The wirth method

The integrative approach to music education

The wirth method is a teaching technique created to educate children in the fundamentals of music and develop the potential of their voice.

Boy looking at his hand while singing

For more than 20 years, Gerald Wirth has been working on devising a method for both students and teachers to foster artistic talent and performance skills, as well as knowledge of musical theory through integrative, consistent, and fun-based methods. The wirth method approach to teaching involves the whole body, beyond the mechanisms for breathing and producing tones, up until the fingertips, and challenges the brain.

Besides learning and performing music, reading – and even writing – musical scores are included in the concept.

People singing

The wirth method essentially builds a bridge between two fundamental but distinctive methods of fostering musical talent:

  • “Subject oriented” – appealing to intrinsic motivation, and
  • “Object oriented” – intensive music instruction.

Gerald Wirth managed to link the two by including movement and body perception. This strategy allows motivation and learning progress to both remain at the high level.

Referring to our past success, we can prove that children who enjoy themselves while learning make rapid progress. Our students learn exceptionally fast and discover what they are really capable of. At the end of any Pielachtal Summer Academy, students stand on stage as soloists who would not have imagined this just a few days earlier.

The content of what is learned receives a positive connotation and longer periods of concentration are possible when activities are diverse and involve physical exercise.

Pedagogic fundamentals include:

  • A balanced change between phases of associative learning and cognitive learning
  • Continuous active recognition and positive confirmation
  • Schedule of training sessions in choral plenum, ensemble, and individual trainings
  • Systematic alternative exercises aiming at specific goals to enable spontaneous actions in class
  • Alternative exercises to compensate for unfulfilled goals
  • Individual training methods by selecting individuals for special tasks in group exercises
  • Selection of the repertoire according to pedagogic and advanced musical parameters
  • Active, multidimensional participation through employing a variety of learning materials; stimulation of several senses for more focus and sustainable learning
  • Carefully planned structure of the training sessions

The intensity of the learning material is variable and depends on the skill-level of the participants, as well as their age. Children need more incentives than adults. Nevertheless, the majority of aspects of the wirth method equally contribute to success with adults and professionals.

„Neurons wire together if they fire together“

– Music education through associative learning.

The first and foremost principle of the wirth method is associative learning. Choir lessons are illustrated with associations to trigger the same mechanisms as when learning one’s native language. Analogies make techniques of breathing and singing more comprehensible, which simplifies imitation and memorization.
Sustainable learning can only be achieved by teaching under consideration of children’s development stages. The brain processes techniques illustrated with associations and forms stronger neurologic connections that last forever. Later education can build on this fundament.

However, there is only a small window in the course of human cognitive development that allows this type of learning to have the everlasting and automated effect, as does the learning of a native language. It lasts from first attempts of controlled singing to puberty. Attaining perfection later requires a lot more effort

While learning in early childhood ideally is filled with associations, the learning process later on is based on the understanding of structures and rules to accommodate cognitive development at this age. Rational thinking becomes the new tool in all domains of the music education. To clarify – this process is comparable to learning a second language.

If a teenager has internalized associations in the past, new knowledge immediately connects with them. These factors will make the learning process more efficient and long lasting, and make atomization of newly acquired skills possible.

Final Concert of the Pielachtal Summer Academy, August 2014

Reading music

Sight-reading and singing require quick processing of information in extreme density (notes, key, measure, tempo, volume, agogic, etc.). Few other actions require a comparable amount of parallel thought processes, simultaneous memorization, and decision-making. The wirth method eases this process by teaching them through association with physical movement.

Skills applied in composition and presentation

Another essential part of education along the wirth method, is the change of receptive phases, cognitive process, practice, and application.

Everything our students learn is practiced in consecutive learning sessions, and applied in learning musical pieces which are performed on stage at the end of each workshop, as well as in a further step by composing a piece themselves. The various processes are divided into small steps that make these advanced tasks possible even for our smallest participants.

Musical education along the wirth method trains:

  • Life-long passion for music
  • Quality and control of the voice
  • Acoustic differentiation and the musical ear
  • Rhythmical feeling
  • Music theory and sight-reading
  • Team qualities through ensemble-singing
  • Emotional stability and wellbeing
  • Nonverbal IQ and concentration
  • Social competence

By making music together, children learn from each other and take responsibility for each other.