The Orff instrumentarium was originally devised as a way to accessibly play music mainly to accompany dance. Music teachers will often use various forms of arrangements for the Orff instrumentarium designed to softly support the young singer. Instrumental arrangements are also often taught to elementary aged children. More recently, there has been a boom of arrangements that have been adapted from African xylophone music for the Orff xylophones and South-East Asian gamelan music for the Orff metallaphones. Indeed, because these instruments were inspired by the African xylophone, South East Asian gamelan, and the European glockenspiel, these kinds of world music adaptations are a natural fit. The uses of the instruments are diverse and varied for music instruction from accompaniment roles to stand-alone instrumental pieces.
In addition to supporting singers and supplying a means of playing instrumental music, the Orff instrumentarium is often used as a valuable teaching tool that goes beyond just learning arrangements. For example, when an instrument is set up in a pentatonic scale, a natural relation can be made to a sol-fa ladder when it is also set up in a pentatonic scale. A teacher could have students use the instruments to help write a melody based on "do, re, mi," discover a new previously unknown note through ear-based experimentation, or play a known song by learning it by ear. Because creativity is such a major part of Orff practice, improvising is also a natural activity for these pitched percussion instruments. Learning music by ear in this way serves to further strengthen a student's understanding of their sol-fa names, pentatonic scales, and musicality in general.
At the heart of the matter lies the famous Orff Schulwerk "volumes." Written and inspired by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman, the Schulwerk volumes offer both a number of examples for composition and musical exercises as well as complete pieces to be learned. Many crafty teachers have learned to "unlock" the volumes devising creative and enriching ways to teach many of the pieces found within.
The xylophones, metallaphones, and glockenspiels are for many the most commonly identified characteristic of Orff-Schulwerk. They can be a valuable asset to a music class and they have played an integral part in the development of Orff-Schulwerk. However, there is a common misconception that the instruments are the singularly defining characteristic of an Orff program. That is simply not the case. While they are an excellent support for Orff classrooms, a teacher could still teach with an Orff philosophy without any instruments at all. In addition, using these instruments should not be considered the act of "doing Orff" because Orff-Schulwerk is not "done" but rather, the teaching of music is practiced as inspired by the philosophy of Orff-Schulwerk: the instruments support that learning. With that said, the Orff instrumentarium has stood the test of time as a grand part of many music classrooms. They are a valuable tool for teaching music in Orff based programs and continue to delight children and adults alike as we all musically journey forward together.