There are many aspects to the Orff approach that both inform and stamp my work, but if I had to choose one, it would be hard to pick between the integration of jazz, of world music, of ritual and ceremony, of body percussion—and children’s games. Since the last is included in all the others, it is a worthy contender for the thing that makes the most difference in both my classes with kids and adults. Having just re-read an article on the subject that I’m contributing as an article to a book with many authors, I’m struck by the way this aspect of the work can so powerfully change the teaching of children. I share the opening below (please note that this ©2022 Doug Goodkin) as food for thought, not just for music teachers, but all teachers—and parents too!
“Musical instruction for a child does not begin in the music lesson. Playtime is the starting point. One should not come to music— it should arise of itself. What is important is that the child be allowed to play, undisturbed, expressing the internal externally. Word and sound must arise simultaneously from improvisatory, rhythmic play.” - Carl Orff
The child at play and the artist at work share much in common. From the depths of the magical and mysterious dream-world, from the grand sweep of the unbounded imagination, the formless takes form, the shapeless takes shape, the unseen is revealed. The creative instinct that lies sleeping at the bottom of the well of each human consciousness is drawn up by the ropes and buckets of the child at play, the artist at work —and the thirsty world is refreshed.
The kind of play Carl Orff refers to here is that instinct in its pure form, the way children animate the world with their imagination. They engage with the things that surround them using the full range of their senses—exploring, experimenting, poking and prodding as their minds roam free. unfettered by adult rules and boundaries. They find the secret song hidden inside things, coax it forward into some kind of pattern and form, expressing their “internal world externally.”
One of the forms that emerges from the child’s play instinct is children’s games. The wide world of structured games created by and carried forth by children follow the blueprint of Nature’s curriculum. They are intuitively designed to coordinate the rhythmic energies of the body, to develop the mind’s quest to understand pattern, to serve the heart’s need to learn how to play well with others. Clapping games that cross the midline to help knit together the two hemispheres of the brain, quick reaction games that spring from ancient hunter’s skills of awareness and alertness necessary for survival, counting out and numerical games that codify mathematical intuitions, movement games that artfully focus the body’s impulses, drama games that allow children to try on different personas— all of this and more are Nature’s schooling, unencumbered by adult teachers and scheduled classes. The texts of the song range from sheer nonsense to deep metaphor, the child’s way of trying to make sense out of a chaotic, confusing and sometimes terrifying world.
Though the games themselves naturally differ in terms of the language and the musical styles of each distinct culture, their presence and function is universal. The common types of games found everywhere include:
• Partner clapping games.
• Stone-passing games (or other objects, including just passing claps around the circle).
• Quick -reaction games.
• Ring plays.
• Rock, paper, scissors games.
• Counting-out games to determine who is “it.”
• Elimination games
• Jump rope rhymes
• Body Awareness games
• Making-up motions games.
• Games that name professions and invite motions common to each.
• Games that tell a story and invite the children to play act the characters.
Why play these games in the music classroom? What is their role in a dynamic music and movement education? How can use them effectively?
I feel a book coming on.