion. A good Orff lesson will (not be limited to, but) include (often a game to start), followed by: percussive improvisation, ensemble performance on pitched percussion instruments (xylophones, etc.), movement, and singing - a very holistic approach. Kodaly approaches musicianship through singing, starting with one's native folk songs and/or childhood songs, and usually includes literacy, part-singing, and attention to quality of sound.
Could you get the same sort of brain/physical stimulation from other methods of learning music that also incorporate body movement? No. The Dalcroze approach is unique as far as embodied experience goes, because of the improvisatory interaction and devlopment that occurs between the teacher and the students, and among the students themselves. While the teacher has a plan, he/she can not know exactly what will occur, as they are responding to the students' degrees of success and interpretations of their tasks, depending upon their ability. Much attention to detail (harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, structural, etc.)is possible.

Janet said...

I agree with Sharon's comment. Dalcroze is very different from Orff or Kodaly methods due to the fact that the students take on an improvizatory pathway that is guided by the teacher, yet is individualistic as well. Through movement, melodic and rhythmic exercises, the student develops a sense of these concepts through the body, hence the mind and body connection. Lampy, although quite a bit is directed from the piano, the teacher can also supplement with other methods. I use balls, my hand drum, voice, etc. in exercises to encourage movement and improvization. The piano however, is key but I cannot see where another instrument could be used. However, it is amazing how your improvization style on the piano develops with a little encouragement, a few improv. lessons and attending Dalcroze workshops to learn by doing. When I attended the summer session at Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburg, at the Marta Sanchez Dalcroze Training Centre, I was surprised at how many music teachers with varying skills in piano improvization attended, many of whom were private piano, or other instrumental teachers. Quite enlightening and informative: amazing!