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***Institut Jaques-Dalcroze Genève***


Jaques-Dalcroze's eurhythmic method
by Dominique Porte

The scope of eurhythmics

Jaques-Dalcroze's eurhythmics is entitled to a special place in the field of music. It is now and always
has been, in the course of a development that started long ago. And also it belongs to the various
branches of music it deals with.

But it is also fundamentally, situated in the field of corporal movement or, to use a simpler word in its
wider meaning, it deals with gestures.

That this should be so is not altogether unexpected. Music and movement, though not identical, often
overlap. Where this happens there is a vast common ground, and it is rhythm: not just any rhythm but
that inspired by music and which is artistic and human at the same time.

Often we have action coupled with words but here we combine action with music. In both cases a
silent gesture enhances the value of audible expression. A movement confirms the message of the
music and vice versa. Each is in conformity with the other.

This togetherness of bodily and musical movement, this embodiment of the music has always been
called dancing. There are indeed many ways to realize this notion of dancing. We shall merely
mention two or three here.

Popular dances are first meant to please those who perfom them, which does not mean that they
should not be appreciated by those who watch. Conversely, when a dancer performs on the stage he
has essentially the pleasure of his audience in mind. But why should he not enjoy himself as well ? In
a way a conductor also embodies the music with his gestures. They represent a sort of dance
intended for the musicians facing him. The conductor proposes a frame within which the musicians
play: that's his metronymic task; but he also makes the music alive through his personal beat, he
makes it progress, he mimics stress and expression; and thus measure becomes rhythm. What he is
performing alone on the desk is music without the sound, it is the rhythm of this music that the
orchestra reproduces accordingly.

What makes these three aspects of dancing different is therefore their basic purpose. Similarly we can
now define eurhythmics.

No doubt eurhythmics is akin to dancing as we have defined it here: both combine movement and
music. But this symbiosis existed before eurhythmics, it is not here that original ground bas been
covered. What makes eurhythmics unique is that the combination of movement and music
systematically serves educational purposes. It is a means to an end, it makes it possible to explore the
vast territories encompassed by this movement and this music.

What is this education for ? What faculties will the pupils develop and train ? In order to answer these
questions we must distinguish between two aspects of progress which, to all intents and purposes, are
so closely linked that they happen together.
 Education for music. The pupil develops a submission to the music he hears. This voice coming
from without sings within and provokes his movements. Listening becomes intense, accurate. He is
going to feel, to identify the length of a note, its pitch, the phrasing, the various shades of expression,
the forms. The road that leads to solfège, interpretation, musical background, inventiveness is wide

***Institut Jaques-Dalcroze Genève***

 Education through music. General faculties are trained and they would make a long list: spontaneity
and reflexion, self-awareness and -control, accuracy, memory, awareness of time, space, speed and
energy; timing, balance, imagination, camaraderie, and a pervasive feeling for beauty and truth.
There is no point in declaring this list closed, far from it.

Eurhythmics cannot be likened to a tree whose growth has stopped. What matters is that the progress
made should last a lifetime and that this type of musical education should reconcile, to quote Jaques-
Dalcroze, the corporal and intellectual faculties of the person.

A basic training with a lofty aim

We have seen that in "eurhythmics" the word rhythm is taken in its most noble acceptation. It is not so
much the parts of the movement that are considered, as its unity seen as a whole. It includes balance,
coherence, vitality, and the very meaning of music, and we hope to find these same qualities in our
own personal life. Music becomes a guide-line, a means to harmonize the stuff we are made of.

Jaques-Dalcroze, a poet and a musician,was indeed not what universities would call a philosopher. He
was an artist in the first place. But there is a wisdom to be found in all his work, a great insight, that
made itself felt in his teaching. He knew that in giving, prominence to sensation and motivity, emotion,
self-knowledge, self-scrutiny, he would offer a true idea of man to a society that greatly needed it, and
still does nowadays. Also, for a society to keep its cohesion, it is imperative that man should not walk
alone but open up to a world we all share, and this is something we can all do. Such an attitude is best
expressed by Dalcroze the poet in his famous song:
It's so simple to love
To smile at life
To let the charm work
When we feel so inclined
To open up a window in our hearts
To let the sun invade it
And bring out the goodness in us

Eurhythmics does not aim at specialization. It is therefore right to say that it consists in basic training.
But it would be wrong to consider only the foundation ! The target is a lofty one and we keep being
drawn to it: through eurhythmics we achieve our personal qualities.

