The Approach of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze

R. J. David Frego, Ph.D.

The Dalcroze Eurhythmics approach to music education was developed in Switzerland in the early Twentieth Century by Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. While the approach was initially intended for conservatory students, Eurhythmics soon expanded to the training of musicians, dancers, and actors of all ages, as well as to therapeutic applications.




The philosophy of Eurhythmics centers on the concept that the synthesis of the mind, body, and resulting emotions is fundamental to all meaningful learning. Plato said in this Laws: Education has two branches, one of gymnastics, which is concerned with the body, and the other of music, which is designed for the improvement of the soul (Pennington, 1925, p. 9). Emile Jaques-Dalcroze believed that every musician should strive to be sensitive and expressive, and to express music through purposeful movement, sound, thought, feeling, and creativity.


Mead (1994) cites four basic premises that encapsulate the philosophy of Eurhythmics:

1.      Eurhythmics awakens the physical, aural, and visual images of music in the mind.

2.      Solfège (sight-singing and ear-training), improvisation, and purposeful movement together work to improve expressive musicality and enhance intellectual understanding.

3.      Music may be experienced through speech, gesture, and movement. These can likewise be experienced in time, space, and energy.

4.      Humans learn best when learning through multiple senses. Music should be taught through tactile, the kinesthetic, the aural, and the visual senses.


Jaques-Dalcroze wanted to create an approach to music education in which sensory and intellectual experiences are fused into one neuromuscular experience—reinforcing the body’s response to music (Caldwell, 1995). He felt that this would lead to performance at high levels beyond expectation (Carder, 1990). Dalcroze believed that music education should center on active involvement in musical experience. Technique and intellectual understanding are important, but active experience must come first. Today’s music education is based on the “sound before the symbol” philosophy, a legacy of Jaques-Dalcroze and Pestalozzi before him. Jaques-Dalcroze felt that students could practice and learn musical expression through the active discovery of time, space, and energy. He believed that as music moves, so should musicians; therefore, rhythm is elemental to this philosophy. Jaques-Dalcroze taught that through rhythmic movement, musicians could experience symmetry, form, tension, and relaxation, phrasing, melody, and harmony. Experience should teach the musical elements (Martin, 1965).


Jaques-Dalcroze intended for his approach to develop musical understanding through eurhythmics and to help students develop immediate physical responsiveness to rhythmic stimuli. Developing musical rhythms and nervous sensibility would ultimately lead to the capacity to discriminate even slight gradations of duration, time, intensity, and phrasing. Through rhythmic movement, students would begin to think and express themselves more musically.  Initially, Jaques-Dalcroze’s conception of eurhythmics was designed for the education of conservatory musicians, but soon expanded to the early musical education of children, and to those with special needs. His philosophy grew to include the belief in the development of a more musical society through rhythmic training in the schools (Campbell, 1991).




The Dalroze approach, often identified as Eurhythmics, consists of three related components. The first is Rhythmic Solfège, or ear training. Jaques-Dalcroze believed that students must learn sophisticated listening skills and develop “inner hearing.” Musicians should be able to hear what they write and write what they hear. Music notation is meaningless unless realized in real performance or in the imagination. Solfège is taught using the fixed-do approach, based on the French system. Students develop sensitivity to pitches, their relation to each other, and to the tonal framework. What makes Rhythmic Solfège unique is that it is always combined with rhythm and movement, both locomotor and non-locomotor.


The second component of this approach is improvisation. Improvisation skills are developed sequentially and used in many settings. An instructor may play the piano while students improvise movement, react spontaneously to verbal instructions, or change in musical character or nuance. In the reverse, a student might improvise movement while another student accompanies with a drum, at the piano or vocally. Students soon develop skills to be able to improvise musically and expressively on t heir own instruments. These spontaneous performance activities are designed to communicate musical intent and to improve response time, also known as temps perdu (Mead, 1994).


