Orff music activities are designed to help elementary students develop their musical skills through fun and engaging lessons.
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Orff activities help students develop independent music reading and performance skills. Even more important, music helps us express ourselves, connect with others, create memories, and develop cognitive abilities necessary for academic and pre-academic skills such as fluency and working memory. Orff activities are a beneficial addition to your elementary music classroom lesson plans.
So with limited time in our elementary music classes, what are the most effective and efficient ways to teach music Orff activities?
Below are some simple techniques that increase student success, reduce frustration, and make teaching and learning Orff activities more fun for students and teachers.
What’s in this post? Click to open the Table of Contents
1. Choose a Topic or Theme
Orff activities provide opportunities for students to be creative and storybooks provide the perfect themes to create Orff rhythmic and/or melodic patterns. Other topics or themes you might choose include seasons or holidays, character traits, or things unique to your school (mascot, school motto, school song, etc.). The possibilities are endless.
Create Simple Rhythm Patterns with Lyrics
Once you have chosen your theme, guide students through the process of creating simple rhythmic speech phrases related to that theme. Depending on the level and experience of your students, limit the phrases to 4-beat or 8-beat patterns.
2. Add Body Percussion
Movement helps students internalize and feel the beat. It helps students learn to stay in time and develop the concept of performing together as a group.
Guide students to add body percussion to match the rhythm patterns they have created. Match the movements to the developmental level of your students. Below are a few simple movement ideas to get you started.
Try these moves when students are seated on the floor.
- Pat (lap/ floor)
- Tap R knee/L knee
- Tap chest
- Pat shoulders (arms crossed)
- Tap R shoulder/L shoulder
- Snap fingers
- Rub hands together
- Pat cheeks
- Click tongue
Add these moves if students are standing or sitting in a chair.
- Stomp R foot/stomp L foot
- Stomp both feet
Take cues from your students and develop a movement bank of any additional appropriate movements you see them improvising.
3. Add Instruments
Demonstrate proper playing technique and then give students a few minutes to explore their instrument and the various sounds it makes. Remind them to practice softly. Warming up softly provides an opportunity to emphasize dynamics and musicianship as well.
I tell my students that musicians always warm up before they play and this is their warm up time. This quick minute or two gives students a chance to become familiar with the instrument and reduces interruptions as you move to the next step.
4. Say and Play
To help students match the rhythm of the words to the rhythm they play on their instrument, use the “say and play” technique. Say the pattern in rhythm while students repeat the pattern and play it on their instruments.
To keep this practice fresh for several rounds, change the inflection of your voice each time you repeat the pattern. Get silly with it and have fun!
5. Layer Patterns
Once students are proficient with unison performance (if they’re developmentally ready) layer the rhythm patterns one on top of another to create 2, 3, or 4-part speech pieces. Begin with vocal patterns first (no instruments), then add instruments.
It’s helpful for the teacher to keep a steady beat on an instrument with a unique timbre. Use an instrument that sounds different from the instruments students are playing. A low-pitched hand drum is often perfect for this purpose.
More Simple Tips to Facilitate Orff Activities
- Assign instruments with different timbres to each pattern. This helps students discriminate between distinct parts.
- Arrange all students who play the same instruments together in one group.
- Seat students strategically. Place stronger students next to weaker students to provide support and help the activity be more successful.
- When students create melodic patterns on barred instruments, remove the 4th and 7th notes of the scale and leave only the pentatonic pitches. This prevents discordant harmonies.
6. Help Students Notate Patterns to Preserve their Work
Music literacy and Orff instruction can go hand-in-hand. Take a few minutes to help students notate the patterns they create so they remember the music and can build on it during the next class session.
Take a peek at our 3 Simple Steps for Reading Music to help your students become independent music readers.
7. Play Around with Form
After students have created and mastered one short composition, consider creating another section around the same theme. Once again, help students notate that section to remember the music. Then perform the two sections one after another in various forms.
Consider the following common forms.
Depending on the level of your students and the time available, compose a third section (C section) to create a more expanded composition. Perform your composition in one of the following forms.
- ABACA (Rondo form)
Program one of your original pieces at your next concert. Or, film a video of a classroom performance and share it online.
8. Increase Student Success Playing Barred Instruments
Display a xylophone, metallophone, or glockenspiel template on your classroom whiteboard and guide students through “air play” practice before they rehearse on barred instruments.
How to Use “Air Play” Technique
- Guide students to sing the absolute note names (A, B, C) in rhythm to internalize the pattern. Use solfege pitches if your instruments are marked with solfege pitch names.
