Musica Humana

– thoughts on humanistic aspects of Orff-Schulwerk

Autor:in - Shirley Salmon
Themenbereiche: Schule
Schlagwörter: Entwicklung, Musik, Integration
Textsorte: Artikel
Releaseinfo: Erschienen in: Haselbach, B (Hg) Orff-Schulwerk Informationen 87, The Three Pillars of Orff-Schulwerk. Winter 2012 . Hrsg. Universität Mozarteum, Carl Orff Institut und Orff-Schulwerk Forum Salzburg; Frohnburgweg 55, A-5020 Salzburg. p. 13 – 19.
Copyright: © Shirley Salmon 2012

Muscia humana*– thoughts on humanistic aspects of Orff-Schulwerk

*Boethius (ca. 480–524 or 525 AD) introduced the fourfold classification of music in his "De Musica,: Musica mundana — music of the spheres/world, Musica humana — harmony of human body and spiritual harmony Musica instrumentalis — instrumental music, Musica divina— music of the gods

“Music begins inside human beings, and so must any instruction.” (Carl Orff, 1932)

In the fast changing global world of today it should not be surprising to find that Orff-Schulwerk – Elemental Music and Dance Education as conceived by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman – is more relevant than ever. This applies, of course, to furthering artistic abilities but particularly to initiating and strengthening specific individual qualities and abilities that are not only necessary for surviving but also for helping us to learn and develop our human potential and become responsible and caring people.

Orff-Schulwerk was originally conceived for work with children in schools. “It must therefore be stressed that elemental music in the primary school should not be installed as a subsidiary subject , but as something fundamental to all other subjects . It is not exclusively a question of musical education; this can follow, but it does not have to. It is, rather, a question of developing the whole personality.” (Orff 1963 zit. nach Haselbach 2011, p. 154 ). Its significance and implementation in other areas such as pre-school, special and inclusive education, therapy, work in the community and with the elderly was recognized early on. From the 1960s the use of Orff-Schulwerk in these areas was developed and documented by colleagues who took the fundamental ideas of Orff-Schulwerk and adapted them for their particular target groups (cf. Salmon 2009). These developments were and are still a logical progression because the humanistic orientation and the idea of working with people of all ages and abilities is inherent in Orff’s and Keetman’s concept. Wilhelm Keller, the pioneer of music and movement in inclusive education and community work recognized that for Orff the development of the whole person was central and referred to this as ‘musica humana’.

The individual

Important aspects of group work in developing the personality that will be mentioned later on are based on the view that each individual person is at the centre of our teaching. In Orff-Schulwerk each individual whether an infant, young child, an adolescent or adult with his or her own development, background, culture, interests, abilities and needs is the centre of our attention. The human being is the touchstone of Orff-Schulwerk pedagogy which contributes to experiencing and furthering our humanity (being human) through the bringing forth of original music and dance contributions (cf. Widmer 2011) . The humanistic orientation recognizes the creative potential that each human being has and sees the enabling of this potential to develop as one of the tasks of the teacher: “…the central focus of teaching is first to sense individual potential, to put this into action, to realize it. The whole person is the focus of our attention” (Jungmair 2008, p.13). Wilhelm Keller emphasizes elemental music as the ‘music of the personality as it is’ and writes: “‘Elemental’ cannot only be seen as ‘original’ but must also be understood as ‘focal’ or ‘central’. It is the realisation of an original, central musical potency anchored in each individual” (Keller, 1984). The fact that elemental creative activity exists independently from any determined age or from special talents or disabilities means that it can (and should) be made available to everyone. “The elemental remains a foundation that is timeless. The elemental always means a new beginning . . . The elemental is always productive.” (Orff 1976 p.277)

For young children the experience of self-activity and self-efficacy (the effect of one’s own actions on others) are essential for development. As Schumacher has pointed out, our feeling for self and the opportunities for being creative are in today’s world more relevant than ever. The influence of too many technical media for too much of the time and the perfection of recordings can mean that students are shy of producing and expressing themselves through music and movement. Over-stimulation from the (technical) environment may also produce difficulties in stimulus-processing and the ability to select, as well as dampening self-activity. It is important that the environment – this means at least one other person - shows appropriate joy and recognition when students are active and productive, otherwise there is the danger that self-activity is lost and forgotten (cf. Schuhmacher 1999). Orff-Schulwerk emphasizes the value of self-activity and the necessary motivation and space for playing. This demands a playful-improvisatory approach from the teacher.