Modem education insists, and rightly so, on basic skills. On the other hand, aims are less easily
defined. When they stop serving a useful purpose, we are left to our own devices and, under the mask
of tolerance, education hides its doubts, its aimlessness or its indifference.

Now, like everything that rises above this ground, education gets its identity from the top. Our Mont-
Blanc has indeed a massive foundation but it is when we look at the summit that we realize how much
it deserves its name; without its immaculate crown it would be plain Gris-Mont, one among many

Similarly Salisbury Cathedral is not identified by its foundations, solid though they may be, but by its
spire, its final achievement. Of course, in the building sequence, the foundations came first, the spire
last. But where the prestige of the monument is concerned the opposite is true. They very essence of
the cathedral is heralded by its spire. This admirable landmark dominates and justifies all the rest.

Basically eurhythmics may not be very different from other learner-based methods, and those
excellent principles, that were Dalcroze's own, such as the precedence of bodily movement over
acquisition by pure intellectual means were good enought 80 years ago to have survived up to now
and to have become the common good, and not a bad thing either. Yet, and this is this specificity,
eurhythmics, in all the experiments it offers, contains a spiritual value that may not always be felt as

***Institut Jaques-Dalcroze Genève***

one exercises it but is foremost in the hierarchy of values. We keep both feet on the ground (in a
manner of speaking) but the head is in the skies. Let us illustrate this with an example.
Marching in rhythm is a basic exercise to foster awareness of-well, rhythm, and it can be varied
endlessly in time, touch, force, contrast. It should be constantly exercised and later, it will constitute a
basis for the understanding of the most varied rhythmical patterns. Now should the mind concentrate
on this march ? Should a rambler think of his feet ? The answer is of course no. This is only a transient
basis, meant for something else.

A rambler has his mind on the river which is irradiated by the invading sun that brings out the
goodness in us, on the lofty trees that filter its light and bend over the water. He is drawn towards
these pictures which change as he progresses and give his peregrination both meaning and poetic
charm. Similarly a pupil does not think of his steps and of the ground he treads but he is attracted by
the music into which he penetrates. The pulsation he chooses is but one element, essential though
modest, of the beauty of the tune. The music is all there, it hovers on our movements and keeps our
heads up. At this juncture the responsibility of the teacher is invaluable, but not more than the
beneficial influence of the spiritual contents and the joy of the music.

It will therefore be understood that eurhythmics is not only concerned with the study of rhythm. It
encompasses music in its entirety, by means of a corporal investment that embodies its movements.
Were this not the case our exercise would resemble a Gris-Mont or a cathedral whose construction
would have been stopped at pavement level.


What goes on during a lesson ? Let us visualise it with the image of a staircase : the steps represent
the elements that can occur in a lesson, although they will never all be present at the same time.

The continous arrows show that one activity has not been relinquished when the next one is initiated :
the lesson is indeed building up. The nether elements must be present and real enough to support the
edifice, the danger being that steps 7 or 8 may prove a stumbling-block if steps 1 and 2 are not
permanently resumed and reactivated.

There are certainly différences between a class of grown-ups and one of children but both can
progress in the same way.

***Institut Jaques-Dalcroze Genève***

Now let's see what our numbers correspond to :

