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Minnesota Orff Report

by Sarah Hruska-Olson 

The September 27 Minnesota Orff Chapter workshop, presented by Dr, Julie Scott, was on a favorite topic of mine: singing!  The title was: “Singing in Orff Schulwerk.”  Dr. Scott is a past president of AOSA, the national Orff Schulwerk association.  She was my recorder pedagogy teacher many years ago in Orff levels at St. Thomas.  Dr. Scott has been an Orff levels instructor for twenty years.  She is also an expert on teaching singing to children with 30 years of experience directing children’s choirs in various settings.  Dr. Scott is the director of Music Educators Workshop at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  

For a full biography of Julie Scott, please visit the chapter workshop link:

As a singer and Orff enthusiast, I had such a great time learning new Orff based singing activities and discussing different ways to help children to find their singing voices and stay engaged as singers as they get older.  

Like most Orff workshops, they day was filled with hands-on and “voice-on” activities but we also spent time reflecting and sharing ideas about how to make high quality singing a central part of our teaching.

Singing activities were put into the framework of:

  • singing to learn a musical concept
  • singing as a tool
  • singing as a separate thing
  • and singing for the joy of singing

We used a piece from Music for Children, Volume II to discover a new note, (fa) through singing and barred instruments.  Then we used creative movement groups to illustrate the rhythm, melody, and form of  each part of a three-part choral composition.  Using body percussion, drumming, and improvisation, we accompanied a short, engaging song with varied phrases.  Also, we used singing as a vehicle for analyzing phrase structure. 

We read through a few great choral octavos by Orff trained composers and talked about incorporating movement, body percussion, and improvisation into teaching choral music.  Lastly, we learned a few special songs by rote to sing together for the simple joy of singing!  

Here a few important ideas I took away from the activities and the discussion:

  • Young children really need to contrast singing voices with speaking and whispering voices.  The “Peanut Butter” song is a great piece for using all three voice types.  Another great idea is to write the words “sing, speak, whisper” on a chart or white board.  Have the children do the “ABC” song as you point to each different word as a cue for which voice to use.
  • Unaccompanied singing is important.  Singing, moving, and playing instruments should all be done as separate things sometimes.
  • Male singers should not feel that they need to sing in a falsetto voice to be a good vocal model for children, particularly if their falsetto sound is lower quality than their natural voice.  Children will adjust to hearing the melody an octave lower and sing just as well.  In the end, the best vocal model for a child is another child.
  • You don’t need to think you are a terrific singer to successfully incorporate vocal music into your teaching.  In fact, if children know that you have worked on something that is hard for you, they may feel more empowered to try their best too.
  • Upper elementary children who have become less enthusiastic about singing are often motivated by body percussion that can later be transferred to instrument.  They also love to sing in canon.  
  • Insist that children use their best quality singing voices every time they come to class.
  • Some students may not sing in tune until their voices change.  Place them next to you or in between two strong singers.  Never give up on them!

Singing is a vital component of the Orff Schulwerk philosophy.  Children learn by doing, so it is important to sing a lot!

The next Minnesota Orff workshop with Steve Calantropio is coming up on Saturday, October 25th.  Mr. Calantropio is an internationally acclaimed presenter and expert on elemental music.  The workshop will examine the relevance of elemental music and Orff Schulwerk philosophy in the current context of academic goals and standards.  

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