ORFF Instruments in Worship

If the only "Orff you know is what Sandy, Little Orphan Annie's dog, says, you're not unusual. Orff and Orff instruments are still unfamiliar—even to many musicians.

When I first was hired as an elementary school music specialist, I had never heard of Orff—at least, not until the Saturday before my first day of teaching. Aavon Gillespie, an Orff specialist, was to be our district's all-day clinician. Scared to death of what Monday and five hundred active little bodies would hold for me, I anxiously went to the workshop, hoping that my inexperience would not show too much. That one day totally changed my philosophy of music education and has to this day revolutionized my teaching methods—both at school and in church.

Goodbye to Moldy Oldies

German composer Carl Orff believed that the best way to teach music was by spirally building music concepts and skills while actively involving the participant. When that basic philosophy of music education is exercised in church, the results can be surprisingly creative.

Church music taught to children includes a lot of what I call "Golden Oldies"-—the same songs, stories, and activities unfortunately sung and taught in the same way year after year, throughout a child's development, promoting very little creativity on the part of the teacher or students. The Orff philosophy can change all that, giving teachers the courage to think creatively, to take a "golden oldie"—a song, a Bible story, or a memory verse—and transform it a step at a time.

Teachers who adopt Orff will actively involve children in learning through movement, speech, rhythm, singing, improvisation, and playing instruments. Very young children can be encouraged to add movements to songs, using their bodies as percussion instruments in playing ostinatos (a "persistently repeated pattern"; see "Old Song—New Life"). Children can also be encouraged to write a poem on a particular subject, set it to music, and add instruments, action, and drama. Later they might be invited to share their creation with the church family. If we cannot or do not involve our children and challenge their imaginations, we'll be doing little more than providing a babysitting service. Our "Golden Oldies" will quickly turn into "Moldy Oldies," and we'll find ourselves in a sterile learning environment loaded with discipline problems.

Click, Jingle, Rattle, Scrape, and Ring

The Orff musical experience can be enriched even more by the use of "Orff instruments." Although Orff had already discovered and was using a myriad of small percussion instruments—including rattles, drums, and other things that go "click, jingle, rattle, scrape, and ring"— he wanted his students to be able to play melodies on instruments other than the piano. To fill this need Orff commissioned instrument builder Karl Maendler to create barred instruments, consisting of a resonance chamber and a row of specifically tuned sounding bars of wood or metal. Played with mallets, these instruments are of three types: xylophones, glockenspiels, and metallophones.

Xylophones range from the soprano, which is the smallest in size and the highest in pitch, to the alto and bass, which increase in size and are lower in pitch. The bars are made of rosewood and produce a clear non-vibrating sound.

Glockenspiels are available in soprano and alto ranges. The nickel-plated steel bars give a belMike tone.

Metallophones come in soprano, alto, and bass ranges. The lightweight metal bars create a dark, vibrating sound.

Orff instruments can be purchased through local instrumental music stores. The finest manufacturer is still the original Munich (Germany)-based company, "Studio 49."

From Preschoolers Through Adults

The beauty of Orff instruments is that they make any player, even one with no prior training, feel like an instant success. They also are adaptable for any age level. By removing or adding on bars, the instruments can be made simple enough for preschoolers or challenging enough for adults.

If preschoolers are to be the musicians, only five bars should be attached to the instrument. All accompaniments are based on the five pitches of the pentatonic scale (equivalent to the black keys on the piano). The children can then strike those bars with mallets to a steady beat, producing a musically fitting accompaniment no matter which bars they strike.

More bars may be added for older children and adults, enabling them to play both melodies and more diverse accompaniments to a given song.

Orff instruments are inclusive, not exclusive. They are accessible to people of all ages and all degrees of ability. Any teacher who has a basic knowledge of rhythm and melody and a willingness to use a little creativity and imagination in leading a class or choir is ready for Orff.


American Orff-Schulwerk Association. Write for information to American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Cleveland State University,Department of Music, Cleveland, Ohio, 44115

"Music for Orff-Schulwerk." Free Orff brochures and catalogs of music and instruments. To order write Magna Music Batton, 103-0 Page Industrial Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri, 63132.

Junior Choir with Orff Instruments by Grace Nash. Distributed by Swartout Productions, Inc. 6-36 East Avalon Dr., Scottsdale, Arizona, 85251. $3.75.

Joyful Sunday and Another Joyful Sunday by Marlene Herald and Eloise McCormick. A collection of learning games and Scripture verses that teach Bible stories through rhythm and melody. Distributed by Alexandria House, Alexandria, IN 46001 $3.95.

Old Song - New Life

Here's How to Do It:

1. Choose a familiar song, one with a strong feeling of the beat in Vi or 4A time. We'll use "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" as an example.

2. Sing the song the first time while doing the following body percussion ostinato pattern:

Song Title Here

3. Sing the song again, adding more body percussion parts to the prior ostinato pattern each time you sing it!

Ostinato Patterns:

Song Title Here
Song Title Here
Song Title Here
Song Title Here
Variation for Advanced Students:
1. Speed up the tempo
2. Mix the ostinato patterns, i.e., stamp, clap, patsch, snap.
*pat thigh front
**stem up and down, use both body parts

Reformed Worship 7 © March 1988, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.