Church Street School’s music classes incorporate The Dalcroze Method, a whole-body music education technique created by a Swiss composer, musician and educator in the early twentieth century. Today Church Street School founder and director, Lisa Ecklund-Flores, describes why the method is an incredible tool for teaching music.
“I know, because I have experienced.”
This famous quote from Emil Jaques-Dalcroze captures perfectly the basis of his method. It is the student’s physical experience of musical concepts that builds strong musicianship. “Not just brainwork or fingerwork, but ear, mind and body working together.” These are the fundamental tenets of The Dalcroze method.
Dalcroze felt that we all have natural rhythmicity that comes from our own organic sources – breathing, heartbeat, walking. I can add through my own research that these sources have their beginnings prenatally and have pervasive influence on human development. Dalcroze used the term eurhythmics (“good rhythm”) to describe his method, based on the Greek axiom that music and body movement are one and inseparable.
How does this philosophy translate into the music classroom? Children leap when they hear accents, run when the music becomes twice as fast, and stretch high and low to show melodic contour. And all in the spirit of learning while having fun!
In his day (at the turn of the 20th century), Emil Jaques-Dalcroze, after noticing that some students in his conservatory class could walk and move rhythmically but could not play their instrument rhythmically, took the provocative approach of having students remove shoes and socks and wear loose fitting tunics, and step rhythms around the room. You can imagine how this was received. It was a scandal!
But the system worked. Dalcroze soon gained the support of important musicians, dancers and artists (Faure, DeLibes, Rachmaninoff, Dello Joio, Najinsky, Balanchine, and many others). Professional musicians are strong proponents of the method to this day, and understand that the physical actualization of music is the key to skill development. You can’t just think about it, you have to DO it to understand it.
I have seen the evidence of this over and over in our classes at Church Street School. Even the youngest students can feel the beat and show it with their bodies. They can change their movements when the beat changes tempo. When simple subdivisions of the beat are introduced they can easily tap, clap and step rhythm patterns. Students that start in Dalcroze eurhythmics classes as young children are quickly successful when they begin instrumental lessons later on. They go in to their first lesson already understanding rhythmic notation and pitch movement on the staff, and they sing with confidence. The only challenge to overcome is that of the dexterity required to play their instrument.
I didn’t study the Dalcroze method until I was an adult, after I had finished a traditional music education degree. It was a revelation! I began to trust my ear, my intuitions, myself. I improvised for the first time, and learned that scales are tools for improvisation, rather than just technical exercises.
The Dalcroze teacher is specially trained to create musical experiences that engage students in this holistic way, using quick reaction exercises, body, voice and percussion instruments to motivate concentration, attention, and coordination of ear, mind and body. The piano is an integral instrument which is used to accompany movement and actualize the lesson.
Here are a couple of example videos demonstrating the Dalcroze approach – one showing an upbeat quick reaction for adults, and one showing a eurhythmics class for children right here at our school. Even though the method is over one hundred years old, it is still dynamic and vibrant and celebrated all over the world.
Lisa Ecklund-Flores holds a bachelors degree in music education and music therapy from State University of New York at Fredonia and a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the City University of New York Graduate Center. She received her Dalcroze Teachers License in 1987 from the Dalcroze School of Music in NYC under Dr. Hilda Schuster. In 1990, Lisa co-founded Church Street School for Music and Art, where she continues to teach Dalcroze classes today.
 Jaques-Dalcroze, Emil (1921). Rhythm, Music and Education. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
 Ecklund-Flores, L. (2000). Rhythms from the Womb: Innovations in fetal and newborn research. 3e Congrѐs International du Rythme, Institut Jaqu
 From Rhythm, Music and Education  Rhythms from the Womb: Innovations in Fetal and Newborn Research (1999)