Orff Approach

About the Orff Approach

The Orff Approach is a set of principles by which creative education can be organised. Primarily it uses a trinity of Art Forms: Music, Dance and Spoken Word, with two central themes that bind them together: Rhythm and Improvisation. The Orff Approach is not a linear method, nor is it a training programme for particular career paths, such as playing an instrument, joining a ballet company or becoming a poet. It does however offer a holistic grounding in the many skills and qualities that a person might want in living and or working creatively. It can sit alongside other curriculums or stand alone as a pathway for personal and professional creative development. 

In the Orff Approach we believe that music making develops us in ways that are:

Social - When we make music together we learn to interact and share with others- communicating ideas and feelings, adapting and negotiating, challenging, collaborating, celebrating and having fun.

Emotional - It enables us to express our feelings, to reflect or change a mood - to soothe, excite, shock, elate….

Cognitive - In making and listening to music we use our imagination and experience to give musical form to ideas and feelings. Perception, memory, concept formation and problem solving abilities are developed.

Physical - Through singing, dancing, and playing instruments we acquire increasing control of our movements and our voice with energy, flexibility, dexterity, strength, speed, coordination and breathing.

Therapeutic - Music is a medium for communication. It calms, stimulates, comforts and energises.

Spiritual - Music creates the conditions for contemplation and transcendence..


Carl Orff believed in what he called 'elemental music.' 

'Elemental music is near the earth, natural, physical, within the range of everyone to learn it and to experience it, and suitable for the child...

It is music that one makes oneself, in which one takes part not as a listener but as a participant...'

It is unsophisticated, employs no big forms and no big architectural structures, and it uses small sequence forms, ostinato and rondo.'
Carl Orff first became interested in music education in the 1920's, he founded a movement school in Munich with Dorothee Gunther. Carl Orff and Dorothee Gunther were interested in 'spontaneous, personal, musical expression' where students could improvise their own music and their own accompaniments to movement. 

'I encouraged the activation of the students by the playing of their own music, that is, through improvisation and composing it themselves.' Carl Orff

Later he worked with student and colleague Gunild Keetman who co-wrote many of the pieces, songs,  and improvisation frameworks. 

In 1961 he opened the Orff Institute in Salzburg to continue the approach. 

In the late 1950's Margaret Murray was asked to create an English version of Orff's Schulwerk suitable for the UK. Between the 1957 to 1966 Music for Children Volumes 1 to 5 were published by Schott. The books include:

Words, speech rhythms, chants, songs, dances
Starting points using: pentatonic scales, modes, drones, ostinato
Body percussion 

"This combination of music, language and dance (...) is the essence of it all. That one things spills over into another. And of course the one thing that a young child loves to do of course is to move! Whether it be dancing or running about or anything, if he can put that activity into a form of some kind this gives satisfaction and learning, development and everything else." Margaret Murray 2013. 

Orff-Schulwerk: Past and Future

  This speech was given by Carl Orff at the opening of Orff Institute in Salzburg on 25th October 1963. He describes Orff Schulwerk and its importance in teacher training. It is translated by Margaret Murray.

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