The third component is the eurhythmics itself. Often considered the core of the approach, eurhythmics was actually the last part to be developed. It is of equal importance with rhythmic solfège and improvisation, but not more. The term eurhythmics is from the Greek “eu,” meaning good, and “rhythmy,” meaning rhythm, proportion, and symmetry. This idea embodies Jaques-Dalcroze’s philosophy in two ways. First, human beings can experience symmetry, balance, and rhythmic accuracy in music through symmetry, balance, and rhythmic accuracy in movement. Second, the three components of the Dalcroze approach (rhythmic solfège, improvisation, and eurhythmics) are interdependent and must be taught together. The three complement and reinforce each other, providing a complete and balanced musical education. Modern music educators and music therapists often identify the approach as Eurhythmics, although all three facets are implied.


Robert Abramson (1980) describes a sequence of embodiment that the learner experiences:


            Hearing to moving

            Moving to feeling

            Feeling to sensing

            Sensing to analyzing

            Analyzing to reading

            Reading to writing

            Writing to improvising

            Improvising to performing


While participants do not experience all of these actions in one lesson, during a eurhythmics class they are moving through various levels of this sequence.




A typical introductory eurhythmics lesson involves activities or games that require total mental and kinesthetic awareness. The lesson is presented in a somatic approach that allows the participant to hear and react physically to the musical stimulus, which produces body awareness and sensations. These physical sensations are transmitted back to the brain as emotions and a more developed comprehension of the experience. It is common to begin a eurhythmics lesson with walking to improvised music and responding to changes in tempo, dynamics, and phrase in quick reaction games. Through these activities, the students begin to understand how physical adjustments, such as energy and flow of the body weight, need to occur in order to physicalize the music. Through these basic introductions, the teacher can address musical elements such as pulse, beat, subdivision, meter, rhythm, phrase, and form.


Intermediate eurhythmics lessons can address polymeters, polyrhythms, canon, tension and relaxation, breathing, conducting, counterpoint, and the interactions of anacrusis, crusis, and metacrusis. Creativity is pervasive throughout the lesson. All classes are in a group setting where the participants interact with partners or small groups to develop the nonverbal communication skills and creativity necessary in music and movement.


Plastique animée, or more often referred to as plastique, is often seen as the culminating experience or performance in a eurhythmics class. A plastique combines the skills addressed throughout the class and from previous rhythmic experiences into an expressive embodiment of the music through individual or group movements (Frego, 2009).  The participants are provided with the basic musical elements and are asked to spontaneously create an interactive composition with the music. Someone stepping into a eurhythmics studio to observe a plastique would be seeing music in motion and might not be aware that the movement is a spontaneous creation.


Eurhythmics Today


Modern music education benefits from Jaques-Dalcroze’s teaching. Today’s teachers focus on active learning for students. This implies less instruction and more experience for the students (Caldwell, 1993). The eurhythmics approach also places emphasis on musical behavior and expression, and their demonstration through observable movement. Visible evidence of musical understanding through experience takes of mystery out of the verbal definitions of musicality. Assessment of learning is visual, aural, and kinesthetic.


Another aspect of modern music education inherited from Jaques-Dalcroze is the celebration of the individual. Teachers expect to provide appropriate musical experiences for all students. Creativity and imaginary play are encouraged through improvisation. Music class is student oriented, with groups of students actively thinking about, listening to, and analyzing and creating music (Johnson, 1993).


Jaques-Dalcroze placed special emphasis on child-centered learning. He developed a particular interest in the natural development of the child (Johnson, 1993). Across ages, Jaques-Dalcroze developed music teaching strategies that were age and ability-level appropriate. His approach to music learning was broken down into experiences for the primary grades, intermediate grades, and upper grades (Mead, 1994).


Eurhythmics exercises and pedagogical principles are easy to apply to most teaching situations (Johnson, 1993). Because multiage classrooms are increasingly popular, eurhythmics activities can be adapted to suit a variety of student skill and experience levels. Teaching training in eurhythmics allows instructors to become creative and flexible in the give-and-take of modern education. The ability to be spontaneous in the classroom is valuable for all educators. Teachers can follow through unexpected teaching opportunities with ease, and provide students with a model of an adaptable and creative personality.