1. Perception - The teacher will offer to the pupils'perception a rhythmical prelude, musical or
otherwise. This can be done in a lot of ways, for imagination is boundless; more often than not he will
start with a piano improvisation.
2. Action following perception - The pupils start moving and will often spread out across the room.
They follow the music, adopt its pace. Dance is reinvented. It is the cheerful instant marking the
renewed celebration of the union between music and movement.
3. Pulsation - One is tempted to use the plural pulsations because in music a pulsation seldom occurs
on its own. As he walks, runs or moves in whatever way, the pupil chooses the most suitable
pulsation, then compares it to others that are also present, whether they are slower or faster.
4. Rhythm - This is a vast field that comprises first rhythmical patterns that can be used for
combination games and then also rhythmical phrases.
The body can produce these rhythms either with the hands on a pulsation of the feet, or with the feet
under a pulsation with the hands. In the latter, difficulties soon arise as the weight of the body is
solicited and must regulate the movements by voluntary incitations and inhibitions. Every part of the
body can be affected. Two patterns can be simultaneous. The exercises can be traditional or invented
but they always offer a wealth of possibilities. This technique supposes that the patterns should not be
isolated from their original environment (how long can a fish survive when stranded ?) but they must
remain musical throughout : rhythms and polyrhythms are only at home in music.
5. Quantities - The various lengths of the notes experienced in the rhythms lead to the discovery of
numbers and therefore become note values. The pulsation adopted provides the basic unit, that can
be divided or amalgamated. What's more common than 2, 3, 4 or 5 ? And yet, realizing with one's
body a long quantity or, on the contrary, a group of shorter quantities can be a genuine artistic
experience on its own when music is the prime motivation.
6. Metrics - Another discovery proceeding from numbers, beats and measures is that of the
components or rhythm. A quantity is chosen as a beat, and one of the beats as the first in a bar. This
qualitative choice is made according to the information gathered : the rhythm itself, of course, but also
the tune, the harmony, the expression, the timbre, the various accents. A measure is an arithmetic and
therefore intelligible complex, that can be applied harmlessly to living systems. It is the result either of
an equal division of long quantities (classical system) or of the sum of brief ones and of the sequence
of sometimes unequal beats (Greek system).
Polymetrics as well as polyrhythms demand much of our motricity and can lead to virtuosity in the art
of dissociating our movements.
7. Oral solfège - Pupils often sing during the lesson. As they have named the quantities, they also
learn to name the notes. The melodic expanse in which G is higher than F is kindred to the expanse of
our body and of the space around it. Teacher and pupils will find the analogies and the adequations
that can make the movements correspond to the notes and help identify them.
8. Phrases - Various units are used in music : beats and measures are units of time, the notes on the
scale units of intonation. As for the phrase, it is the unit of expression; as they conform their gestures
to it the pupils become aware of its form, its climax, its antecedence (anacrousis) and its follow-up
(metacrousis). They will distinguish a mere upbeat, a metrical notion, from an anacrousis, a rhythmical
element, a vital impulse full of meaning and expressive intent.
9. Forms - Realizing musical forms with gestures and in a group is for a rhythmician one of the highest
rewards for his work. Here a musical piece is reenacted in all its parts and articulations. Music informs
the body, it is interpreted anew, it is fully understood. It is a game where nothing of music's artistic
meaning is lost, indeed it is enhanced but remains as immaterial, free and intact as when a score is
perceived by the eyes only.
10. Beauty - Beauty is the last station of our progress simply because it has been with us step by step
from the beginning. All is not graceful in a lesson and yet everything should be : choosing examples,
realizing them plastically, improvising done by the teacher. The latter is not obliged to use
sophistication, but even the simplest musical examples should have sufficient artistic contents to be
perceived as beauty by the pupils.

We have given a picture of a eurhythmics lesson which is a best schematic. Concretely things are not
so rigidly planned; several themes can be developed with flexibility and liveliness and mirror one
another, thus ensuring that they are all understood. Written information is all very well but preference
should be given to attending or taking part in a well-conducted lesson. However, having, ventured so
far, we shall have to answer the question on the right of our diagram. What does the completion of all
these lines amount to ?

***Institut Jaques-Dalcroze Genève***

To no less than the joint study of the natural rhythms of the body and the artistic rhythms of music.
This happy expression is taken from a curriculum in which Jaques-Dalcroze recalled the contents of

We could not say it better.