- Next, the teacher demonstrates the pattern while pointing to each bar on the whiteboard as students sing the pitches. Repeat several times.
- Then students use their fingers as mallets to point to each bar on the whiteboard as they sing the pitches. Repeat several times.
- Next, students air play directly over a barred instrument as they sing the pitches. Or, students may gently tap each bar with their fingers as they sing the pitch names.
- Finally, students sing and play the pitches on their instruments. Once students have internalized the pattern, allow them to sing the lyrics when they’re ready.
This simple practice technique will increase student success and reduce frustration. Students are much more confident when they step behind their instruments.
Air play practice takes a minute or two but it greatly decreases the amount of practice time needed to prepare students for performance. It’s time well spent!
Interactive Xylophone Templates
Learning to play barred instruments can be cumbersome for teachers and frustrating for students. But using the “air play” practice technique and being able to see the patterns from the performer’s point of view improves performance and student confidence.
This versatile set of Interactive Xylophone Templates is the perfect tool to facilitate elementary music Orff activities. It includes 6 templates for xylophone and metallophone or glockenspiel in the keys of C, F, and G which are the standard keys of most classroom Orff instruments.
Tap a bar to “turn it over” and display only the bars needed for any particular song.
Ways to Use Our Interactive Xylophone Templates
- Display Instrument Set Up. Setting up instruments is time-consuming. Display the template on the whiteboard to facilitate instrument setup. With the touch of a finger or the click of your mouse, you can “turn over” any bars that students should remove.
- Demonstrate Ostinato or Other Melodic Patterns. Templates provide a simple way to demonstrate patterns from the performer’s point of view.
- “Air Play” Practice. Students may use their fingers to “air play” from the board as the teacher models patterns. This quick rehearsal technique dramatically improves student success.
- Paper Practice. Print copies of the xylophone or metallophone slides on card stock and laminate them. Students who are unable to play the instrument appropriately may play a paper instrument. Or, you can print enough for the entire class to practice.
- Rehearsal Station. Use printed or digital templates as a rehearsal station or center.
See Xylophone Templates in Action
From a Few Happy Teachers Using these Templates
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Kirby’s Music Classroom – This resource is so handy for working with Orff instruments. It made it so much easier for my first graders to be able to play an ostinato and see which bars to remove and play! Thank you so much!
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Melanie K. – It was great that I could print off the slides and give the students their own paper xylos for them to practice on before trying the real thing.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Amy B. – Great resource for getting kids ready to use barred instruments. Thanks!
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Stephanie D. – So easy to use. Just what I was looking for!
Note: These interactive templates do not make sound. They’re visual templates to facilitate classroom learning.
A Note About Classroom Expectations
If students do not follow your expectations for using instruments, remove their instrument the first time they act out. Have them continue to participate using body percussion or playing a paper xylophone template. Explain quickly and succinctly that when they participate in a positive manner they can “earn” their instrument back.
Do NOT allow students to interrupt class by playing out of turn or making noise and never allow students to mistreat an instrument. Be sure all of your students understand your expectations before you play instruments.
There’s no right or wrong way to teach music Orff activities. You should feel free to be creative and use techniques that work for you. However, there are several things to keep in mind when you plan Orff lessons.
- Try to avoid introducing too much new material in one lesson.
- Provide adequate practice time. Repetition is important. This will help ensure students retain what they’ve learned.
- Consider how you might adapt the lesson to match different learning styles.
- Think about how you might incorporate technology into your lessons.
- Familiarize yourself with each element of a lesson and be sure you’re comfortable with the materials you’re using.
- Becoming performance-ready takes practice. Start rehearsals early. Allow plenty of preparation time for student performances.
Teaching music Orff activities should be enjoyable for teachers and students. If you enjoy teaching, your students will enjoy learning. Music provides an opportunity for you to connect with your students, build relationships, and create positive memories together.
No-Prep Elementary Music Orff Activities
Are you looking for ready-to-teach elementary music resources with differentiated Orff accompaniments? Take a peek at these FUN Differentiated Orff Activities designed for your music classroom. 😊
Meet the Author
Terri Lloyd is a former elementary music teacher with over 25 years of experience. She holds a Bachelor of Music, a Master of Science in Education, and a Technology Certificate in Instructional Design.
She is currently active in music education through blogging, workshops, and curriculum development. She serves on the music staff at her church and volunteers for an after-school children’s program. Terri is an active musician in the community, performing in a local Big Band, pit orchestras, and various events.