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Carl OrffCarl Orff (1895-1982) was a German composer and educator who developed a unique approach to music education. Orff defined the ideal music for children as "never alone, but connected with movement, dance, and speech—not to be listened to, meaningful only in active participation." Orff said, "Experience first, then intellectualize." Based on this ideal, the Orff approach builds understanding of concepts and skills through connecting students with the music by experiencing it on all levels. These levels include speech/chants, movement, singing, drama, and by playing pitched and unpitched instruments.

The Orff philosophy encourages children to experience music at their own level of understanding. Children are encouraging learning in their natural environment of play. Improvisation is encouraged to allow children to explore the possibilities in music.

The music used in the classroom is based on the children's own heritage with a combination of folk and composed music. Here in America, our classrooms are multicultural. Orff philosophy embraces the folk music of all cultures. They are almost all in the universal pentatonic scale. (Five note scale - separated by whole steps.) C Pentatonic would include the pitches C D E G A. This is the most common scale used in Orff because it is easily used with the Orff instruments.

A peek into an Orff classroom: (one 30 minute class)

"Tell me, I forget…show me, I remember…Involve me, I understand." Carl Orff

An Orff lesson may begin with the children listening to a short story. The children are asked how they would interpret some elements of the story. A group of children are asked to go to the unpitched instruments and pick out something to make a rain sound. Another group could be asked to pick out a happy sounding instrument. Other groups are asked to pick out sounds for the sun and the moon. The teacher reads the story again, adding the sound effects to the story.

She asks the children if they would like to add an accompaniment to the story. She brings out some Orff instruments, a Bass xylophone and metalophone, a couple of alto and soprano xylophones and metalophones, and some glockenspiels. These she already has set up in C pentatonic so that the students will be successful with whichever notes they randomly choose. The class then separates into two groups - the unpitched and the pitched percussion. The teacher demonstrates a simple drone of CG alternating on half notes to give the character in their story some walking music. As the character does other parts of the story, the teacher and/ or class decide to add something else (another drone, a triangle note for example, or low C on the bass instruments to signal a strong moment) The class "performs" their story with their "orchestra."

The class divides again to make a group of players who will act out the story as the rest of the group "plays" through the story. The entire class is involved. There is something for everyone at their own level. Children are encouraged to change parts - but do not have to change if they are not comfortable. Notes may or may not be written down for the instrumentalists. If they are written down, they are placed in a simple way in large print on the wall so that reading the music does not get in the way of experiencing the music. But, they are learning to read the music, they are learning the rhythms, they are learning the names for the different instruments. They are learning by doing. The motto of Orff explains it best, "Tell me, I forget…show me, I remember…Involve me, I understand."

The Orff Approach

Elements of the Orff Approach
The Orff philosophy is a music education for the whole person. It is essentially an active music experiential approach. Orff encourages creativity through the student's natural responses to music.

1. Rhythm
Orff begins with rhythm because it is the most basic of all the elements. He teaches this through natural speech patterns. For the child, speaking, singing, music and movement are all naturally connected. The teacher then leads the students through their own creative process. By connecting speech patterns to the rhythms, the child can master whatever meter or rhythm is needed. This naturally also leads to body rhythm patterns and movement to the music.

2. Melody
Melody is taught in the same way. Simple intervals grow out of the natural pitches from the words. These intervals combine to make a melody. This melody can later be put onto instruments. Orff said, "Experience first, then intellectualize." Only after the playing has been taught does the teaching of notation occur.

3. Improvisation
Part of the playing and experiencing which is essential to the Orff approach is the element of improvisation. As frightening as improvisation seems to be to adults, it is freeing to children. No rules! The teacher sets up boundaries in which the child can create his or her own rhythm, melody, or dance.

Example for rhythm
The student has 8 beats to create his or her own rhythm.

Examples for melody with singing
Using the notes from "do" to "sol" create a song

Example for melody using an Orff instrument
Set up the instrument in C Pentatonic. This enables the player to improvise without hitting a "wrong" note. The student has 8 beats to create his song.

Example for movement
The student has 16 beats to create some movement for a given piece of music or a given part of a story.

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Georges Bizet
L'Arlésienne Suite

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Lesson Plans
Based on the music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, these lesson plans provide practical, effective activities for grades K-5.

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