The Orff-Schulwerk Process | Imitation, Improvisation, and Exploration

from the Lesson Zone

Want to help your general music students explore music in a richer, more exciting way?

The Orff Schulwerk Process provides music teachers with a simple process to share concepts and experiment with music. Check out the overview, and then try it for yourself with our step-by-step guide.


German composer and pedagogue, Carl Orff, developed an internationally recognized approach to music education which combines movement, singing, speech, listening and instrument playing. Orff Schulwerk is an approach to music education that includes all facets of music expression. Children learn in an active way, where imitation and exploration lead to improvisation and music literacy. Speech, song, movement and instruments are the vehicles used to teach rhythm, melody, form, harmony and timbre. It is built on the idea that a child must be able to feel and make rhythms and melodies before being called on to read and write music. In the same way a child learns to speak before learning to read and write, he or she must have a musical language in which to feel at home, before technical knowledge is introduced. The Orff Process is child-developmental. Orff believed that a child internalizes and develops ownership of a concept by experiencing the concept first. "Experience first, intellectualize second."

Through tuned and non-tuned percussion instruments, movement, games, singing, rhythmic exploration and drama, the child learns of his innate musical talents in a way that is immediately successful and rewarding. Orff for the very young child is an excellent preparation for private lessons. For the older child, it is an indispensable means of developing a complete musical experience as it supplements private lessons.

Teaching an Orff Schulwerk Arrangement

The success of the Orff Schulwerk process in music education is in its community-based approach. In other words, every student learns and takes responsibility for every part of the arrangement.

Step 1
Present the song to the students.

Step 2
Teach the song as a chant, working phrase by phrase until the students have mastery of each phrase.

Step 3
Add the melody, working phrase by phrase until the students have mastery of the song.

Step 4
Move to the accompaniment parts, working on the foundational parts first - often the xylophone/metallophone parts. The use of body percussion is often employed in helping students transfer accompaniment patterns to the instruments. Consider/apply the use of movement to bring about a greater understanding. Encourage creative input from the children through out the process. Encourage improvisation.

Step 5
Combine vocal/instrumental/movement parts for a final performance.

It's important to remember that Orff Schulwerk songs and orchestrations should always be considered a "framework." Within this framework teachers may freely, add to or discard any part of the materials to meet the needs of the students. Students with experience performing Orff arrangements may even enjoy creating their own.

Print Free Orff Arrangements

Get started today with our professionally arranged free printable Orff orchestrations for beginner and easy levels.

Free Orff Instrument Sheet Music