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The Orff Approach

The Orff Approach was developed by German-Austrian composer Carl Orff (1895-1982) and his colleague Gunild Keetman. Originally titled Schulwerk (literally “schoolwork”), Orff and Keetman set out to create a classroom environment that would be most beneficial for musical learning.

Music as Playtime

The Orff Approach believes children learn best in an environment that mirrors their play or pretend world. Teachers create an atmosphere that integrates the abstract with the real, helping students bridge the gap between what they hear while listening to music, and what they see when reading notation or looking/touching an instrument. This playful approach alleviates the pressure of examination or assessment on children and fosters feelings of equality. Children are more likely to find joy in group work, and pride in their individual contributions.

The Importance of Movement

Like many modern music education techniques, the Orff Approach is heavily influenced by the movement work of Dalcroze and his Eurhythmics methodology. Children are encouraged to move their bodies to the beat in order to internalize rhythmic structure. While Dalcroze’s method emphasizes fluid movements, Orff’s tend to be crisp and sharp.

Stages of Orff Approach

  • Imitation — A leader performs a simple melody or rhythmic pattern and the group repeats back the performance.

  • Exploration — Children have the opportunity to explore sound possibilities on Orff instruments and their own vocal and physical abilities.

  • Improvisation & Composition — After learning how to use Orff instruments and sing melodies, children are encouraged to create their own melodies and perform with and for others.

Instruments and Songs

One of the hallmarks of the Orff Method is the incorporation of percussive instruments. Miniature xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiels, metallophones, drums, and even recorders are all introduced to children. These accompany the singing of simple pentatonic melodies and songs. Like his contemporary Kodály, Orff used folk songs and lullabies that were already familiar to children to teach the structure of music. These songs, being so well known, could be improvised upon and turned into rounds or different musical sequences.

Contemporary Differences

Unlike the Suzuki Method, the Orff Approach is not a fully systemized or stepwise program. Orff gave great value to improvisation, which extended to his recommendations for teaching. Creative musical thought, he stressed, should be developed in children by working within a tonal playing sphere. Additionally, Orff believed the piano or violin to be too advanced for young children to learn, while Suzuki based his method on the violin. And while Orff and Kodály both used mainly folk songs, the implementation of Orff’s percussive instruments is a stark difference to Kodály’s acapella choral songbook.