An Investigation Into the Effect of Orff-Schulwerk Music Classes on Adult Beginners'

July 26, 2011 / By: Sarah R. Burdick

The question driving this thesis was whether self-identified non-musical adults would change their beliefs about their musical ability after participating in a series of Orff-Schulwerk music classes.  A subordinate question addressed how the subjects would rate their success with the musical activities of the course.  The intent was to provide an opportunity for adult beginners to explore and develop their musical ability through active participation in the success-oriented music-making environment of the Orff-Schulwerk classroom, with the hope that, as a result of this experience, these adults would begin to recognize and acknowledge their innate musical potential.

The participants in this study were thirteen adults between the ages of 30 and 55 who expressed the belief that they had no musical ability. All of them had little or no musical training after leaving school. The rationale for targeting this age group was that the music education at the elementary school level experienced by American adults in this age range is likely to have been mostly vocal, not extensive, or non- existent, because active, exploratory approaches were not yet widely employed in American music education when these adults were in school.

The participants were asked to attend eight, 75-minute sessions spread over ten weeks, during which they explored musical elements-beat, rhythm, melody, harmony, form, expression, and timbre- through a variety of integrated activities that included singing, playing simple instruments, rhythmic speech, creative movement and dance, musical improvisation, and ensemble performances. At the beginning of the course, participants completed a written survey documenting their beliefs about their musical ability. At the conclusion of the course, participants completed two more surveys. The first documented the degree to which they believed they were able to perform the activities of the course, and the other repeated the questions of the per-course survey. The pre- and post-course surveys were compared to see if the participants’ beliefs about their musical ability had changed. To provide supporting information, two more optional surveys were given during the course- the first documenting how the participants define musical ability, and the other describing their musical background.

A comparison of the first and last surveys did reveal a change in the beliefs of the participants. They experienced success making music together and decided they were a little more musical than they had previously thought. Several recommendations were made for further study: (1) to discover if the change in beliefs was due specifically to the Orff-Schulwerk approach, to rapport with the instructor and other members of the study group, or to the skill or style of the instructor; (2) to include a larger group of subjects and extend the course over a longer interval; and (3) to see if the change in beliefs was lasting or transitory.