I have 24 sessions in which to deliver basic music theory to university-age students. Although they are likely to do some singing in their future careers, they are unlikely to receive further musical training apart from singing lessons.

I was introduced to the concept of Kodaly movable-do solfege comparatively recently, and have found this useful in my lessons, using it alongside more traditional ways of working with the stave. I would like to use it more coherently, but it is hard to decide the most effective sequence in which to introduce music theory concepts (for example, key signatures, chords) when using solfege. Many books on Kodaly teaching give a suggested sequence of work, but they are usually aimed at teachers who are:

  • working with children (so they start with material such as nursery rhymes or two-note chants)
  • working over an extended period (e.g. over many years of school education)

Can anyone recommend a more intense programme of work, introducing music theory concepts through Kodaly Method, aimed at beginner adults?

  • Do you have a traditional "written theory" text you are using for this class? If so, which one?
    – Andrew
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 1:51
  • Hiya Andrew, no, I don't have a set text. If it helps, the concepts that I've been teaching are: FOR PITCH: naming notes on a stave (treble and bass clef), finding those notes on a piano, major scale, natural and harmonic minor scale, key signatures (including finding do from the key sig), sharp/flat/natural symbols, sight-reading using solfege, forming triads, the importance of chords I, IV and V, and intervals. FOR RHYTHM: pulse, duple / triple meter, note durations, 6/8. Alongside these concepts is lots of practice singing, clapping, and working by ear and with sheet music. Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 14:42

4 Answers 4


Am I correct in assuming this is a theory for non-majors course of some kind?

If that is the case, you're going to have a huge variance in the amount of reading ability, from none at all to students who could have been music majors if they had chosen to. However, everyone is probably going to have some similar intrinsic knowledge about the aural aspect of music, simply because we live in a culture dominated by certain musical tendencies.

For this reason, the aural skills training you do will likely be more advanced than the theory at the start, and you should take advantage of this to scaffold the notation aspect until it gets up to speed.

(Oh, and I've never used it personally, but this textbook seems like it might be quite useful for what you're doing.)

I think a good goal for that age of student by the end of 24 sessions would be singing and transcribing simple melodies in a few common keys through the use of movable-Do solfege. The first step would be familiarizing the students with the diatonic solfege syllables, learning some common melodic patterns, and listening for how tonic and dominant work in some real music.

You can do the visual aspect of pitch contour without even having addressed key signature or clef yet—simply point out which line or space is "do" for any given example, or draw attention to the last note of a melody. Changing keys often will prevent students from getting too used to "do" always being middle C.

Overall, here's my philosophy: Take into account the three main pillars of music theory: rhythm (including meter), pitch (including harmony), and notation (including note names). You should identify the baseline for your students, and then work on all three concurrently. Notation will probably be built up from the absolute ground floor, but the other two pillars should be used to scaffold that one and each other, eventually bringing everything up to the same level while still moving forward in each subject.

Oh, and sing everything. Unless they're practicing penmanship (which, indeed, they should do: "draw 10 treble clefs on the next line"), find some way to link everything to a verbalization, rhythmatization, or vocalization.


It does sound like you are teaching some sort of "Fundamentals of Music for Non-Majors" course (whether formalized as such or not). Put yourself in the mindset of your students for a moment, if you can.

You have probably had a fair amount of training, and connecting the "written theory" concepts like IV-V-I with actual sounds and actual music probably makes intrinsic sense to you. Your students, however, may see it differently. The theory lessons may look like nothing more than abstract math problems to them. Your goal, then, should be to make the abstractions on the page come to life.

Playing examples on (say) the piano to demonstrate is helpful, but it is not enough. There is no substitute for having the class sing the examples. The syllables are there to connect the pitches to their functions -- that is, the functions you have taught in the abstract "written theory" part of your class. It doesn't really matter which solfege system you use -- you can even use numbers representing scale degrees (though I don't recommend it) -- so long as you pick one and stick to it. Also, movable do is a good thing, else there is no connection to scale function.

The first time you have the students sing in four parts, unaccompanied, just sight-reading from the board (or book), the students will not forget the experience. They are the ones producing the pitches, not just a keyboard instrument. Keep using singing to connect everything you are doing in "written" theory to actual sounds and music. The students will remember the lessons a lot better, and they will be able to make use of them once they move on to other musical pursuits later.

Since @NReilingh recommended a book, I'll do likewise. I have used this book in a slightly different context, but I would not hesitate to use it for a fundamentals for non-majors course (though the list price is ridiculous -- I didn't realize it was over $100 for a relatively thin workbook). I was a teaching assistant for the author at one point, though not for a course using that particular book.


The other two answers are indeed good suggestions. Looking back on Music Theory, I think it's important that you follow a certain logical progression. Start with rhythm, pitch, and notation, as suggested by NReilingh. From there, use those concepts to develop scales and modes, then use scales and modes to define intervals. Use intervals to define chords, and finally use chords to develop harmonic progression.

In addition to singing examples, showing them the concepts they have learned in REAL examples that they have heard before really solidifies a subject. Listen, then analyze.

Hope this was helpful!


I am assuming that these students are not really in playing/making music for a living; and if they really want to play music, it is just for fun and leisure.

If this is the premise, then I would say "None of the Above".

In my opinion, they would rather learn to play whatever their favorite song is.

For that, I would teach them the fundamentals of how to produce melodies; how to work out rhythm and how to work out harmony (probably the most work here).

In melody, there is only 2 real questions they need to answer: 1. Is the next note higher, lower or sounds the same? 2. Is the interval far apart of close? Then play and work out their favourite songs.

In Rhythm, they just need to close theirs and use their feelings to find the spots where it is right to clap their hands or tap their feet. Once the get it consistent and right, then all the other rudiments about rhythm comes in. In fact, I might just channel them to a short course on percussion or drums to get it right and have fun.

In Harmony, I teach them the 3 colors of sound first (I, IV and V7); then expand it to 7 colors (including II, III, IV and VII) and show them how to use substitution, fifth motions and diatonic cycle of fifths to put the right chords into the song.

With these, they would be quite well equipped to have fun in the real world instead of just carrying with them theories that they would not use.

And BTW, I don't think 24 sessions is enough to even achieve the above. minimum 80 sessions maybe, from my experience.

Just my 2 cents.

  • Many thanks, Play by Ear. They may well need these music skills in their career; they are drama students studying to be actors. While it is not a musical theatre course, they will conceivably need to sing on stage (e.g. as a character singing in the shower, a congregation singing a choral hymn in church). With this in mind, is there anything you would add/change in yr answer? Commented May 8, 2011 at 1:24

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