Friday, June 26, 2015

The Influence of Orff on Let's Play Music

Photo from Facebook user Melissa Martin
When Let's Play Music creator, Shelle Soelberg, selected the best elements to include in the LPM curriculum, she included tenets from pedagogical masters Orff, Dalcroze, and Kodaly that would achieve a complete musicianship program.

The Orff Approach shares several common goals with Let's Play Music including a concern with fundamental experiences and foundational skills for a comprehensive musical training

At our recent annual Let's Play Music teacher's symposium, we were treated to a session with certified Orff instructor, Anne M. Fenell, M.Ed., to learn more about the influence of Orff on Let's Play Music, and highlight the common approaches you'll see in Orff and Let's Play Music classes: we learn through play, we use hands-on instruments, we learn by doing, and we create lifelong musicians.

Carl Orff (1895-1982)
The Orff Approach to musical education is not a method: there is no lesson manual to follow. What we do have are fundamental principles and clear models that we apply in our own classrooms and the LPM lesson plans.

Carl Orff was born and educated in Munich, Germany. He became a conductor in several opera houses, and  established an international reputation as a composer with his operas, Der Mond (The Moon), and Der Kluge (The Clever Woman)

Orff's pedagogical work is reflective of his own compositions: melody and rhythm are explored through singing, playing percussion, speech, and movement.  Orff believed that music is the natural outcome of speech, rhythm, and movement.  Just as every child can learn language without formal instruction, every child can learn music by a gentle, friendly, natural approach. Through his many interactions, he concluded that "All humans are biogenetically predisposed to play and create music."

Photo by Red Poppy Photos and teacher Nicci Lovell
Orff conceived his approach to building musicianship in every learner by integrating music, movement, speech and drama.  Orff Schulwerk (schoolwork) was developed in the 1920's for teaching young women in collaboration with Dorothee Gunter. The students improvised music on drums, rattles, and pitched percussion.

Eventually the approach was recast for a younger audience.  In 1948, as part of a Bavarian radio series, the Orff music was presented for children. Five volumes of music were published as Music Fur Kinder (1950-54).  These volumes have been re-recorded worldwide, with a 1977 American edition which includes our own national heritage and folk songsOrff worked until the end of his life to continue development and spread of the approach.

We Learn through Play

"Since the beginning of time, children have not liked to study.  They would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play" -Carl Orff

First year Let's Play Music students in class.
Children instinctively play, imitate, and experiment.  Orff recognized that this is the process for learning.  Music is considered a basic system, like language.  In an environment where children feel safe to experiment and develop personal expression through music, drama and speech, they will easily incorporate musical literacy, just as children easily incorporate language and grammar. The Orff Approach is a child-centered way of teaching and learning music.  

Musicality is more than just literacy: it depends on improvisation, experimentation, and imagination. In our posts on why we value play and how we value the learning process, we explain how a playful environment opens the door for creative learning.   When children discover, invent, improvise and compose, their experience of music is intensified. These creative activities are complementary to those of interpreting and listening to music AND are part of the toolkit for a complete musician.

Teachers in Let's Play Music, and all Orff Approach teachers, create an atmosphere similar to a child's world of play so children can feel comfortable experimenting with new and abstract musical skills.  Teaching an ability TO CREATE is essential.  Dr. Fennel stated, "Creativity is THE currency of the 21st century." 

Hands-On Instruments

Orff believed if musical learning was to take place, the tactile senses had to be stimulated through 'hands-on' use of instruments. The first instrument should be the body: hands clap, feet tap, fingers snap, and the belly is a great drum! The second instrument is the voice. Singing needs to be an integral part of the music education. Read our post for more about why we encouraging singing.

When the first two are mastered, rhythm instruments are introduced, followed by melodic percussion instruments like tone bells.  

One reason our Let's Play Music tone bells are amazing (and inline with Orff teaching) is because they can be removed and reordered to facilitate playing patterns and ostinati with young children.  In our class, we like to 'tip up' every other bell to help students play melodic skips during The Dinosaur Song, for example, or tip up the Do-Sol-Do bells for the ostinato in Frog Went Hoppin'. Our bells aid in producing harmony and helping children become sensitive listeners as they play together in ensembles.

The Let's Play Music student bells have yet another special feature- the solfege syllables are engraved on them in two different keys: C and F.  This helps students understand that 'Do' can change but intervals and melodies (like Mi-Re-Do) follow the same pattern in any key. Transposing is easy after bell training with moveable Do.

Lifelong Musicians
The Orff Approach shares several common goals with Let's Play Music: a concern with fundamental experiences and foundational skills for a comprehensive musical training.

This means it is not enough to teach literacy (reading and playing your instrument), although that is part of it.  The goal to guide students to ENJOY making music in groups or solo. The goal is to help students BECOME composers and musicians.  The goal is to show them how to make it a language for their lifetime (not just for the duration of the music class.)

Anne Fennell, M.Ed.
Fennell says she always teaches with the end in mind: to get the kids to become composers. This is a key point to becoming a lifelong musician.  She quoted that up to 80% of students who play in band class don't play their instrument again after high school.  And who are the other 20%? Although everyone learned to read and play music, those 20% were the few who picked up the ability to create their own music.  They find joy in working cohesively with others to create, they find a language in music, and they don't drop it when class ends.  Fennel said, "our world needs lifelong musicians.  Our world needs creative problem solvers."

Fennel said, "Orff Schulwerk is creative music and movement through which children make meaning as composers and active participants," and that is very different from literacy alone.

Learn by Doing
The Orff Approach dictates that concepts are learned by doing. Students learn music by participating in activities that awaken the child's awareness of the aesthetics of music. The Let's Play Music curriculum minimizes lecture in our very active classes, and we avoid intellectualizing concepts until they have been internalized. Example: our Red, Yellow, and Blue chords will be defined as I, IV, and V once the students have sung, played, and internalized their use and learned to read on the staff.

Carl Orff instructs, "Experience first, then intellectualize," a phrase that explains exactly what we do with our color chords and our rhythm bugs.  He was also fond of the Chinese proverb: "Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand." You've seen involved students when they arrange themselves into chords on the giant staff, or when they sing a song in a game and figure out the ending melody on their own. Living up to her approach, Fennel had all of the teachers at the symposium learn by doing. We created our own rhythmic work and performed it immediately.

Songs for teaching-by-doing are usually short, contain ostinatos (short, repeated melodies), are within singing range, and can be manipulated to play in rounds or ABA form. Folk music and nursery rhymes of the child's own nation and heritage are chosen. Read our post on why we use folk music.

Orff and Let's Play Music both begin with major and minor scales. We both introduce singing on pitch with sol-mi (the minor 3rd interval), and progressively add more intervals for singing.  When students learn songs and skills, they first imitate the teacher's model and explore through activities involving singing and playing. Literacy then prepares for students for their own improvisation in a nurturing environment.

The Orff Approach focuses on percussive rhythm. The instruments feature xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiels, and drums. The children also sing, dance, chant, clap, snap, along to melodies and rhythms.  Soelberg gleaned many principles from the Orff approach and applied them to the Let's Play Music curriculum, our fabulous method including keyboarding into well-rounded musicianship instruction over a three-year curriculum. I'm happy I had a chance to learn more about Orff at symposium.

* Anne Fennell teaches music at Mission Vista High School in CA.  Her enormous steel-drum groups and fantastic concerts represent the joy and essence of Orff teachings in action.

Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music instructor

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