Inclusion and Orff-Schulwerk

AutorIn: Shirley Salmon
Themenbereiche: Schule, Kultur
Textsorte: Artikel
Releaseinfo: In: Musicworks Vol. 15 Nr. 1, Sydney 2010, ISSN 1320-078X, p. 27 - 33
Copyright: © Shirley Salmon 2010

Inclusion and Orff-Schulwerk

"The disabled person also does not live on bread alone but has the same right to enjoy life as the so-called normal or talented. Musical enjoyment is an irreplaceable element in finding harmony and balance in one's personal as well as social life".

This statement from Wilhelm Keller from the year 1974 has not lost any of its relevance. Keller recognised that each person had a right to music, happiness and integration. With his reflections and demands he was years, if not decades, in advance of integration and inclusion movements (cp. Keller 1996). Inclusion is a human right that accepts the difference between people as a natural and creative part of life. Inclusion is the right to equal opportunities to participate in all areas of communal life. Although the ideas of Carl Orff und Gunild Keetmann were not conceived specifically for children with disabilities their significance in special education and social work was soon recognised, developed and documented (cp. Salmon 2009). The idea of working with people of all ages and abilities was inherent from the beginning. It lies in the essence of Orff-Schulwerk and Elemental Music that Carl Orff said can be learned and experienced by everyone.

Elemental music making is a concept of active and creative music practise for everybody. It is "the realisation of an original, central musical potency anchored in each individual" (Keller 1984). It exists independently from any determined age or from special talents or disabilities. It is the musical interactivity of persons with their individual capabilities. As each player receives an individual suitable role or assignment he/she can take part as a fully fledged member of the group. It enables so-called normal, talented and disabled people to play together in one group without any participant being under or over-challenged by adapting tasks and roles to suit the capabilities of the individuals instead of the group having to adapt to a fixed form (cp. Keller 1996).

The elemental is something in its own right, "being expressed as a result of a prevailing need" (Jungmair 1993). Elemental music making is a pedagogic form of work, which can, with disadvantaged or disabled students, have a therapeutic effect. Within musical activities, musical targets such as learning and accompanying a song, playing or inventing a melody or rhythm, learning different kinds of ostinati, can play a central role. On the other hand extra-musical targets such as, for example, broadening perception, motor activity training, body awareness, speech or social learning can be important. It is often possible to compensate for a disability by using other senses or abilities that are not affected. Each person has their own individual experiences, interests, and capabilities with music when receiving (listening), when reproducing (singing songs and playing pieces) and when producing (creating) music. Especially in the case of difficulties in perception, experience or contact and of no or little ability to play, which are the bases of learning and assimilating the world, Orff's ideas have a significant and contemporary meaning.

In inclusive teaching I find the following fundamental ideas are of particular importance:

Multi-sensory Experience

In 1963 Carl Orff wrote: "Elemental music is never music alone but forms a unity with movement, dance and speech. It is music that one makes oneself, in which one takes part not as a listener but as a participant. It is unsophisticated, uses no big forms, is near the earth, natural, physical, within the range of everyone to learn it and to experience it, and suitable for the child" (Carl Orff 1964 p. 16).

In this multi-sensory approach in which we play, sing, move, dance, listen, recite and much more, several senses can be addressed which in turn support children's general development. A stimulating, rich multi-sensory environment during childhood is of great importance for the development of the abilities and competences an adult needs later in life. "Experiences and sensations are learning. Sensations form the base understanding from which concepts and thinking develop. Sensory enriched environments are imperative to learning" (Hannaford 1995 p.48). The inter-play between physical activity, emotional expression in movement, coordination of movement with language and singing, synchronisation of the movements within the group and many other elements are essential to this learning process which is supported by an enriched sensory environment (cp. Hannaford 1995). Orff-Schulwerk can offer activities that can address many senses: the visual, auditory, tactile, kinaesthetic and vestibular. This is often important for students whose sensory integration is still developing; the loss or underdevelopment of one sense can be often compensated by other senses.

Impressions from the outer world (the environment, nature, art, human relationships etc.) are perceived with many senses and then processed emotionally and cognitively in one's inner world. The resulting forms of expression may arise as a spontaneous and direct reaction or be deliberately formed through longer phases of experimentation and composition (Haselbach 2002). For some students with cognitive disabilities the spontaneous form of direct expression of feeling, 'authentic self-expression' in, for example, experimentation, exploration and improvisation, may be their only possibility. With others, creative processing of impressions can lead to artistically created expression where invention, composition and rehearsal lead to a finished piece. In the transition from impression to expression "our teaching should include a rich but not over saturated stimulation. Should offer material that is varied and of relevant interest to the students, and in a form that is realistic and artistically created so that it promotes perception and stimulates emotional and cognitive processing" (Haselbach 2002, p. 80).


