Lesson: Harvesting Creativity

Harvesting Creativity

Harvesting Creativity: Using Folk Repertoire as the Seed for Making New Music

As Orff inspired music teachers, we all believe that one of the ways students demonstrate musical literacy is by creating new music.  In order to have students in upper grades feel confident in their creative skills, though, it’s important to have younger students get in the habit of making musical choices and creating small musical works.

One of the ways I’ve found to be an easy starting place for having young students create their own music is to use rhythmic building blocks to create a B section to a piece students have already learned.  Here’s an example:

  • Teach students the folk song “Apple Tree.”apple tree
  • Add the game.
    • Game directions vary from source to source. The traditional game directions involve “trapping” students from the circle like they do in “London Bridge.”
    • The game directions I have found most successful with students are as follows:
      • Class sits in a circle and sings the song.
      • One student walks around circle carrying a foam apple. On the final note, the student drops it on another student.
      • That student stands up and chases the first student around the circle. From this point on, “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck” rules apply.  (Yes, I know most people call it “Duck, Duck, Goose,” but I grew up in Minnesota and just can’t do it!)
    • Share the following visual with students. Tell students, “I went to the grocery store yesterday, and they had my favorite kind of apples — Fuji!  I bought four of them.” Ask students to “speak and clap” Fuji in each of the four apples.
      four apples
    • “My mom is coming to visit me tomorrow, so I was really excited that they had Granny Smith apples at the store, too! I only bought four apples — some were Fuji, and some were Granny Smith.  Can you mix and match them?”  Have students speak and clap several combinations that they come up with.
    • Continue the process, adding “Red Delicious” and “Pink Lady” apples.
      apple rhythm

Have students select their favorite combination of four apples and remember it.

  • Have students sing the song as an A section, then clap or play their apple combinations on hand drums as a B section.
  • Possibilities for extending the lesson:
    • Ask students to clap their combination for a partner and have the partner guess what the four apples were. Switch jobs.
    • Invite individual students to play their pattern on a tubano and have the whole class guess the pattern.
    • Have half the class clap their patterns while the rest of the class sings the song. (Students will need to clap their pattern two times in a row to match the length of the song.)

“Apple Tree” is by no means the only song this works with, and the idea of using rhythmic building blocks is certainly not something that’s unique to my classroom!  But it’s something I really do, and I do it with real kids.

Teaching folk music and fostering creativity with students are both key components to what most of us do every day…and finding ways to help kids see that the music they learn and the music they create can go hand in hand?  That’s a powerful combination!

About Andrew Ellingsen

Andrew Ellingsen

Andrew Ellingsen teaches elementary music and works as an instructional coach in Decorah, IA.  He earned his B.A. at Luther College and his M.A.M.E. at the University of St. Thomas with a dual concentration in Kodály and Orff Schulwerk.  He has served on the OAKE national board, a committee for AOSA, and has held leadership positions in state and regional organizations for both Orff Schulwerk and Kodály.  Ellingsen teaches in the Orff Courses in at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and the University of Memphis, and has presented at both OAKE and AOSA national conferences.



Another game direction involves the students standing in a circle with their cupped hands extended. The student with the apple walks around the inside of the circle, tapping the apple into each child’s hand, as they feel the beat.

Andrew Ellingsen

I love when one song can be taken in so many different directions — thanks for sharing!

Stephanie Holtman

I love using rhythm blocks as a way to foster improvisation. I find my students “get” rhythm so nicely with using blocks.

and my WA students know all the types of apples. Great lesson idea!

Andrew Ellingsen

I bet it would be fun to have your students brainstorm an even longer list of apples that fit simple duple rhythmic building blocks!

Joan Straw

Thank you for sharing your creativity. Do you recommend doing triplets with the younger kids? I was thinking red delicious would have a quarter and triplets.

Andrew Ellingsen

To my ear, the natural speech flow of red delicious ends up sounding like “RED de-LI-cious” with the accents of the words falling on the downbeats of two pairs of eighth notes. You could certainly substitute in a different type of apple if red delicious sounds like “Red – – DE-li-cious” to your ear! Our district saves triplets for older students.


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