I thought I’d share with you an article I wrote on the colourstrings teaching method as I think it helps explain my views on ear training and guitar teaching in general. As I explain in the article, I’ve used the method in the past for teaching children from ages 6 upwards and I do believe that some of the basic principles apply to learning a musical instrument no matter what age you are.
The Colourstrings Teaching Method
The colourstrings teaching method was developed in Finland from the Kodaly philosophy where learning starts with singing and developing the inner ear. For very young children, 18 months onward, the lessons are presented in such a way that play and imagination are encouraged. The children sing, clap and march to a carefully constructed musical program built from basic principles of rhythm, pitch, melody, dynamics, tempo, character, form and style.
Initially the children learn by repeating back the actions of the teacher, the teacher sings a song, the children repeat, the teacher claps a rhythm, the children repeat. As they get slightly older this imitation is backed up with hand signs that correspond to the sol-fa system. One of the first intervals they learn is the minor 3rd interval, so – me. I’m not sure in about the rest of the world, maybe somebody could confirm, but certainly in Scotland this interval appears regularly in children’s playground songs and is a very natural interval for the children to sing. Gradually through the repetition of songs and clapping of rhythms and then the use of stick notation, the children move onto recognizing the notes on the stave. At the age of 6 the children learn to play instruments, the same method of singing and imitation being used. The children learn to sing the piece being taught and then they learn how to play it on their instrument.
Originally the colourstrings technique was developed for Violin by its founder Geza Szilvay. Each string on the violin is given a colour to aid recognition, hence the name colourstrings. Musical notation is kept to a minimum with the children only being shown notation that is necessary for them to play. For instance, the child is not initially shown the full 5 lines of the stave, but only the lines that the notes being taught use. The method is very obviously applicable to the violin due to the need for good intonation. If the child can sing the note, then they will know if they are playing out of tune. While this intonation problem is not applicable to a fretted instrument like the guitar, the methodology of developing the ear to instruct the hand is, in my opinion, the best way to teach the guitar. For a number of years I encompassed the colourstrings guitar method, developed by Jussipekka Rannanmaki, into my teaching of children from age 6 upwards and I found the results to be amazing. Fortunately a lot of the children I was teaching had participated in colourstrings singing classes from an early age so were used to the idea of singing. Teaching the child to sing the melody first and then showing them how to play it on the guitar invariably resulted in the music just flowing. While only partially developed as a guitar method, the underlying principles of the colourstrings methodology and the kodaly teachings from which the method was developed resonate strongly with me. When teaching I always check back to the musical principles of developing the inner ear and learning to sing what is being played.