Emile Jaques-Dalcroze: Biography & Method

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Do you move parts of your body when you listen to music? Is there a connection between movement and music? In this lesson, learn about the life and methods of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze.

Introduction and Early Years

Is there a connection between movement and music? Could you learn how to read and perform music using movement as a tool? Emile Jaques-Dalcroze thought so, and he dedicated his life to developing his theories.

Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950) was born in Vienna to a Swiss family. His mother was an excellent musician and teacher, and young Emile received his earliest music education from her. His family later moved to Geneva, where he attended private schools and then enrolled in the Geneva Conservatory. In 1884, Jaques-Dalcroze went to Paris, where, while trying to decide what he wanted to do with his life, he studied drama (at the Comédie Française) and music (at the Paris Conservatory).

Eventually, Jaques-Dalcroze decided to concentrate on music. In 1886, he became an assistant conductor and chorus master of a theater in Algiers, North Africa. Later, he returned to Europe, further studying theory and composition for a time in Geneva; then Vienna, where he had an unhappy experience with a very doctrinaire Anton Bruckner; and finally in Paris with Léo Delibes and Matthis Lussy. During this time Jaques-Dalcroze was actively composing, and eventually he would write works for full orchestra, chamber orchestra, and piano, as well as choral works and operas. But teaching was destined to become his life's work.

Portrait of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze
Jaques-Dalcroze

Geneva and the Development of New Teaching Methods

In 1892, Jaques-Dalcroze became a professor of harmony and solfège at the Geneva Conservatory. Solfège is a method of learning sight singing and ear training. It allows someone to hear pitches and harmonies. Jaques-Dalcroze used solfège to create training games for his students to develop more accurate hearing, crucial for writing and understanding music. While teaching, Jaques-Dalcroze began to realize that his students gained technical expertise-- but they weren't always accurate in their tempos and rhythms, and they didn't really seem to be getting to the core of the music's expressiveness. He also noticed some students making subtle movements while they practiced solfège. These observations gave him an idea.

Jaques-Dalcroze began incorporating motion into his training. He believed (as do many education scholars) that humans learn best when they use multiple senses. He knew that music could be kinesthetic, or taught through motion. So Jaques-Dalcroze developed a method of musical study that connected mind, body and emotions. He called it Eurhythmics, a word with roots in the Greek language meaning 'good flow.'

The Jaques-Dalcroze System

Jaques-Dalcroze's method focused on three areas of learning, all of equal importance: Eurhythmics, which promoted learning the structure and expressiveness of music through motion; solfège, to develop better understanding of pitches and tonality; and improvisation, spontaneous creation and playing of music involving movement, voice and instruments.

In this method, body movements came to represent musical rhythms, connecting the brain and the body in the process of learning music. Students expressed note values by feet and body movements and time values by arm movements. Many of his exercises began with walking and then added other elements. Although he created this method for his conservatory students, around 1905 he began teaching it to children in the area. Some people thought he was crazy, including officials and other professors at the Geneva Conservatory who commented that his students were obsessed with music and movement all the time, and they wore unusual loose fitting clothing at a time when it wasn't the norm. But Jaques-Dalcroze's methods, and the idea of Eurhythmics, started to catch on.

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