What is the Orff Approach to Music?

The Orff approach involves singing, body percussion, playing on a variety of both tuned and untuned instruments, movement and dancing, and speech activities to encourage active music making.  It was pioneered by German composer Carl Orff and his colleague Gunild Keetman.  It's foundation is focused on the needs of the child and the emphasis is on nourishing the musicality of each child through elemental activities in music and movement.  Inclusivity, improvisation, flexibility and adaptability are encouraged by this approach to music.  It is an approach to which every child can contribute and experience success.

Introduction to the Orff Schulwerk Approach

by Christoph Maubach
(This text has been revised for the 2006 Orff Schulwerk Level courses)

This guide assists those who are curious about the Orff Schulwerk Approach and wish to further their understanding of this educational concept. It is widely acknowledged that the best way to learn about the Orff Schulwerk Approach is through activities in music and movement. Nevertheless some historical and educational facts will help to connect the experiential with philosophical and historical context.

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Orff Schulwerk - Where did it come from?

by Esther Gray

This article is from the "The Orff Beat - Centenary Issue" Official Bulletin
of the Orff Schulwerk Society of Southern Africa, Vol XXIV June 1995

Sometimes Orff teachers or students are asked, "What is Orff? or "What does Orff stand for?" Those questions can be hard to answer, because Orff is many different things.

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Looking Back - Looking Forward

Paper presented at the 2000 Traunwalchen Symposium


Fifty years of Orff-Schulwerk: Music for Children gives us time to feel again the intentions Carl Orff expressed in 1963 as "ideas placed in time" and to give critical thought to ideas that have been developing, growing and in flux. At a conference at the newly founded Orff Institute in 1963, Orff gave a speech entitled: "The Schulwerk Past and Future".1 What are the underlying intentions that Carl Orff, well ahead of others at that time, expressed with his collaborators including Dorothee Gunther and Gunild Keetman and Maja Lex that led to the development and publishing of the volumes Music for Children ? What did Orff "wish"? How was it possible that such a concept of music pedagogy unlike any other spread and extended all over the world?

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Carl Orff in his Time

Speech on the occasion of Carl Orff's 100th birthday
Munich, Prinzregententheater, 7 July 1995
By Hans Maier   

Carl Orff's hundredth birthday had hardly begun to approach than there erupted fierce arguments about the composer. They were concerned less with his work than with his life, and particularly with his behaviour during the Third Reich and in the years immediately after the war. New investigations into Orff's life and work, to which the Orff Centre in Munich rendered an outstanding service, went round the world in crassly-expressed news flashes that raised some (false) points. This triggered off confusion and consternation: Was Orff a Nazi? Was Orff a liar - someone who, like a Bavarian Astutulus, had cunningly led the occupying authorities by the nose?

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Orff-Schulwerk - Past and Future

Dr Carl Orff

This speech, given by Professor Dr. Carl Orff at the opening of the Orff Institute in Salzburg on the 25th October 1963, was published by B. Schotts, Mainz in the Orff Institute Jahtbuch 1963.

The translation is by Margaret Murray.

To understand what Schulwerk is and what its aims are we should perhaps see how it came into being. Looking back, I should like to describe Schulwerk as a wild flower. I am a passionate gardener so this description seems to me a very suitable one. As in Nature plants establish themselves where they are needed and where conditions are favourable, so Schulwerk has grown from ideas that were rife at the time and that found their favourable conditions in my work. Schulwerk did not develop from any preconsidered plan &endash; I could never have imagined such a far-reaching one &endash; but it came from a need that I was able to recognise as such. It is an experience of long standing that wild flowers always prosper, where carefully planned, cultivated plants often produce disappointing results.

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In Memory of Carl Orff

By Heather McLaughlin, VOSA Newsletter May 1982

Our mentor, Carl Orff, died on 29th March 1982. We take some time in this issue to remember and pay tribute to a brilliant composer and educator.

In January 1978 while doing the Special Course in Salzburg, I was fortunate enough to see Carl Orff in person. He gave a performance of his arrangement of a Bavarian folk tale … “Die Bernauerin” I think it was called and I was overcome with admiration for this man who at the age of 82 could perform a speech drama with such energy and fire. The folk tale was in a German dialect so strong that many of the German-speaking students could not understand it, but the speech rhythms held us all spellbound. Yet perhaps the most amazing thing was to see this frail-looking old man sitting at a bare wooden table with the book open in front of him, and using his hands on the table creating exciting accompanying rhythms against the words he spoke. I had certainly never seen anyone play a table before, and the speed his hands moved and the complex rhythms they produced will always stick in my memory.

I was privileged indeed to see for myself the musical energy of such a great man, and could certainly understand the reasons why the educational ideas as well as the musical compositions of Carl Orff have become well known all over the world. Even at 82 the life and fire of this man were clearly evident.

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