Orff Instruments: Classroom Essentials


Whether a music teacher uses the Orff approach or not, almost all have had some interaction with the wonderful instruments that are associated with Orff-Schulwerk – and now these beautiful-sounding instruments are available from J.W. Pepper!

Carl Orff believed that children should have instruments built just for them, so under his direction, Karl Maendler began to develop these instruments in 1928. The original Orff instruments were xylophones based on the Indonesian gamelan and used Brazilian rosewood for the bars and beech or elm for the resonator/sound box. Orff instruments currently made by Sonor and available through Pepper are made from pao rosa tonewood with the resonator/sound box made from birch.

The number of instruments associated with the Orff approach has grown over the years, and the various features of the instruments themselves have undergone many changes. They are much sturdier for rugged classroom use, and removable bars make it easier to ensure the correct notes are struck, especially for the younger student. Xylophones are available in soprano, alto and bass versions in diatonic or chromatic models. Metallophones, with their unique timbre, are available in soprano, alto and bass diatonic models, and glockenspiels are available in soprano and tenor, including both diatonic and chromatic models. Chime bars and timpani are also considered essential instruments to outfit the classroom.

In addition to the wonderfully distinct timbres that each instrument produces, having students use a variety of mallets to elicit different timbres on the various instruments for different works fits right into the Orff approach, allowing students to experiment and explore new ideas and sounds. A full range of mallets is available to meet your needs. There are hard, medium, and soft felt mallets, as well as medium-hard wool felt, woolen yarn, wood, and rubber. Each and every mallet is made to be used with the Orff instruments.

When beginning to work with the instruments, teachers often find that the mallets can be tricky for their students, so techniques have been developed to help practice these moves using their bodies. These techniques include:

  • Patsching hands together
  • Patsching hands in an alternating pattern
  • Crossing over
  • Contrary motion (hands move in and out)

Things to consider when using the instruments:

  • When introducing a new technique, always have the students practice the movement with their bodies first before taking it to the instrument.
  • Students, even if they are sharing an instrument, should each have two mallets.
  • Because bars are removable, it is helpful and even desirable to remove bars not included in the song or desired scale to ensure success – especially for younger students.
  • Let students create their own drones, ostinati, and pedal points.
  • Let your students be creative and explore different combinations of instruments and mallets with the instruments.

“Experience first, then intellectualize.” – Carl Orff

Orff-Schulwerk (German for “school work” or “schooling”) is a developmental approach created by the renowned composer Carl Orff and his colleague Gunild Keetman in the 1920s. It combines music, movement, drama and speech into lessons and units that are similar and mirror a child’s world of play. The Orff approach uses rudimentary forms of everyday activity in a child-centered way of learning, treating music like a language. It is in this gentle and friendly approach to elemental music making that allows children to explore new and abstract musical skills and learn by experiencing and participating in different musical lessons and activities. These experiences – which should be both successful and fun – lead to a positive learning process where the students learn concepts by doing, which is at the heart of the philosophy of Carl Orff: “Experience first, then intellectualize.” Unlike other strategies used to teach music in school, the Orff approach is not a “method.” There is no “system” or specific procedure to be followed, only fundamental principles with basic processes that teachers use to help guide their planning and organization. The Orff approach relies heavily on intuition and creativity from both the teacher and the student.

Myriad resources exist, including the resources developed by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman that incorporate both the Orff approach and Orff instruments. Some of the top resources include:

The Orff Anthology

Ready Set Go Orff!

Process and Play

Orff and the Elements of Music


Music for Children

Many other great resources can be found by following this link!










Tom Dean
Tom Dean is a Choral Editor, and the Elementary and Secondary General Music Editor for J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc. Prior to working for Pepper, Tom taught instrumental and choral music as well as audio engineering at the high school level in the Delaware public schools for 32 years. He is a member of the ACDA and is active in the Delaware Music Educators where he served in numerous positions including President, All-State Coordinator, Technology chair, and Composition chair, and NAfME where he served as Eastern Division President and NEB member. He also was a member of the music writing team that developed the new music standards for the NCCAS project.


  1. We will be offering fabulous Orff course through the UArts Summer Music Studies this summer. Information soon to come!

  2. Excellent article! However, “patsching” is the German word Orff uses for 2 hands together only (no patching!)

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