Tuned percussion strategy
At Pelican PS I’ve developed a new strategy for building skills in students working with tuned percussion (we have a small range of Orff-style xylophones and metalaphones). They often find it difficult to locate notes on the instruments, or to get used to the leaps and stepwise movement in the parts.
The following strategy came into being one day when, out of the blue, the music room wasn’t available and I didn’t want us to waste a lesson doing something unrelated to our instrumental work. I decided to get the students to sing and play their parts, using vocal sounds and body percussion. Drums were easily covered with chest thumps and patsching. Guiro players mimed their pattern and imitated the guiro sound with their voices.
For the tuned percussion, we had an ostinato:
It’s basically a pattern in fifths, following a Dmin, Dmin, C, Dmin chord progression. I got them to ‘play’ it on their bodies, using the following points:
D = knees
A = top of head
C = floor
G = shoulders
They weren’t hitting these body parts in order to make a sound; rather, the intention was to create a visual simulation of the distance between the notes on the xylophone.
The students seemed to enjoy dong it this way. It proved to be a good way to help them memorise the pattern (bear in mind these are children who have not had a lot of regular opportunities to play tuned percussion instruments), to stay focused on the ostinato, and to internalise the sense of distance between the notes. Later, we kept all of these body percussion parts in the piece, and used them as a warm-up before moving onto instruments. I’ve since used it with another class, for a different tune (a more complex one, with stepwise movement as well as leaps), and they too have responded well to this way of practising a riff, away from the instruments.