Many instruments used in music education and music therapy belong to the family of "Orff instruments". Un-tuned and tuned percussion and other elemental instruments use many senses, are technically relatively easy to play, are body aligned (do not separate the players too far away from the instrument or from each other), and are suitable as solo as well as group instruments not only for interpreting pieces but also for experimentation and improvisation. Carl Orff encouraged the constant search for new sound possibilities and suitable material for elemental, physically related music making. In this sense there are additions to the Orff instruments, for example the instruments of Latin percussion or also traditional instruments that can be played in an elemental way. Sonorous natural objects (e.g. stones, nuts), everyday and household objects or elemental instruments such boomwhackers, kazoos, recorder mouth pieces, and swanee whistles and many others can also be used. It is often a challenge to find suitable instruments for children with specific disabilities, to enable them to participate at their own level.

Instruments are there to make music and accompany movement but they can also adopt other functions. Gertrud Orff sees instruments also as go-betweens: "The association of an instrument with an object or an action extends the capacity of the senses. This association has a communicative character" (Gertrud Orff 1974). When the child is confronted by the collection of instruments "the senses are addressed in a three-fold manner, the child reacts by seeing, hearing, doing" (Gertrud Orff 1974, p.22). Instruments and sounding objects impart sensuous impressions and empower individual expression, can activate, encourage, stimulate and motivate. Moreover, they serve as means for establishing contact - to oneself, to the instrument and also, through the instrument, to others. In pedagogy and therapy, instruments and sonorous objects are mediums that can build a bridge between the individual inner and outer world. They further encounter and enrich non-verbal and musical communication with other players.

For children with motor difficulties or a physical disability it is often necessary to adapt instruments or sometimes to find or invent new ones. This can sometimes mean finding a special stand for an instrument or enlarging the end of a mallet so that it can be held more easily. Playing an ocean drum may be possible for a student who cannot play a drum; playing glissandi on a mallet instrument may be possible where playing single bars is not. Stringed instruments may provide opportunities where mallet instruments are not suitable: lyres can be tuned to different scales, a stringed psaltery can be plucked or bowed or a Veeh-Harp introduced. A thumb piano/kalimba or a sansula are often tuned to a particular scale or chord and are played by pressing down the metal 'tongues'. For students not able to play chords on a guitar, an autoharp can be a good alternative. Wind instruments may include recorders or melodicas or even just the mouthpiece of different sized recorders for various effects. Kazoos can be motivating, especially for students who are shy of using their voice or have no spoken language.

Finding appropriate instruments can be challenging for the teacher but can also inspire imagination and open up new ways of playing and creating. Students in the group who already play an instrument and have a wealth of musical experience also need a challenge and need appropriate tasks at their own level.

Learning by Playing and Improvisation

In 1932 Carl Orff wrote: "What is important is to let the child develop its own playing and to keep away anything that might interfere; word and sound have to be created from rhythmical play by way of improvisation (...) The urge to play develops into a patient activity leading to practice and from there to achievement."

The rediscovery of the significance of learning by doing and the motivating and necessary scope for improvisation was decisive for Orff. To release this scope is a significant task of elemental music making. So that a child can develop its spontaneous playfulness, space is necessary within which his/her own scope can be created. It is not enough to satisfy the need for security but rather a "space" must provoke the desire to play, must have an atmosphere of play and offer familiarity. To create, release and make scope available does not mean to offer complete freedom. The acceptance of a framework as well as rules is necessary (cp. Jungmair 1992).

We should not forget the importance of play and discovery in musical development. As we know from various artists, limitations or specific borders are often necessary to promote creativity. According to Hegi games are "fields of freedom to test ideas and reactions, to broaden the borders of activity and mental flexibility, to discover perception and sensation." Rules define the scope, i.e. via their limitations they can lead to new discoveries of expression. "Rules are as fragile as glass (...) handling rules is a game in itself, a game between limitation and extension" (Hegi 1988, p.232). For Gertrud Orff rules can introduce or increase suspense, but they can also inhibit it. Rules that students set for themselves may often be more effective. Rules can give stability and security and something to hold on to (cp. Gertrud Orff 1984, p. 52). Play is a precursor to playing games and needs to be given space during phases of exploration and experimentation.

