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What is the Orff Method and How is it Taught?

Many parents wonder about some of the specialized systems that are used to teach music to children. There are a lot of misconceptions floating around, so it’s best to dispel some of them right off the bat.

In the realm of early childhood musical education, dozens of techniques and approaches exist for teaching young children to sing, play instruments and even dance to music. Perhaps you’ve seen tiny tots who play the violin at advanced levels or five-year-olds who are exceptional pianists. Those children are rare exceptions but demonstrate a key point: children can and do learn music and often thrive when they are exposed to a good teaching system.

Of course, not every child will master the violin or piano by age five, but any youngster can learn the rudiments of music in a fun, enlightening way. The Orff system is one of the best methods for teaching young minds about the many aspects of music, from singing and dancing in rhythm, to playing instruments and reading melodic notation.

Here’s a synopsis of what the system is and how it is taught:

What is the Orff Method and Where Did It Come From?

In a nutshell, the Orff system of music education is an ingenious approach that incorporates many different kinds of learning elements, like dance, acting, singing and the use of various percussion instruments.

Perhaps the single concept behind the entire method is play, not perfect pitch. Carl Orff, the creator of the system, was a firm believer in the power of children’s minds and their ability to learn while playing.

Orff is an often-quoted man, and one of his most interesting comments pertains directly to the idea of using play to help children learn about music:
“Since the beginning of time, children have not liked to study. They would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play.”

In classes, all children are encouraged to compose, improvise and use percussion instruments. The idea is to fully learn to engage in play, without worrying about theory, ideas and pre-set lesson plans. Of course, as children age and their brains begin to mature, lessons become more advanced but always include the key element of playfulness.

The basic facts about the method are:

  • Was created by German composer Carl Orff during the 1920s and 1930s
  • Uses rhythm and movement as the two key elements of teaching
  • Incorporates all elements of play into learning
  • Uses dance, singing, drama, movement and chanting
  • Allows teachers to build their own lesson plans
  • Employs percussion instruments like xylophones, metallophones and cowbells

What Kinds of Instruments Do Teachers Have In the Classroom?

Because lessons are based on music composed by the students and on traditional folk songs, the instruments tend to be in the percussion family, including drums, tambourines, gongs, bells, cymbals, xylophones and others.

Whether tuned or not, the instruments are at the center of many lessons because every child in shown how to use them and make different kinds of sounds on them.

After that, the young composers are left to themselves to see what types of melodies they can come up with. It’s a true example of learning by doing and embodies one of Carl Orff’s most famous sayings, “Experience first, then intellectualize.”

What Do Children Do In Orff Lessons?

Instructors are more like facilitators in Orff classes. They use various books that suggest different activities for groups but are not tied to any specific plan. In fact, Orff teachers are told to make up their own lessons as they feel the need.

Most often, teachers take a bit from the books and adapt their own ideas for activities to the classes. Of course, with an approach like this, no two classes are exactly alike.

A common free-form type of exercise begins with the teacher reading a passage from a folk story or poem. After that, the students are asked to re-enact the story while playing various instruments in the classroom. If a child doesn’t want to play an instrument, it’s alright to simply act out the story or passage.

The goal is to play, to listen to the passage and incorporate music, acting and movement into the re-enactment.

In many Orff lessons, the central teaching tool is a poem that the teacher reads at the beginning of the class. Everyone will be asked to recite the poem together while the teacher taps out a simple rhythm appropriate for the poem.

After everyone has gotten accustomed to the rhythm and beat of the poem, the teacher might select several students to play instruments and hit specific notes when a particular word is read.

There’s serious learning going on here because the kids are doing several things at once. They’re learning to listen and hear the internal beat of poetry, to match musical notes to key words in the poem and time their playing of the instrument to match the way the teacher reads the passage.

But kids love the challenge, they aren’t worried about making mistakes and, above all, they’l have fun while they’re learning.

What Do Kids Learn?

Most teachers show students how to read very simple musical notation along with other basic elements of music, like form, rhythm, texture, harmony and melody. In the Orff method, these concepts aren’t learned the tradition way, but through “experience.”

That means a typical class will include singing, playing instruments, acting, dancing, movement of all kinds, chanting, speaking and improvising.

Elemental Music is the Centerpiece of Orff Education

Carl Orff referred to “elemental music” as being the core of his method. His idea was to use the whole body, a range of emotions and parts of the mind to create a unique learning environment.

Orff’s ideal music class was one in which students weren’t passively taking in data from a teacher but were participants in the entire lesson. The notes played on the instruments were just one part of the entire learning puzzle, as far as he was concerned. In fact, a particularly revealing quote from Carl Orff is this one:

“Elemental music is never just music. It’s bound up with movement, dance and speech, and so it is a form of music in which one must participate, in which one is involved not as a listener but as a co-performer.”

Let Your Child Thrive With the Orff Method

At Prodigies Music (prodigies.com), our professional teachers can help your child acquire all the advantages of a music education. Whether a youngsters take lessons in the Orff tradition or some other method, they have the advantage of learning about music early in life.

That’s the key for building a better memory, a stronger mind and enjoying more academic success. The Orff method has a few unique advantages, including the following:

  • It’s fun for kids of all ages
  • Children participate in lessons
  • Many elements of music are taught
  • Instructors are competent professionals
  • Youngsters are exposed to instruments, notation, melody, rhythm and harmony

Here at Prodigies, we lean on principles and ideas from Orff as we build our library of colorful video music lessons. This way, your child can benefit from this time-tested system of learning that is preferred by many music educators around the world.

Make the decision to put your child on the road to musical success by finding a music class near you, or enrolling in Prodigies!

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