A Day in the Life of Orff Certification: Day 7

Orff Level I – Day 7

Today’s topic: improvisation!  This is a core skill in an Orff classroom (remember, it’s all about creativity) so I wanted to review some of the things we talked about in class today.

One big things Roger discussed was making sure we start improvisation really easy with the students and make sure they feel comfortable improvising simple rhythms.  After that is solid, you can move students onto barred instruments so that they can then apply the rhythmic improvisation to melody.  If you set the instrument up in a pentatonic scale, you also prepare the students to be successful and confident creators because whatever they play, it will sound good.  Next you can have students improvise using just a few notes and later the entire pentatonic scale on the recorder (a skill I’m still working on myself).  Finally, after using instruments the students will be ready to create their own vocal improvisations now that they have a clear understanding of the available pitch set and rhythms they can utilize.  This process takes time – lots of it – so take it slow; it’s better for students to succeed at the basics than fail at the complicated skills.

Roger’s Nuggets of Wisdom

(those small phrases that seem to pretty much sum up Orff Schulwerk)

 “Start with it, end with it, play it a lot” – This is a very easy phrase students can use once they start trying to create a sense of tonic with their improvisation.  If you are in the key of G pentatonic for example, then you start with G, end with G, and play G a lot.  Simple and to the point!

“Keep It Simple Sweetie (KISS)” – When creating music or lessons, it is best to keep things simple.  Sometimes that complex ostinato and really challenging xylophone part are appropriate, but most likely your students will need something simple and accessible.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push your students to try new and difficult things, but work with what they know, not what you know.  There are several examples of things I did with my students last year that were way beyond their comfort zone – namely asking them to improvise or compose with difficult rhythms without first having them create using ta and ti-ti.  Keep it simple and work for mastery of the basics before moving on to the tough stuff!

“I don’t teach monkeys, I teach musicians” – We’ve all seen it: we ask students to improvise and there’s that one kid who decides he can play ten zillion random notes in those 8 beats you gave him.  Roger told us today that he tells that kid that he could train a monkey to play like that but he wants musicians, not monkeys.  I loved this image and I think it’s an effective way to communicate the difference between noise and music to the students.


About Erin Clevenger

Erin Clevenger

Erin Clevenger has been teaching K-5 music in University City, Missouri since 2011, has completed Orff Levels I and II, and is active in the St. Louis Orff chapter. Before that Erin had a variety of professional experiences, including substitute teaching for a variety of grade levels and subject areas, teaching general music to fifth and sixth graders, working with teenagers with developmental disabilities, and teaching English at summer camps in Italy. Erin attended Truman State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Voice and Master of Arts in Education.

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