Today, Dalcroze Eurhythmics is taught in  music preparatory schools and is a component of the music theory and aural skills curriculum in conservatories and universities throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. It is also used in K-12 music education, studio instruction, dance education and therapeutic environments. Training in the approach is available throughout the globe. In addition, national and international professional organizations exist to support eurhythmics teachers and those interested in pursuing the experience. The American Eurhythmics Society posts locations of training sites in the United States.




Émile-Henri Jaques was born into a musical home on July 6, 1865. His Swiss parents were living in Vienna, and young Émile and his sister Hélène were supported in their artistic education by their mother, Julie, who was a fine music teacher and pianist. She had studied the philosophy and teaching methods of educational reformer Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827). Pestalozzi was an early advocate of teaching through the senses and through experience, not merely through the written word. He also supported the addition of vocal music instruction to school curricula. Pestalozzi’s influence on Madame Jaques was evident in her son as well. Since eurhythmics centers on the philosophy that experience in music is key to musical understanding, it seems that Pestalozzi and Dalcroze philosophies share common ground (Collins, 1993). Childhood in the Jaques household was a time of singing, playing, dance, acting, and creating. Émile had a happy childhood and was described as “lively, friendly, and event contemplative for a child” (Spector, 1990, p. 5).


In 1875 the family moved to Geneva. After several years in a private school Émile Jaques enrolled at the Geneva Conservatory. At the age of eighteen, he had not yet decided on a career. The following year, 1884, he went to Paris where he studied drama at the Comédie Française and music at the Paris Conservatory. Young Émile reveled in the artistic atmosphere of the city. A passionate young actor and musician he also found time to compose and perform, singing as he accompanied himself on the piano.


While in Paris, Émile Jaques became familiar with the teachings of Mathis Lussy (1828-1910), a piano instructor and writer. Lussy wrote extensively on the subject of expressive musical performance and musical understanding (Caldwell, 1995). Through Lussy, Émile Jaques learned the process of scholarly inquiry: to recognize problems; to approach them scientifically; and to devise methods for their solution (Spector, 1990).


Émile Jaques’ interests were shifting toward an emphasis in music, and after a visit with his family in Geneva in the summer of 1886, he accepted the position of assistant conductor and chorus master at the Théâtre des Nouveaux in Algiers, North Africa. Algiers had been a French colony since 1847 and consequently felt the influence of Western European culture. Émile Jaques underwent two changes while enjoying his first professional employment. Feeling that his youthful appearance might inhibit his effectiveness as a leader, he began sporting a mustache and goatee, which he would maintain for the rest of his life. This was also the time when he added Dalcroze to his birth name, becoming Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. It seems that a composer of polkas in Bordeaux France also had the name Émile Jaques. To avoid confusion, Émile-Henri borrowed the name Valcroze from a friend, changed the first letter to “D” and was known thereafter as Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (Spector, 1990).


After one season, Jaques-Dalcroze returned to Geneva in 1887 and, later that year, moved to Vienna, enrolling at the Vienna Conservatory in the studio of Anton Bruckner (1824-1927). Their collaboration was brief. Bruckner insisted that “der dummer Fronzose” study harmony from the beginning, which Jaques-Dalcroze refused to do. Eventually Bruckner attempted to have Jaques-Dalcroze thrown out of the conservatory, but was thwarted by the faculty. Adolf Prosniz (1827-1917) invited Jaques-Dalcroze into  his studio. It may have been Prosniz who helped Jaques-Dalcroze focus his musical concentration and learn to study music with greater depth (Spector, 1990). In spite of his clashes with Bruckner, Jaques-Dalcroze considered their association valuable. Bruckner’s intolerance and authoritative style were the antithesis of Jaques-Dalcroze’s playful nature. Perhaps this experience helped to solidify his idea that an effective teacher is one who respects and educates the whole child.


Spring of 1889 brought Jaques-Dalcroze back to the Paris Conservatory and composition study with Gabriel Fauré. The twenty-four-year-old musician made the most of his opportunities; moving in the same musical circles as César Franck and other artists of his stature. Jaques-Dalcroze continued to compose a collection of songs, ensembles, and sketches based on the customs of the day.


