An Introduction to Orff Schulwerk

Posted by Hilgard Meyer on

What is Orff Schulwerk?
Orff Schullwerk is an approach to musical education developed by composer Carl Orff, dance instructor Dorothea Gunther and later, educator Gunild Keetman. The principals of which include the integration of music, movement, speech, and drama in order to promote learning of music through experimentation, imitation and construction (improvisation) 1. The term has also come to represent a ‘child-centered’ way of teaching through play.
The History of Orff Schulwerk:
In the 1920s Carl Orff was exploring an elemental approach to music and dance at the Guntherschule in Munich which he founded with Dorothea Gunther5.  The gift of an African marimba had sparked his imagination and with a friend, Karl Maendler Orff started to develop melodic instruments to support in his teaching methods and include in his percussion ensemble6.
Gunild Keetman, an exemplary student of Orff, became his collaborator in further developing the elemental style of music. Keetman assumed leadership of instrumental activity and took direction of the school’s dance orchestra, the Gunther Dance Group, which became acclaimed across Europe4.
After World War II, The Bavarian Broadcasting Company aired some of the Schulwerk music programs for children resulting in growing popularity of the Schulwerk method6. Later, a selection from the broadcasts, composed by Orff and Keetman, were published as the five volumes (1950-54) of Orff-Schulwerk, now known as ‘Music for Children’4.
In 1961, the Orff Institute was established as a center for musical classes for children and teacher training in the Orff Schulwerk approach 4.
What are Orff-instruments?
Percussion instruments are most commonly associated with Orff-Schulwerk, these include pitched instruments such as glockenspiels, metallophones, and xylophones, as well as non-pitched instruments such as chimes, bells, castanets, cymbals, maracas, woodblocks, triangles, tambourines, gongs, and a variety of drums.
Key to the Orff approach is the use of the body and voice as an instrument, as movement is an integral part of children’s learning. Children are encouraged to sing, clap, dance, and snap their fingers as part of the perforamance2.
The recorder is the only non-percussive instrument in the Orff ensemble. However, it is considered a very appropriate instrument for elemental music instruction as it is easy to learn, can be used to teach foundational music concepts and helps to develop children’s small-muscle coordination and their singing voices3.
Principles of Orff-Schulwerk:
*as adapted from an article by Wolfgang Hartmann and Barbara Haselbach7
  • Menschenbildung” shaping of human character: the student experiences himself as a creative person and music-maker.
  • The Social ascpect : Teaching through groupwork, Everyone learns from everyone, with teacher guiding and suggesting.
  • Elemental Music: music is complementary to – and connected with with movement, dance and speech; the student takes part not as a listener but as a participant.
  • Creativity in improvisation: music making should emerge from improvising and creation during learning not only through reproduction and repetition
  • Process-oriented teaching: interplay of creative process, development and artistic result
“Since the beginning of time, children have not liked to study. They would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play; they will find that what they have mastered is child's play” – Carl Orff