In all our behaviour, and especially in teaching, we live and transmit our own personal values – what we find important, how we deal with people, how we respond to different situations and much more. Our view of mankind, the world and our mindset - whether we are conscious of them or not - influence our work, our approach to teaching, our goals, our choice of materials and the methods we use. The view of mankind within Georg Feuser’s conception of a “general (integrative)[1] pedagogy” - a far- reaching conception of an integrative system of basic schooling, education and teaching – uses assumptions of humanistic psychology as formulated by Maslow. These maintain that every person is active, creative, purposeful and good and that each person is in a continuous process of change and growth. (Plahl / Koch-Temming 2005, p.49), a view that is especially relevant for the humanistic aspects of Orff-Schulwerk teaching. Feuser mentions 4 points:

  1. The human person is a whole person - biologically, socially and psychologically- an undividable body-mind-spirit unity and shows this in all his/her behaviour.

  2. Human beings are essentially social, related to the people and world around and achieve their identity through interaction with others.

  3. Human beings are creative individuals that take an active part in life and development, responsibly forming their own lives and the world. Here, creativity can be seen as a sign of health.

  4. Any disability (physical, sensory, psychological) is not the essence of the person but determines the conditions under which development may take place (Feuser 1990)

From a humanistic point of view, we can say that Elemental Music and Dance Education is an anthropocentric approach in the sense that the human being with his or her human attributes and individual characteristics is the starting point – and not musical works, dance choreographies or music and dance as subjects to be learned. The person is the centre of the music making and dancing and is the reference point for the goals, contents, methods and media including, for example, the use of special instruments or musical scales etc. (cf. Cubasch 1999). These are just some of the reasons that Orff-Schulwerk can be seen as timeless evolving “through time and with time ” (Orff 1976, p. 249) . The Elemental remains a foundation that is timeless, being understood as “the force that brings forth the genuinely original, as the autonomously active and effective, the self-organising and self-renewing and as an event which autonomously sets itself in scene.” (Jungmair 1992, p.136)

[1] ‘Integration‘ should be understood here in its broadest sense and refers to what we would today refer to as ‘Inclusion’. The general pedagogy that Feuser refers to may include people with different abilities, of different age and from different cultures or backgrounds that learn, play and work in a group together. It does not merely mean people with disabilities working with those with no disabilities.

Development of the whole personality

2 ‘Integration‘ should be understood here in its broadest sense and refers to what we would today refer to as ‘Inclusion’. The general pedagogy that Feuser refers to may include people with different abilities, of different age and from different cultures or backgrounds that learn, play and work in a group together. It does not merely mean people with disabilities working with those with no disabilities.

In his speech at the opening of the Orff-Institute in 1961 Orff stressed the importance of developing the whole personality and continued: “It is at the primary school age that the imagination must be stimulated; and opportunities for emotional development, which contains experience of the ability to feel, and the power to control the expression of that feeling, must also be provided. Everything that a child of this age experiences, everything in him that has been awakened and nurtured, is a determining factor for the whole of his life. Much can be destroyed at this age that can never be regained; “(Orff 1963 zit. nach Haselbach 2011, p. 154)

In order to develop with whole personality it is necessary, as we know, for social and emotional basic needs to be satisfied such as the need for security, protection, order and lack of fear, the need for love, attention and belonging as well as the need for respect, recognition, praise and self-realisation (cf. Maslow, 1981). More recently the neurobiologist Gerald Hüther emphasizes the importance of security and trust in his article on the neurobiological preconditions for the development of curiosity and creativity, explaining that that children and adults try to connect every new perception and every new experience to something that is familiar. The readiness to try out something new depends on how secure one is and how much confidence one has to confront the world. He stresses that every kind of insecurity, fear and pressure produces a spreading excitation and agitation in the brain. And that under these conditions the incoming perceptual patterns cannot be collated with the memories already stored there from the sense channels. The result is that nothing new can be learned and lodged in the brain. Brain research has shown that trust is the only antidote to insecurity and fear. Those who want to be creative need to trust in themselves, in their own capabilities, knowledge and skills (cf. Hüther 2008) This research supports the observations and experiences we make as teachers when we see how much trust, repetition and support individual students need in order to join in, try out and learn new things, play and dance together or invent their own ostinati, melodies, accompaniments or movement sequences.

