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Alike and Different. The Clinical and Educational Uses of Orff-Schulwerk

Bitcon, Carol Hampton (2000). Alike and Different. The Clinical and Educational Uses of Orff-Schulwerk, 2nd Edition. Barcelona Publishers, Gilsum NH.

Reviewed by Melanie Voigt, Ph.D.Music Therapist, Kinderzentrum München, Munich, Germany

Alike and Different; The Clinical and Educational Uses of Orff-Schulwerk by Carol Hampton Bitcon was written to provide the reader with activity resources for sessions using Orff-Schulwerk in educational and clinical settings. Bitcon states that the “resources, insight, and philosophy in this book were shaped by clinical and educational experience as teacher, observer and perhaps most influential, participant” (p. xiii).

br2001_05When reading the book, it is important to understand the music therapy context in which it can be placed. According to Bruscia (1998) Bitcon’s work belongs in the category of Expressive Activity Therapy, in which interrelated arts activities and play are used to help clients “acquire knowledge, skills or behaviors needed for adaptation, educational growth or leisure” (p. 187). This type of treament augments and supports other therapies as well as the client’s general treatment plan.

The book consists of twenty-four chapters, each of which deals with a different group of activities or with a specific client group. The style is one which reminds me of someone sitting across from me, telling me of ideas and activities she has used in her clinical work.

In the Introduction, Bitcon gives a very brief overview of Carl Orff’s development of Orff-Schulwerk and of the concept of Schulwerk. She stresses the group process which takes place when individuals spontaneously work with sounds and space designs, using basic play-patterns to provide the framework in which improvisation takes place to support the parameters the group has chosen. She feels Orff-Schulwerk integrates social skills with elemental musical forms within this group process. For use in clinical practice with Orff-Schulwerk, success should be implicit in the session, the activities presented should serve as starting points from which expansion can take place, materials must be appropriate to the abilities of the participating group members. The teacher/therapist should know about disabilities and therapeutic needs of clients, she should be adaptable, flexible, sensitive, have a sense of humor and respect for the clients. It is her responsibility to structure the situation and interact with the participants in such a way that they can experience successful participation.

The following chapters of the book contain activity suggestions for different purposes and for different client groups. Chapter 2 contains verses for using names as a way of providing a means for relationships to begin on a common ground. Chapter 3 is concerned with instruments-the need for quality instruments, the necessity of adapting these to suit the needs of the performer and the situation. Bitcon recommends a standard instrumentarium as well as additional instruments and objects that have proven to be useful. In Chapter 4 activities based on verses are suggested which enable the participants to get acquainted with the instruments in general and to experience certain instruments in a special way. The suggestions for activities in chapters 5-11 have to do with the areas of modeling and imitation, sensorimotor development, movement, the voice, uniqueness (of persons), affect, and psychosocial dynamics.

Three chapters that follow provide information and activities geared toward three specific client-groups: the aged, the blind and visually impaired and the deaf and hearing impaired. Bitcon offers suggestions for coping with some of the different problems of each group. The verses and activities suggested for work with these groups are meant to promote development in problem areas through successful participation in music activities.

The next seven chapters present verses and activities for learning about American holidays, Native Americans, nature, silence, the sea, food, and colors. The chapters on nature, silence and the sea contain some verses from literature of high quality. The last three chapters are concerned with using art and creative dramatics and miscellaneous resources. The book ends with four appendices-1) Questions Commonly Asked, 2) Orff-Schulwerk Behavior Checklist, 3) A Brief on the Clinical Use of Orff-Schulwerk, 4) I’m Getting Involved-and a bibliography of different resources and related literature.

Bitcon warns that the book could seem to be chaotic at times. This is true. I find the organization of the book to be a problem. It begins with a chapter about Orff Schulwerk, one about names, two about instruments and their use. The next seven chapters contain activities intended to promote specific developmental goals and three chapters follow about Orff-Schulwerk with specific populations. Of the last ten chapters, seven contain activities for general learning goals, two contain activities for the incorporation of other art forms and the last contains miscellaneous activities. This makes it difficult to perceive the book as a whole and to really understand the concept that Bitcon is trying to present. Some of the information provided in appendices 1 and 3 would have contributed to the understanding of Orff-Schulwerk in general and of clinical Orff-Schulwerk in particular if it had appeared in the first chapter, thus presenting a clearer context on the basis of which the activities could be understood and realized.

Within the texts, Bitcon often throws in thoughts and anecdotes that come to her mind. For example, in chapter 5, Modeling and Imitation, she inserts information about generalized imitation in Orff-Schulwerk and about modeling as a behavioral technique within Orff-Schulwerk, then goes on to the next activity without making the purpose of the information clear. It might have been more helpful had she explained the use of modeling and imitation in Orff-Schulwerk and its use in clinical practice before suggesting verses and activities.

The purpose of the book is to provide resources for persons working with Orff-Schulwerk. It is therefore acceptable that concrete activities are not always provided for all verses. However, the descriptions of activities were sometimes hard to follow and to understand because of the prose style. A short score would have been more helpful.

Bitcon addresses some topics that are very important for those who work with the disabled in a clinical setting, for example the necessity of adapting objects and situations to suit the developmental needs of the participants and the need for the therapist/teacher to be willing and able to recognize minimal responses and further them. She mentions things like smells in nursing homes, she warns of situations which can become accidentally dangerous or difficult and mentions hygienic problems. She realistically informs the reader that activities may fail, and describes situations in which she has had such experiences. She addresses the problem that many teachers/therapists have in relinquishing leadership and being willing to participate in a process, using her own problem as an example. This is positive. The activities suggested are many and varied. They range from jingle-type verses to literature and concern topics from feelings and self-image to food. The goals of the activities range from personal growth to learning concepts, which corresponds to the context of Expressive Activity Therapy.

Carol Hampton Bitcon’s book is a very personal book filled with her experiences in working with adults and children with and without special needs. It is a book which reflects her own enthusiasm for Orff-Schulwerk and her conviction that experiencing Orff-Schulwerk can promote personal growth for those who participate. The book contains verse material as well as practical tips for everyday problems and for enhancing activities. However, I feel that a certain amount of training in and experience with Orff-Schulwerk is needed in order for the reader to be able to use this book as a resource for practical work.


Bruscia, Kenneth E. (1998): Defining Music Therapy. 2nd. Edition. Barcelona Publishers, Gilsum N.H.

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