For some students rhythmic or metric playing is not (yet) possible; they play pre-rhythmically and often pre-melodically. This is usually a free rhythmic flow without pulse and structure, or there is musical expression but no recognizable melody that can be repeated by the student. Before children express themselves in rhythmic forms that we know, they will play in a pre-rhythmic style; if rhythmic playing does not develop it may be the result of motor or developmental difficulties (cp. Gertrud Orff 1984, p. 43). Our challenge as teachers is to find individual appropriate tasks for such students so that they can still play a meaningful role in group activities.

Wilhelm Keller refers to "compensation by upgrading minor roles" in which a simple action or task is given a pivotal part, e.g. a child who is challenged by playing 3 strokes on a gong can be given the task of introducing the piece or song. Students who cannot play or accompany rhythmically but can create the effect of, say, falling and dancing leaves on their barred instruments, are given the task of improvising parts of a rondo while other students sing and accompany an 'Autumn Song'. In improvising the student can produce that which is momentarily possible for him/her at their moment of individual development. While some students may be able to invent, remember and notate a melody using a five-note scale, others may spontaneously play 'their' melody on the given notes while others accompany perhaps playing a drone (cp. Salmon 2007, 2008). In vocal work, finding and using sounds with the mouth and lips and not just sounds with the voice can be important; kazoos can then be particularly stimulating for using the voice even for those with little or no speech. For students who are either unable or unwilling to learn the melody of a song but who can speak and remember the text, inventing their own melody can be particularly motivating.

A cognitive disability does not necessarily go hand in hand with un-rhythmic playing. Many mentally challenged students are capable of complex rhythmic or melodic playing that is not the result of conscious imitation but rather played spontaneously. For these students, activities that use imitation of the teacher's playing are often not possible; here learning can be encouraged by imitating the student. Of course, students' participation is not limited to imitation. It can be helpful in planning activities for inclusive classes to consider other forms of participation: perceiving, exploring, experimenting, playing, communicating, recognising, remembering, choosing, varying, distinguishing, improvising, inventing, practising, creating, reflecting and discussing.

Inclusive Pedagogy

Following the principles of inclusive education, lessons should include all students in a class or group while taking into account their individual abilities, interests and needs. According to Georg Feuser (University of Zürich) integration is a "cooperative (dialogic, interactive, communicative) activity in the collective" (Feuser 1997).

From a pedagogical point of view, this means that

  • "all participants (including those who have a disability or complex learning difficulties) play, learn, and work together

  • at their respective developmental levels (taking into consideration their present levels of competence in perception, cognition and behaviour)

  • in cooperation with one another

  • on a theme, activity or task

  • within a shared curriculum (project/subject matter/topic)" ( Feuser 1997).

(The term "integration" was used here by Feuser before the term "inclusive" had been widely established. The definition here applies equally to "inclusion".)

Orff-Schulwerk can offer a wealth of activities, which enable a l l students to encounter and work on a topic in an individual way. Certain activities are carried out in a whole group, others in small groups, with a partner or individually. Feuser refers to factors that are necessary for implementing successful integration/inclusion:

  • the setting of tasks appropriate for the individual through "individualisation" and "internal differentiation"

  • working with others in "cooperative activity" on a joint theme

  • working on a "common object" which is here not an educational subject but the central "process".

In every learning process there is the aim to activate each child's abilities in the best possible way. By extending and enhancing the learning environment - and the other students with their diverse competences contribute to this - a positive development is more likely to be achieved than with teaching methods that aim to speed up the learning process based on the deficits diagnosed (cf. Athey 1990, p. 76).Teaching and learning methods which enable the students to make their own experiences are of central interest.

In his earliest attempts with Orff-Schulwerk and disabled children and adults, Wilhelm Keller discovered that reproducing the models in the original Schulwerk volumes was not meaningful and for many students not possible. He found it was necessary to look at the basics of Orff-Schulwerk in order to find means of realizing these for all those in the group with their individual needs and abilities. It is not the material but the fundamental educational ideas that create the effect of Orff-Schulwerk (cp. Regner 1980). Keller particularly favoured elemental music theatre as a form in which each student could find their individual role.

Orff-Schulwerk provides a particularly well-suited basis for diverse activities involving and integrating music, movement/dance, language and the visual arts in groups of mixed ability. This work can be interdisciplinary in its concept and inclusive in its realisation providing the topics in question are prepared with the appropriate level of differentiation. In planning lessons the students' individual needs, abilities and interests are taken into account - a developmental form which is creative and open for adults and children alike.

