Colourstrings – an overview

Yuri Djachenko and David Banney

Colourstrings is a child-centred approach to string pedagogy developed by Hungarian brothers Géza and Csaba Szilvay and their colleagues at the East Helsinki Music Institute.  With a history of more than 30 years, Colourstrings has demonstrated its success through a number of highly esteemed concert artists and an internationally acclaimed string orchestra, and the fact that over 50% of string students from the East Helsinki Music Institute are now professional musicians.  Colourstrings is used in many countries, including the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Estonia, Italy, France, Canada and Australia.

This presentation will give an overview of the scope, context, technical and musical sequence and repertoire of Colourstrings, and examine the use of Colourstrings in Australia.

The scope of Colourstrings is wide.  Its curriculum begins with preparatory material in the form of illustrated children’s songbooks, accompanied by stories and CDs.  These serve to acquaint the child with a repertoire of over 50 songs (the so-called "Rascals") that becomes the focus of the technical curriculum in the first few years.  The technical curriculum takes the child from the very beginning and ends with work in all keys, using all the major bow strokes; shifting and playing in position; and scales, arpeggios and modes in all keys.

Colourstrings is set in the context of the Kodály approach to musicianship.  The Kodály approach is now well established throughout the world and is used in many centres in Australia.  An important aspect of the Kodály approach is the use of melodic material from the musical vernacular of the student – the "musical mother tongue" principle. (Szonyi, 1973: 13)  Currently, work is being done to develop a repertoire of songs and melodies suitable for Australian Colourstrings students.

There is much innovation in the curriculum.  In the early stages each string is assigned a character and a colour (respectively GDAE is bear, daddy, mummy, birdie and green, red, blue, yellow).  This enables confident reading from the start, and is the first of many extra-musical allusions in the curriculum.  There is a gradual transfer to reading from the black and white staff over the first few years.  Musicianship is developed through singing, listening, analysis, improvisation, transposition and composition.  Notation makes chamber music possible from an early stage.  Left hand pizzicato and use of harmonics from very early stages develops the shape and flexibility of the left hand.  The bow is introduced through "assisted bowing" (i.e. assisted and moulded by the teacher), with the student gradually becoming independent of the teacher.  This hands-on approach is also important for left hand technical development.  The technical curriculum is carefully graded, and much care is taken to ensure a thorough technical grounding in the first four years before students advance to other repertoire and technical literature.

Special repertoire has been composed and arranged specifically for Colourstrings by fellow Hungarian Láaszló Rossa.  This includes systematic collections of violin and piano music, violin duos, chamber music and string orchestra music – a total of 22 volumes.  The repertoire can be supplemented with a range of other pieces, and a number of works with an Australian focus have been composed in recent years.

Colourstrings is taught in several centres in Australia, including Brisbane, Toowoomba and Newcastle.  Teacher training is offered at Summer Courses offered by the East Helsinki Music Institute in Finland.


Szőnyi, E. 1973, Kodály’s Principles in Practice, Boosey and Hawkes, London.

David Banney  David Banney

A past winner of the ABC Young Conductor of the Year Award, the ABC Young Composers Competition and the North Queensland Concerto Competition, David Banney resides in Newcastle, where in 2006 he founded the Newcastle String Academy. Described by the great English conductor Vernon Handley as ‘easily among the best half-dozen young conductors that I have encountered in the forty years of my career…’, David has conducted many of Australia’s professional orchestras as well as Opera Queensland and the Queensland Ballet. David’s interest in Colourstrings began with a visit to the East Helsinki Music School in 2001 where he observed Géza Szilvay, his staff and students teaching and performing.  Since then he has made several visits to the East Helsinki Music School and completed the Certificate in Colourstrings Teaching in 2005.

David graduated in Music from the University of Queensland, and his teachers have included Patricia Pollett (viola), Harry Kirby (violin), Vernon Handley and John Curro (conducting).  He also holds a Medical Degree from the University of Queensland, and is currently studying for a Ph D in Composition at the University of Newcastle.  David is a member of the National Council of the Kodály Music Education Institute of Australia.