Someone wrote to me recently asking if Orff training would be useful for his piano students.
Well, that little spark lit my fire! This could become my crusade when I “retire” and clear my plate of all my other unfinished books, projects, workshop themes. There are a finite number of general music teachers in the world, but an abundance of piano teachers, many of whom are making their student suffer through the same old narrow idea of music as pushing down the right keys with curved fingers while successfully translating black dots on paper. Most are just mindlessly passing down the same-old same-old that so many of us suffered through. Not that it was all bad and after serving time for two or three years, our just reward was Bach’s Minuet in G and the possibility in later life that we could sight-read through the old pieces and get some pleasure and comfort from piano playing.
But mostly, it is so much less than it could be. I’m imagining an Orff course just for piano teachers that would open the windows and doors, even break down the walls to let some fresh breeze into the room and refresh those struggling students. If anyone is in a Piano Teacher’s Association and wants to hire me for a demonstration workshop, I’m putting the call out here! Here was my answer to the e-mail inquiry as a teaser:
“Thank you for your inquiry. As a pianist and Orff-Schulwerk teacher, I personally think they're a great fit! But it takes a bit of reflection and imagination to figure out how. Consider these points:
• The first connection is the obvious parallel between the keyboard-like layout of the Orff xylophones and the piano. Anything kids play on the xylophone they can adapt to piano—and vice-versa.
•Most piano lessons are about learning to read notation and play pieces. The Orff emphasis on improvisation and elemental composition brings the musical experience far beyond simply reading scores or duplicating other's works. It insists on a clear understanding how the notes go together, tested anew in each improvisation. Piano lessons are in sore need of some time spent like this, exploring the possibilities of the piano like a playground rather than a mathematical problem to be solved with curved fingers.
• Music is song even when it’s not and in all my years of piano lessons, my teacher never once had me sing. Students need to get in the habit of singing everything they play and figuring out how to play what they sing. The first helps them feel the phrasing, the sense of breath in the phrases, the accents and such and often solves the problem of rushing. The second is great ear-training and can help liberate them from the tyranny of the printed page.
• As Dalcroze discovered in the late 1800’s, it doesn't hurt them to get off the bench and dance a phrase, walk the beat, feel the weights of the different beats in each meter through movement. Orff succeeded Dalcroze as a music educator hoping to get music back on track from the specialist mentality of the West to its original integrated whole.
• Play, sing and dance is the Trinity of Orff Pedagogy and most piano lessons are play only. And play in the narrow sense, not with a sense of being playful. No babies need be thrown out with the bathwater of uninspired piano teaching. Kids can still learn to read notes and curve their fingers and play ye ole Minuet in G or Fur Elise. But not only will they do so more musically once the music is fully embodied and sung inside and out, but they will be so happy to improvise, compose, experiment, romp freely in the playground of possibility with 88 bars to climb on. And don’t forget a little blues and such.
In short, Orff training is not aimed at piano teachers, but it’s a bullseye in the hands of the teacher who understands how to adapt it. So come on board!”