About Orff

What is Orff?

Orff Schulwerk

Orff Schulwerk, an approach to music education developed by Carl Orff, is experiential and holistic and is for all types of learners, aural, visual and kinesthetic. In Orff Schulwerk, children learn in an active way, where imitation and exploration lead to improvisation and music literacy. Speech, song, movement and instruments are the vehicles used to teach rhythm, melody, form, harmony and timbre. Carl Orff defined the ideal music for children as “never music alone, but music connected with movement, dance, and speech – not to be [merely] listened to, meaningful only in active participation.”

Orff Schulwek is built on the idea that a child must be able to feel and make rhythms and melodies before being called on to read and write music. Orff believed that a child internalized and developed ownership of a concept by experiencing the concept before it is put into words. “Experience first, intellectualize second.” In the same way that a child learns to speak before learning to read and write, he or she must have a musical language in which to feel at home before technical knowledge is introduced.

Through pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments, movement, games, singing, and rhythmic exploration, the child learns of his own innate musical talents in a way that is immediately successful and rewarding.


“Tell me, I forget, show me, I remember, Involve me, I understand.”


Who was Carl Orff?

Carl Orff (1895 – 1982) is probably best known as the composer of Carmina Burana, but his work with music education has led to a worldwide approach to teaching music to children.

Between 1950 and 1954, Orff and his collegue, Gunild Keetman, wrote down the pedagogical concepts that had grown out of their work with children. When they had finished, they had written five volumens: Schulwerk, in its re-creation and transformation, had become Music for Children.

Orff viewed rhythm as the basic element inherent in music, dance, and speech and created ‘one language’ based on this common element. Improvisation and creation were at the center of his teaching. He used the voice as the first and most natural of instruments and made the ostinato (a repeated rhythmic, spoken or sung pattern) serve as the form-giving element in all improvisations.

At the core of Carl Orff’s work is a kind of musical expression that is able to speak to children without the loss of musical integrity. Therein lies its significance and its genius.

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