It is important that all students (including those with disadvantages, disabilities but also those with special talents) are given the opportunity to access music and movement, to take an active part and to experience expressive and creative forms. Music and dance enable contact and encounter, can provide the feeling of belonging together and are above all social activities which should be available for all of us. Through access to the arts and to artistic activities and through our inner and outer (e)motions, we can enable students to be part of the group and preclude isolation.

In a sense, we all have "special needs":

The need and right to non-segregation and to be recognised and accepted as an individual.

The need and right to learn in a way that respects our individual forms of learning, our deficiencies, talents, our communication and conditions of life as well as consideration of our possibilities of interactivity with our environment.

The need and right to experience music, dance and language and the right to find our own creative forms of expression.


Athey, Chris (2007): Extending thought in young children. A parent-teacher partnership. Paul Chapmann Publishing Ltd., London.

Georg Feuser: (1997) Thesis: Inclusive Education - Education of all Children and young people together in preschool establishments and schools. In: BIDOK:

Hannaford, Carla (1995): Smart Moves. Why learning is not all in your head. Great Ocean Publishers, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Haselbach, Barbara/Grüner, Micaela/Salmon, Shirley (Ed.) (2007): In Dialogue. Elemental Music and Dance Education in Interdisciplinary Contexts. Schott Musikpädagogik, Mainz

Haselbach, Barbara (2002) The phenomenon of expression in aesthetic education. In: Orff-Schulwerk Informationen Nr. 70. (Ed. Orff-Institute, Mozarteum University and Orff-Schulwerk Forum Salzburg)

Hegi, Fritz (1988): Improvisation und Musiktherapie. Möglichkeiten und Wirkungen von freier Musik. (Improvisation and Music Therapy. Possibilities and effects of free music). Jungfermann, Paderborn

Jungmair, Ulrike (1992): Das Elementare. Zur Musik- und Bewegungserziehung im Sinne Carl Orffs.Theorie und Praxis. (The Elemental. On Music and Movement Education according to Carl Orff. Theory and practice.) Schott, Mainz.

Keller, Wilhelm: Elementare Musik von und mit Behinderten. In: Musik und Bildung. Schott, Mainz (Elemental Music from and with the Disabled.) 12/1984

Keller, Wilhelm (1996): Musikalische Lebenshilfe. Ausgewählte Berichte über sozial- und heilpädagogische Versuche mit dem Orff-Schulwerk. (Musical Life Aid. Chosen reports on social and remedial experiments with the Orff-Schulwerk.) Mainz

Orff, Carl (1964): Das Schulwerk - Rückblick und Ausblick, in: Orff-Institut, Jahrbuch 1963, Mainz (Orff-Schulwerk: Past and Future, in: Music in Education, Sep/Oct 1964, transl. Margaret Murray)

Orff, Carl (1932): Gedanken über Musik mit Kindern und Laien.(Thoughts on music with children and amateurs) In: Die Musik. Berlin

Orff, Carl/ Keetmann, Gunild (1950-1954): Orff-Schulwerk. Musik für Kinder. Schott, Mainz.

Orff, Gertrud (1974). The Orff Music Therapy. (English translation by Margaret Murray) Schott, London.

Orff, Gertrud (1984): Key Concepts in the Orff Music Therapy. (English translation by Jeremy Day and Shirley Salmon.) Schott, London

Hermann Regner (1980): An open concept doesn't need a recipe. Das Orff-Schulwerk - Versuch einer Standortbestimmung und Ausblick. (Orff-Schulwerk - position and perspective). In: Neue Musikzeitung, 8/9 1980, p.16f.

Salmon, Shirley (2007): Hello Children. A collection of songs and related activities for children aged 4 - 9. Schott Music.

Salmon, Shirley (1999) Music for Everyone. Lecture at the "1st International Symposion Music Education and Music Therapy" In Guadalajara, Mexiko

Salmon, Shirley (2009): On the development of "Music and Dance in Social Work and Integrative Pedagogy" at the Orff Institute. In: Orff-Schulwerk Informationen 81. Salzburg. p. 14 - 16

Salmon, Shirley (2008) The importance of playsongs in inclusive teaching. In: Salmon (Ed.) Hearing, Feeling, Playing. Music and Movement with deaf and hard-of-hearing children. p. 243 - 262. Wiesbaden.

Shirley Salmon

Carl-Orff-Institute for Elemental Music and Dance Pedagogy

University Mozarteum

Frohnburgweg 55

A-5020 Salzburg


Shirley Salmon: Inclusion and Orff-Schulwerk

In: Musicworks Vol. 15 Nr. 1, Sydney 2010, ISSN 1320-078X, p. 27 - 33

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