In 1892, Jaques-Dalcroze returned to the Geneva Conservatory, this time as a professor of solfège. He began to question the teaching methods of the day and considered improvements to the curriculum. Careful observation of his students showed him that while the students could be good musical technicians, they often did not hear or feel the nuances of the music they were required to play. Just keeping a steady beat was often difficult for students. Jaques-Dalcroze began by getting the students up from their seats and keeping a steady beat by  moving about the space.  From there he added other fundamental qualities of singing, breathing, walking at various tempi, skipping, and conducting with large gestures (Odom, 1998). He then added quality to the movement by asking them to physically react to the improvised music that he was providing at the piano. These qualities included legato, marcato, and staccato movements to complement the music. Cooperative work with a partner allowed the students to experience timing, space, strength and weight, creativity, and cooperative learning. By adding rhythmic movement to music,, students acknowledged the body as the first instrument of expression (Dutoit, 1971, p. 9). As instructor of solfége, Jaques-Dalcroze believed that the compartmentalization of music courses was detrimental to the pupils’ true musical development (Carder, 1990). By combining solfége with rhythmic movement and improvisation into rhythmic gymnastics, as he first called his work, Jaques-Dalcroze began to teach in a holistic style.


From 1903 to 1910, Jaques-Dalcroze actively pursued the development of a teaching approach based on rhythmic gymnastics. However, his colleagues at the Geneva Conservatory considered him something of a radical. The disapproval that met his innovations was due partly to the conservatory faculty’s unwillingness to condone his experimental techniques, and to have its students become “performing monkeys” (Dutoit, 1971, p. 14). Another branch of resistance was from Genevan society itself. Jaques-Dalcroze’s students dressed in short-sleeved tunics with bare legs and feet to allow free movement in class. This was quite an affront to most Genevans, who lived according to the rigid morality of the early Twentieth Century.


People outside of Geneva, however, were keen to adopt Jaques-Dalcroze’s philosophy of music and movement education. After a demonstration of his approach in Berlin, Jaques-Dalcroze received an offer to develop an institution for rhythmic study at an experimental Garden City being designed north of Dresden, Germany. The premise of Hellerau was to be a community that combined a planned industrial settlement with a school for artistic development attended by children and adults. Between the period of 1910 and 1914, Hellerau became a cultural center for music, theatre, and dance.


In partnership with Adolphe Appia, a noted theatre designer, Jaques-Dalcroze supervised the construction of a school, student dormitory, and performance space that was noted for its architectural and theatrical innovations—instead of a proscenium, the space was now open, which brought the audience closer to the performances. In addition, all components were completely modular, which allowed the performers to move the stage in front of the audience (Spector, 1990). During performances, students were not categorized as musicians, dancers, or actors, but functioned as all three. In the summers of 1912 and 1913, audiences were drawn to Hellerau to see the student summer performance of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. These demonstrations attracted notable artists and teachers from around the world: theatre luminaries Konstantin Stanislavsky and George Bernard Shaw; dancers Mary Wigman, Sergei Diaghilev and Rudolf von Laban; and musician Darius Mihaud (Martin, 1965).


With the outbreak of World War I, the Hellerau school was closed and a permanent school was founded in Geneva. Jaques-Dalcroze, recognizing the need for qualified instructors, designed a professional training curriculum that enabled others to teach his approach. Training centers in eurhythmics have since been established around the globe. Jaques-Dalcroze continued writing, composing, and teaching in Geneva until his death in 1950.




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Recommended additional readings may be found at


R. J. David Frego, received a B. M. from Brandon University in Canada, an M.M., M.M.Ed. and a Ph.D. from Florida State University. In 1998 he established the Dalcroze Research Center at the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute at The Ohio State University. He regularly presents workshops in Dalcroze Eurhythmics throughout the globe. Dr. Frego is past president of the American Eurhythmics Society and Director of the School of Music at the Pennsylvania State University.