Carl Orff and Orff-Schulwerk

Carl Orff (1895-1982) was a composer, born in Germany, who gave his powerful creative talents and his name to the approach to music education known as Orff-Schulwerk.  In 1924, Carl Orff helped Dorothee Gunther found a school for dancers and gymnasts in Munich, the Guntherschule.  There they developed a curriculum based on what Orff called the "elemental style."  Music and movement were broken down into simple, primitive, component parts and taught with the philosophy that a learning individual must repeat the musical developmental stages of all mankind.

Gunild Keetman, a very gifted student at the Guntherschule, helped Carl Orff translate his ideas into workable techniques for playing simple instruments, especially xylophones and drums.  In order to teach the dancers how to accompany themselves on these instruments, Keetman wrote some progressive musical pieces in what later became known as the Orff style.  All dancers were expected to learn all the instruments, and all instrumentalists were expected to dance.  This interchange became the essence of the Orff approach for children.

Basic Principles of the Orff Approach

In the Orff approach, children are encouraged to explore and then experience.  Elements of music are first explored, from the simplest to more complex, and then, through experience, the knowledge is refined.  A child first explores ways to move, beginning with natural movements such as walking, crawling, jumping and running.  Soon a child builds a vocabulary of basic movements, and a rudimentary understanding of space, first as an individual, and then as a member of a group.
At the earliest stages of Orff-Schulwerk, a teacher will begin to use and build with what Gunild Keetman refers to as "rhythmic building bricks."  These are small rhythmic fragments based on names of animals or objects, nursery rhymes, or the names of the children themselves.  There are many ways a creative teacher can play with the rhythm or "building bricks," creating various musical forms, and mixing the elements of movements, speech, voice and instrumental sounds.  Orff teachers tend to think of the Schulwerk not as a method, but a loosely-woven process which asks the teacher to always be open to experiments and improvisations.


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