Orffully Good


Sorry about that title.

Since arriving in Melbourne, I’ve seen a programme focusing on rock and pop style learning, and one focussed on western classical learning. This week I’ve looked at an alternate/bridging approach: the Orff approach.


P1090205.JPGThis experience has come courtesy of Lynne, who is – before I go into the music education side of things – a legend, for the following reasons:

  1. As well as welcoming me to her lovely school in east Melbourne for three days, she’s also had me to stay
  2. She loves food as much as me: fish and chips, chicken and potato cakes, CAKE (there it is, again), and chocolate. Her equally excellent husband, Alan, has made me a sandwich for lunch every day
  3. She drinks lots of tea
  4. She lives close to where I was born (and her kids were born in the same place!) so when she collected me from the station, drove me straight to the hospital to see where the main event of 1987 occurred…!
  5. She took me out for cake and tea on Monday and a drive through the Dandenongs on Tuesday
  6. She is very talented at beading and quilting
  7. She loves people and sees the best in them – whether it’s her grandson, her colleagues or the kids she teaches. Her Christian faith shines through in this.
  8. She is very passionate about life in general and in particular music teaching and the Orff approach and is incredibly knowledgeable about it
  9. In her own words, she loves watching people be creative
  10. She has an amazing gift for giving kids the space to be musically creative – something which, for all the great stuff I have seen in the last month, I hadn’t seen much of before seeing her in action.

A space to create

Carl Orff was a composer in the 20th century (you’ll probably know his work even if you’ve not heard of him) who also developed an approach to music education rooted in facilitating development of students’ ideas and creativity.

In its student-centred approach, it has parallels with the Musical Futures approach I looked at last week; however this time, instead of developing students’ musical skills by supporting them to play songs they know, the approach wants to reach into the depths of students’ natural musicality to help them compose their own music.

In its focus on development of pitch, pulse and rhythm awareness, Orff also has links with the Kodaly approach I observed at Moorambilla. However, it’s a much less rigid approach than pure Kodaly with more room for students to navigate their own musical experiences and understanding, and develop their musicality through movement.


Lynne has been teaching Orff music for 25 years, and one of the most inspiring things about her as a teacher is her dedication to professional development and learning. She regularly attends and organises conferences, is always on the lookout for new ideas and resources and has a deep and constantly evolving understanding of the theory and rationale behind everything she teaches in her classroom.


Here are some snapshots from the three days I spent at her school.

Year 5/6 Glide and Punch


Stuck to the board with magnets are eight actions: four soft (blue), four hard (red). The children sit in a circle and roll two dice. They create a movement incorporating the two words assigned to the dice numbers.

‘But wait!’ I hear you cry, ‘That sounds more like dance to me!’

For Orff (and for most other cultures in the world), movement is intrinsically connected to other forms of musical learning. Musical understanding comes from organically emerging kinaesthetic activities:

“Its foundation was concerned with the child: the needs of the child and the emphasis on nourishing the musicality of each child through elemental activities in music and movement. The Orff teaching process involves singing; body percussion; playing on a variety of both tuned and untuned instruments; movement and dancing; and speech activities”


The children come up with ideas for the movements, first in pairs, then individually. One action is ‘dab’ – this causes some confusion thanks to this dance move currently sweeping across playgrounds globally: one boy sweetly and sensibly does a literal ‘dab’ as intended and when asked why by one of his friends whispers, “that’s just not the ‘dab’ Ms meant for the music lesson!”. Their work will grow over the next few lessons to body percussion sounds, and then instruments. They understand the concepts of of legato and staccato without playing a note.

All music lessons here begin with movement to music (not dance – which has separate connotations attached). Lynne stands back and lets her students move. At first, particularly in the older years, some are silly and a bit self-conscious (especially with me, an intruder, in the room), but by the end of the song they are moving freely; alone, in pairs and small groups.

Year 3/4 Rhythm Notation


With no preamble, Lynne puts a paper coffee cup upside down on the table. Plonk. Her action reminds the children that they have done this before. They laugh. She plonks down another. This time, their eyes track the cup and they clap as its rim hits the table. The next time, they anticipate and clap too soon as Lynne pulls it back.

When four cups are on the table she points to each one using a steady pulse and the children clap along: a 3D 4/4 bar.

She swaps one cup for two smaller, brightly coloured cups. The children’s clapping changes to incorporate these two new quavers. She removes another cup and replaces with a clear water cooler cup: a crotchet rest; its translucency a visual reminder of what it represents. Later on, with a class who pick up the concept quickly, she adds four shot cups: semiquavers.


Some 4/4 rhythms are displayed. In teams, the students use their own set of cups to copy the rhythm and then clap it correctly. Later, the concept is developed to incorporate pitch, as the cups are spread at different points on the floor. They are reading notation without writing a dot.


Percussion club

Tuned percussion are the tools at the heart of the Orff approach: they’re versatile and make a beautiful sound with ease. Lynne’s classroom is filled with pleasingly tactile and sonorous instruments: xylophones, glockenspiels, marimbas, metallophones, vibraphones, chime bars, joia tubes (hadn’t seen them before and they certainly are joyful!), boom whackers and all kinds of other wooden and metallic instruments.

Joyful joia tubes

The percussion club is for children from across the school. Around 15 players aged between seven and 11 sit at their instruments (their mallet technique perfect – one nine year-old corrected mine!) and softly, two girls begin to play ostinatos* on their xylophone and glockenspiel. Lynne doesn’t say anything, and the rest of the group sit quietly, listening. Eventually, some of them begin to join in with their own patterns, and Lynne gestures to those who need prompting to start. The atmosphere in the room changes as the players lose their self-consciousness about when to begin or stop. An intense focus radiates across the room. Individual players modify elements of their patterns. They’re listening, naturally adapting to make their music fit with others’.

*Repeating patterns, as anyone who’s had the pleasure of teaching Key Stage 3 music will tell you in the tone of voice reserved for en masse ‘good mornings’ in school assemblies.




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