The contribution of Elemental Music and Dance Education in helping to develop many aspects of the personality has been apparent, if not always explicitly mentioned, for a long time and can be seen in the many different classes, contexts and age groups where Orff-Schulwerk is implemented. With respect to the humanistic aspects and goals we can recognize the contribution of Orff-Schulwerk in many areas, such as developing the quality of life in general, in developing perception, self-awareness and self-confidence, supporting expression and social learning.

Social Learning

One of the most important contributions of Orff-Schulwerk can be seen in the social learning made possible by working in different social constellations. Here, encounters on different levels and of many kinds can be made possible. With skilled teaching ‘social resonance’ and ‘social sensibility’ can be encouraged and supported in every participant whatever their skills or needs. Different social constellations form an important part in Orff-Schulwerk teaching. Singing, playing dancing, reciting with the whole group are complemented by working alone, with a partner or in small groups and are usually a natural part of every class or session. Group work – whether this be practising given parts or creating one’s own - includes everyone in the small group, guards against isolation, separation and exclusion while fostering ‘togetherness’. One could take the view that the wider the range of abilities in the group, which of course calls for differentiated teaching, the more possibilities there may be for social learning.

When working with a partner we can recognize at least 4 forms of learning settings which could be useful in observing the children and adults we are working with:

  • communicative learning setting where 2 people refer to each other (correlate).

  • complementary learning setting where one partner helps the other.

  • coexistent learning setting where 2 people play side-by-side.

  • co-operative learning setting where 2 people play together and react to each other (cf. Hinz 1993, p. 105–108)

What does group work demand and what can be experienced and practised? Playing, singing, reciting, moving, dancing and creating in a group involve a multitude of abilities. Just as Orff-Schulwerk can only be experienced and understood through active participation, so the aspects of social learning in Orff-Schulwerk can only be understood by taking part in group work. This is particularly relevant in training teachers for all age-groups, kindergarten, schools and further education.

Working in small groups calls for the ability to collaborate and accept discipline, to listen and observe as well as to pay attention to the expressive power of others. Playing, singing, dancing and creating together also entails not relying solely on the teacher but on oneself and the other group members. It requires being involved with others, adapting and following but also making decisions, taking responsibility, and leading. In creative work members of the groups will bring in their own ideas which will be played, sung, danced, tried out (without competitiveness) discussed and assessed in order to choose which will be taken, which altered and which rejected. This also involves the ability to put forward one’s own ideas but also to respect the decisions of others. When the teacher steps into the background having given the necessary impulses and support then students can learn to take responsibility for themselves, for a partner or for their group. Negotiation, decision-making and group problem-solving which involve sensitivity, observation and co-operation are called for.

Building up of self-confidence and self-awareness can also be supported in group work and are important requisites for learning and living. Self-confidence can be seen as “a necessary but still not adequate precondition for the maintenance and revival of the joy of discovery and desire to create and thereby for the search for creative and innovative solutions” (Hüther 2008). Teaching and learning methods which enable the students to make their own experiences are essential. In Orff-Schulwerk students are actively involved in processes, whether this be practising a given song, piece or dance or creating their own. They are accepted by the teacher and fellow students as individuals with their own learning history, skills and needs. They can share the experience, the pleasure and joy of playing, dancing and creating together, and, especially in improvisation, the experience of the emergence of ‘shared moments’ in the group. Students are not merely reacting but thinking, feeling, being sensitive, being critical and taking an active part in their own development.

Learning socially

‘Social learning’ refers to learning to become more social. The content of our teaching and learning is social development. ‘Learning socially’, on the other hand, refers to learning a subject in a social way, with the help of others. In every learning process the aim should be 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).

The range of abilities in a group can be seen as an important motivation, motor and support for each individual. Vygotsky developed the concept of the "zone of proximal development"[2] meaning broadly the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. The ‘zone of actual development’ refers to tasks that the learner can do on his or her own. The ‘zone of proximal development’ refers to functions and abilities that have not yet matured. Tasks in this zone may be strenuous or challenging but can be achieved – first with help and then independently. When learners of different abilities are in a group together the proximity of others who are at a slightly higher level of development creates possibilities for imitation, support and collaboration. These help in successfully completing tasks, gaining confidence and furthering intrinsic motivation. Elemental Music and Dance Education can give children and adults experiences within their zones of proximal development, thereby encouraging their individual learning.

