Carl Orff’s philosophies in Musci Education

While Carl Orff is a very seminal composer of the 20th century, his greatest
success and influence has been in the field of Music Education. Born on July
10th in Munich, Germany in 1895, Orff refused to speak about his past almost
as if he were ashamed of it. What we do know, however, is that Orff came
from a Bavarian family who was very active in the German military. His
father’s regiment band would often play through some of the young Orff’s
first attempts at composing. Although Orff was adamant about the secrecy of
his past, Moser’s Musik Lexicon says that he studied in the Munich Academy of
Music until 1914. Orff then served in the military in the first world war.

After the war, he held various positions in the Mannheim and Darmstadt opera
houses then returned home to Munich to further study music. In 1925, and for
the rest of his life, Orff was the head of a department and co-founder of the
Guenther School for gymnastics, music, and dance in Munich where he worked
with musical beginners. This is where he developed his Music Education
theories. In 1937, Orff’s Carmina Burana premiered in Frankfurt, Germany.

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Needless to say, it was a great success. With the success of Carmina Burana,
Orff orphaned all of his previous works except for Catulli Carmina and the En
trata which were rewritten to be acceptable by Orff.

One of Orff’s most admired composers was Monteverdi. In fact, much of
Orff’s work was based on ancient material.Orff said:
I am often asked why I nearly always select old material, fairy tales and
legends for my stage works. I do not look upon them as old, but rather as
valid material. The time element disappears, and only the spiritual power
remains. My entire interest is in the expression of spiritual realities. I
write for the theater in order to convey a spiritual attitude.1
What Orff is trying to say here is that he does not use “old” material, but
material that is good enough to be used again. If one eliminates the fact
that this material was written many years ago, then there is nothing to stop
that material from being any less legitimate in recent times.

Orff’s work in Music Education has been astounding. In the early 1920’s,
Orff worked with Mary Wigman. Wigman was a pupil of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze,
another very influential name in Music Education. In fact, Orff’s approach
to music is very similar to Dalcroze’s, but Orff focuses on education through
percussion instruments. In 1924, Orff joined Dorthee Guenther and together
they founded the Guenther School. The schools focus was coordinated teaching
of gymnastics, dance, and music. Orff believed that music, movement, and
speech are not separate entities in and of themselves, but that they form a
unity that he called elemental music. When Orff refers to elemental music,
he means the music, movement, or speech created by children that requires no
special training, or in other words, the things that children do without
really thinking about it. The basis for the Orff method is the belief that
the historical development of music is reenacted in the life of every
individual. This means that, when a child is young, he is similar to a
primitive human being – at least musically – in that both are naive and rely
primarily on natural rhythms and movement to make music. Although this
theory has not been very widely accepted by most music educators, this is
where the Orff method of teaching music begins. The Orff method was so
impressive to the public that the Ministry of Culture recommended the
adoption of the Guenther-Orff experiments in the elementary schools in
Berlin. Unfortunately, the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of war stunted
the growth of these plans. Finally, in 1948, the German broadcasting
authorities urged Orff to resume his educational activities.

The Orff approach, not unlike the Suzuki method, begins with the idea that
music should be learned by a child the same way a language is learned.

Suzuki calls this the “mother tongue approach”. A child learns to speak
simply by listening and then imitating and then, later in life, the child
learns to interpret symbols as a written form of that language. So, then, a
child should learn music in the same way. At an early age, a child is
exposed to music and learns to sing and play percussion instruments, then,
later in the child’s musical development, he learns to interpret the symbols
on a score as music. The music a child learns during this time of his life
is very simple melodies that involve a lot of moving. Orff believed that
rhythm was the most important part of music. This is because rhythm is what
movement, speech, and music all have in common. Rhythm is what ties these
all together to make what Orff called elemental music. Orff uses this
approach because it is believed that children must feel and move to music
before they are asked to conceptualize about it.

Speech is one of the key elements in the Orff approach not only because
speech is an inherently rhythmic action, but because Orff was the only one of
the major educational philosophers (Dalcroze, Kodaly, and Suzuki) to use
speech in this way. Orff’s thought was that a transition from speech to
rhythmic activities and then to song was the most natural for a child. So,
the student moves from speech to body rhythms such as clapping or tapping,
and then finally leads to the playing of an instrument. Orff’s philosophy
continues on in this way even after a child has developed a skill for an
instrument. For example, concepts such as meter, accent, and anacrusis are
introduced in speech patterns, reinforced in other activities, and then
studied in a musical context. A specific example of this is the teaching of
the concept of a canon. A simple yet varied chant or other form of rhythmic
speech is taught to the class. The students then use the idea of a “round”
to explore how each entrance by each different part is achieved. Finally,
the teacher notates the rhythmic pattern and shows how each part of the
pattern works with the other parts.

Orff’s approach to Music Education notes that speech, chant, and song are
all points along the same line. That is to say that one leads directly to
the next. Children’s experiences with singing follow directly from speech.

This means that melody is actually an extension or an outgrowth of rhythm.

When children begin to learn to use their voices as musical instruments,
they enter another pre-planned part of Orff’s method. There is a very
specific order in which students learn to use solfege. As with most other
theories that involve singing, the descending minor third, sol-mi, is the
first interval that is taught. Other tones follow in succession in this
order: la, re, do, to complete the pentatonic scale, and then finally fa and
ti. The Orff method uses the pentatonic scale because Orff believed it to be
the native tonality of children. This is cohesive with Orff’s belief that
music history is relived in the development of each individual because he
considered the pentatonic mode appropriate to the development of each child.

The use of the pentatonic scale also gave the students confidence. After
all, it’s very difficult to improvise and sound bad when the only notes
available are those in the pentatonic scale. This kind of constant
affirmation is crucial to a child’s development.

The last part of Orff’s elemental music is elemental movement. As stated
earlier, the word elemental in this sense refers to the kind of action, in
this case movement, in which the child participates with no prior training or
instruction. Orff said that this kind of activity made it easier for
children to become expressive. This is because children are more able to
express their thoughts and feelings through movement and painting than
through words. Allowing children to express themselves in this way allows
them to use their imagination because, as we adults often forget, children
have the most vivid imagination. After observing these actions, the teacher
then relates them in some way to music and build musical concepts out of
them. Unfortunately, many of the activities that adults scold their children
for are the same ones that are the most suitable for expressing feelings,
such as walking on tiptoe, hoping over imaginary obstacles, or spinning to
the point of dizziness. These are actions that adults would react to as
being ‘fidgety’ or ‘squirmy’ when, in fact, they are simply natural movements
that children use to express themselves. The ideal Orff educator would
encourage these behaviors and use them to teach musical concepts.

The end goal of the Orff method is to develop a child’s musical creativity.

Where traditional Music Education dictates that a child must learn to read
music right away in order to be a self-guided and independent musician, the
Orff method focuses on the creative and expressive side of music.

The instruments that are commonly associated with the Orff method
distinguish it from other methods. Orff uses xylophones and various
metalophones that use removable bars. This allows an educator to change bars
for different modes or to remove unnecessary bars to keep from confusing
young students. The Orff instruments are modeled after and are closely
related to the Indonesian gamelans. These instruments allow great
flexibility for children who have handicaps. For example, students with
visual handicaps or hearing handicaps can hit just about anywhere on an Orff
instrument set up to use a pentatonic scale so he can feel like he is being

In conclusion, the Carl Orff has been a very influential person in the field
of Music Education. He has demonstrated to us that the way to teach music to
children is to let then go back to the basics, or elements, of speech,
movement, and singing. He has reminded us how much we really expect children
to learn music differently in the traditional method than it is natural for
them to learn.


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