Exploring evidence-based approaches to teaching music literacy

Exploring evidence-based approaches to teaching music literacy

There are a variety of music teaching methodologies that teachers can explore as part of their professional practice. All use a ‘sound before symbol’ approach to music pedagogy.

Primary school students playing ukelele in arts learning music lesson

The most prevalent music teaching methodologies in Australian schools are Kodály and Orff. Others that are less common but used throughout Australia include Musical Futures and Dalcroze.

Kodály methodology emphasises the use of solfege (do, re, mi, etc) and hand signs to develop aural skills and to help students internalise the music they are learning. This approach begins with simple songs and games that focus on pitch and rhythm and builds upon those concepts with more complex musical skills.

Similarly, Orff methodology emphasises active participation in music-making through movement, singing and playing instruments, with an emphasis on percussion. This approach encourages improvisation and composition, and allows students to develop their own musical ideas.

Musical Futures emphasises engaging in music that students already know and love to foster practical music making skills and enthusiasm for music. While Dalcroze approaches music through movement and incorporates whole-body movement, like dancing to internalise the elements of music, such as form, beat and rhythm.


What all of these methodologies have in common is the emphasis on a sound before symbol approach to learning musical concepts.

‘Sound before symbol’ music pedagogy is an evidence-based way of teaching music literacy that is considered best practise music education in Australia. It is music pedagogy based on the idea that music is a language that can be learned in the same way we learn to speak – through listening and imitation.

It is considered best practice because it creates a natural and intuitive way for students to develop their musical skills. By prioritising the experience of music through sound and movement, students become more engaged, confident and expressive musicians.

This approach to teaching music prioritises the experience of music through sound, movement and active participation, rather than solely focusing on the notation or symbols used to represent it.

Tips for teaching music using sound before symbol:

  • Play music: When we talk about making music, we describe it as playing music. Incorporate games and actions into the music. Representing music concepts with our bodies is a great way to gradually build music literacy. For example you could creep around the room like a mouse when the music is quiet, and stomp around like a lion when it is loud!
  • Multiple exposures: It’s better to do one thing eight ways, than to do eight things one way. When introducing a new musical concept, explore it in many different songs that use that element before revealing the notation or name of the concept.
  • Make it your own: Once a musical concept has been given a name and made conscious to the students, create opportunities for them to improvise and compose music using this new symbol so that they can demonstrate their understanding and make it their own.

Teachers can also draw on a variety of sources and adapt methodologies to suit their school’s context to create a well-rounded and effective music education program that meets the diverse needs and interests of their students.

These guiding global methodologies underpin The Song Room’s DUET Teacher Mentoring program. Visit Our Programs Professional Learning page to find out more. Or, get in touch to enquire about getting The Song Room at your school.