Sequence within the sequence

Hi everyone! This is Aileen from Mrs. Miracle's Music Room

The Kodály philosophy is widely known as being very sequential. Kodály-inspired educators teach simpler rhythms and solfa first--those rhythms and solfa common in folk songs of the students' mother tongue.

The sequence of a Kodály-inspired classroom was very appealing to me as a new teacher. It wasn't until several years into my teaching, though, that I began to understand the sequence within the sequence.

After students learn ta and ti-ti, for example, we could immediately start throwing improvisation and instrumental activities at them...but they may not be very successful. By first starting with easier practice activities, such as reading rhythms and copying patterns, then sequencing to more difficult practice activities, such as composition and improvisation, students can be much more successful. Here is a typical order in which I practice rhythm. For this list, I'll use the example of ta and ti-ti, but it could be used with any rhythm:

Reading rhythms: After presenting ta and ti-ti, I have students simply read from rhythm flashcards, or read a rhythm of a known song from the board. I do this immediately after presentation, as well as in the beginning of the next lesson, to review with students what they just learned.

Writing rhythms: Students can use pencil and paper or dry erase boards and markers to copy rhythms from the board or from flashcards. This isn't dictation yet--they are simply copying rhythms that you either show them or speak. Much like a Kindergartener writing the letter "a" several times, this gets students comfortable with writing the rhythms.

Playing rhythms: Students can use non-pitched percussion to play patterns from flashcards, or can use barred instruments in C pentatonic to play the rhythm patterns on any bars they want. Sometimes students can say and clap patterns, but having a wood block in their hand is a bit different! Being able to transfer their knowledge to actually playing an instrument is a needed step.

Identifying rhythms: Students can either encode a pattern by hearing it then saying it aloud, saying the rhythm of a known song or chant back at you, or hearing a pattern then choosing which pattern it is (from a list of three patterns, for example.) This is almost dictating, but not quite, as they may be choosing from a list--like a multiple choice test--or may be identifying the rhythm without actually writing it down.

Dictating rhythms: Now students can finally hear a pattern, then either write it with pencil and paper or dictate the pattern with rhythm manipulatives, such as popsicle sticks.

Creating rhythms: Students now can transfer their knowledge and can create rhythm patterns of their own, perhaps by improvising spoken rhythms, or perhaps by composing their own 16-beat piece with known rhythms. The possibilities are endless!

This is not to say that you have to start at reading and work your way to creating in that exact order. In order to differentiate for your higher learners, you will want to have some challenging opportunities in early practice, and for your struggling learners, you will want to have some simpler opportunities in late practice. But having this order in my mind has really helped me unpack exactly what I want my students to do, and when. I just created this set to use with my own students when practicing ta and ti-ti; each week, I will add the next level of complexity.

Do you have any other steps in your sequence within a sequence? Feel free to comment below with any more ideas, and have a great day!


  1. Well written Aileen! Concise but very clear with great example to clarify.

  2. I was at a workshop last year where I saw a similar type of sequence-within-a-squence presented (although she didn't incorporate any instruments into that one, and I can see the benefits of making sure the kids get that playing experience, too). It was a huge "aha" moment for me! Before that, I felt a bit like I was spinning my wheels trying to juggle all of the various skills the kids are supposed to be learning. Having this kind of sequence clearly laid out helps give me the direction that I need to keep moving forward in a much more deliberate and efficient manner. Thanks for sharing, Aileen!

  3. These are important steps; I remember as a new teacher trying to get students to compose or improvise before they were competent in the basic skills we were working on! I'm always reminding myself to break it down and then break it down again. Another thing that took me a while to learn is that speaking/singing and playing an instrument at the same time is much more challenging than playing without speaking/singing. Early in my teaching I believed that speaking a rhythm while playing a wood block, for example, would further ingrain those skills. For a few students, performing those two skills at once can be beneficial, but most of my students need lots of practice with one skill at a time. Wonderful post!


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