Summing up

Jaques-Dalcroze's main intuitions and his programme, already based on experience, were fixed in his
mind about as early as 1900. When he died in 1950, his disciples carried on his educational work in
the spirit of the master. His teaching has been handed over to us in the same way and this will
continue in the future. Jaques-Dalcroze's method is not written law, it can better be described as
tradition, as common law. Having inherited a collection of precedents, of tested procedures and of
some firm convictions, each new proponent of the method must reinvent it, in the same sense as we
say Colombus invented America when he thought he had discovered it. This tradition is very much
alive and is given its strength by the personal effort required of the newcomer who must contribute to
and share the responsibility of the conduct of the ship. But then he can choose his route freely, if he
avoids the snares of fashion and time and keeps enough leeway. This tradition however has its liability
: there is a risk of alteration, of disfigurement, of principes being neglected; in short, it may lose its

Eurhythmics is a musical education, which is a twin notion. A vehicle may lose one wheel and then go
awry. That is also true for eurhythmics. If education is lost sight of, its proponents may think they have
found a new art, a tenth Muse. They will be tempted to attach a paramount importance to the
performance of the person and neglect his or her progress. If music is forgotten, they may claim to
have found a new philosophy. Rhythm is not the attribute only of music, it belongs to the whole world.
Everything is rhythm, from the atom to the nebulae, it comprises everything terrestrial and human.
Conceiving life and the world as rhythm is a noble thought but so encompassing that it becomes
impossible to see what good it could do to education. It is true that our movements are inherently
rhythmical and this could benefit education; but if this notion is approached without taking into
consideration the artistic rhythm of music, and anyone is free to do so, then we are dealing with
another school of thought. Indeed, everyone is free to choose his field of activity and his purpose; and
everyone may alter course. The proponents of the Dalcroze method do not live on an island and they
like to have around them people, often friends at that, who follow other paths. But they also like to call
these paths by another name.

It is therefore essential, in an atmospere of freedom without which the method could not breathe, to
state the criteria of an indispensable orthodoxy, proper to any human endeavour that wants to keep
and deserve its name. And it is apposite that the Institut Jaques-Dalcroze, which is entrusted with its
founder's heritage and is also the center of its world-wide expansion, should take the matter in hand,
with the sole view of general enlightenment.<7td>

Three points must be considered :

1. We have already insisted, somewhat ponderously, I'm afraid, for such a light subject, on the subtle
agreement between music and movement, on the experience of gestures associated to a tune, or
tunes to a gesture, which is at the heart of eurhythmics. In this seminal coexistence, the body follows
the music. This being the first principle.
2. Furthermore, music will benefit from being known in a more thoughtful and intellectual fashion. In
fact, it is the pupil who gains from this knowledge. Feeling his experience from the inside, he analyzes
musical acts that have become his own. He becomes aware of their elements and identifies them in
their duration and their pitch. He learns how to name them, how to read and how to write them down.
Never mind whether this is done within the lesson or outside it, this study is based on the lesson
anyway. It makes up the solfège, which enables thought to go alongside of music. This being the
second principle.

***Institut Jaques-Dalcroze Genève***

3. Finally, all this preparation after which we can call music our mother tongue also bestows on us the
marvellous faculty of anticipation. In sound as in movement the pupil, as it turns out, will be able to
follow his own path. This faculty, which small children possess, is later checked by acquired concepts
and conventions. The Dalcrozian education fosters and shapes it, as it considers it as a source of
control and maturity, but also as a means of teaching; it goes as far as making it an essential element
of the method. Such is the place given to i>improvisation, where movement and thought precede the
We have named our third principle.

On the strength of these three notions eurhythmics can claim to be ever modern. It is tied to no
trendysh musical or choregraphic style. With an everlasting smile, it changes with each generation. It
thrives on invention. I does not create new needs, it provides answers to permanent requirements. It
does not claim to change man, merely to respect him. Humanism here is not trumpeted as a theory
but implied as an affectionate intent. And eurhythmics finds the foundation of this humanism in one or
two unarguable facts : ... that they will not twist necks to suit clean collars and hack feet to fit new
boots... that the body is more than the raiment; that the Sabbath was made for man; that all institutions
shall be judged and damned by whether they have fitted the normal flesh and spirit.(Chesterton, What's
wrong with the World.)

January 1989
Dominique Porte