Any individual development can only be understood in the sense of the co-ontogenesis of systems (cf. Feuser 2008). Martin Buber’s statement The human being needs a ‘You’ to become an ‘I’ (Buber 1965 p. 32) implies that the development of the ’I’ depends on the ‘You’, that is the other persons that one is in contact with and the environment available to the individual. Feuser stresses the importance of this when he writes: “we cannot help but recognise that any limitation of an individual’s exchange with his/her environment – exchange that is necessary for both the individual and the entire species of which he/she is a member and includes culture-specific schooling as well as social exchange – will also limit his/her development and not just modify it.” (Feuser 2008)

Inclusive Pedagogy points out many important basic thoughts that are relevant in group work if we are to address everybody. Inclusion accepts the differences between people as a natural and creative part of life and aims for “the involvement and full participation with equal rights in all aspects of community life“ for all students. “Inclusion does not mean that we are all the same, or that we all have the same opinion. It ennobles our diversity with dignity and gratitude“ (Wilhelm et al. 2003, S.65). Central demands of inclusion in the sense of “pedagogy for all” can be realized in Orff-Schulwerk:

  • The right to participation

  • The right to access to the world: each in his/her own way and with the necessary personal and material support

  • The right to education and aesthetic education

Elemental Music and Dance Education provides teaching that is centred on the child, adolescent, or adult as opposed to teacher-centred education and incorporates progressive teaching methods. It can offer a wealth of activities which enable all students to encounter and work on a joint topic. Essential aspects of this teaching are individualization and cooperation when working on a common subject or task. Students cooperate within one theme, task or activity where working together may involve different social constellations. Nobody is excluded and the subject, task or theme is made available to everyone. At the same time inner differentiation is made possible when the teacher enables each student to experience and understand the topic on his/her own level and where individual tasks can be set that play a part within the common topic (cf. Feuser 1997).

[2] The ZPF is seen as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.” L.S. Vygotsky 1978, p. 86)


Our quality of life is affected by many things. “Elemental music, word and movement, play, everything that awakens and develops the powers of the spirit, this is the “humus” of the spirit, the humus without which we face the danger of a spiritual erosion (….) Man exposes himself to spiritual erosion if he estranges himself from his elemental essentials and thus loses his balance. Just as humus in nature makes growth possible, so elemental music gives to the child powers that cannot otherwise come to fruition.” (Orff 1963 zit. nach Haselbach 2011, p. 155). Stimulating the joy and the drive to play and to experiment and supporting development are elements of Orff-Schulwerk we find in work with all age groups and all abilities.

In Elemental Music and Dance Education we not only value the contribution of each individual with his/her own abilities but, in the artistic and creative work, we are also creating value. Unfortunately the view that the arts distract from the ‘real subjects’ at school is still prevalent. But hopefully many of us work in environments that can see the artistic and humanistic contribution of Elemental Music and Dance Education. This brings forth many questions: What are the humanistic values we want our students, children, adults in different educational settings to experience? What values do trainee teachers need to experience in order to be able to include humanistic aspects in their teaching? What would we like school authorities, head teachers, parents and colleagues to understand about our work and how can we realize this? What possibilities do we have within our direct circle of influence?

In order to realize and develop creative potential it is essential to overcome one’s fear of others by strengthening mutual trust. “Human beings really become creative when they succeed in merging the individual capabilities, insights, talents and ideas that they have acquired in their own world with those of others. Of course in order to do that an encounter and exchange based on trust must take place among human beings with the greatest possible socio-cultural experiences.” Hüther emphasizes that in order to promote encounters and mutual exchange between people with different backgrounds and abilities, the common factors that bond human beings must be strengthened (Hüther 2008).

One can say that excellent pedagogy is by nature integrative and inclusive – it is a pedagogy of diversity where each individual is valued and furthered and contributes to the activity on his/her own level and in this way also to society. Martin Buber points out that “one can only call a society human to the extent that it confirms its members” (Buber 1975, p.26). Orff-Schulwerk provides a multitude of opportunities not only to develop the artistic a n d creative potential of each individual but also to experience and develop humanistic values by learning through and with others.


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Shirley Salmon: MUSICA HUMANA– thoughts on humanistic aspects of Orff-Schulwerk. Erschienen in: Haselbach, B (Hg) Orff-Schulwerk Informationen 87, The Three Pillars of Orff-Schulwerk. Winter 2012 . Hrsg. Universität Mozarteum, Carl Orff Institut und Orff-Schulwerk Forum Salzburg; Frohnburgweg 55, A-5020 Salzburg. p. 13 – 19.

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