Music in Waldorf Education

In Waldorf schools, music is at the forefront of the education and brought to students in a variety of ways, from preschool years through middle school graduation. Kindergarten teachers and Class Teachers sing with their students and bring music to their classes daily. Additionally, formalized music classes begin with the Music Teacher twice a week from first through eighth grade. Richmond Waldorf School is fortunate to have Loretta Walker leading our music program since 2003. We asked Mrs. Walker to share her philosophy and to deepen our understanding of her work with elementary and middle school students. 

LW: The Waldorf music program provides music experiences which foster a deep awareness of oneself, both individually and in relationship to others.  Children steadily learn who they are through the music experiences they have with their peers.  They move from doing everything in unison to having their own part, which contributes to a beautiful whole. 

Though it may seem on the surface that we simply sing or learn to play beautiful instruments, underlying all of it is the inner world of the child growing and finding its way to expression in the world.  To wrestle with a string instrument, to have to listen deeply to others, and to breathe with others to create something beautiful are the experiences that allow the children to know who they are and come to awareness of who they want to be in the world.

To begin, in grades one and two students sing, move to music, and play pentatonic flutes.  These flutes are instruments that foster the natural breath, providing the children with an opportunity to breath themselves more fully into their own being.

As the 9 year change emerges, the music shifts to meet the children, songs becoming fully grounded in Major keys. The strings program is generally introduced to our students around this time. They also turn in their Pentatonic flutes and receive a Diatonic flute which represents the full musical scale.  This is also when the children study farming, another “grounding” experience.

String instruments (violin and cello, mostly) enter the picture as they become more aware of themselves and are able to relate to and engage with an instrument independently.  The instrument both resonates with their inner being while simultaneously requiring great effort for the child to bring their inner voice into the world.  They must play well for their own satisfaction, as well as find a way to blend their “voice” with the whole of the Ensemble. As 5th graders, learning to play as an ensemble means they must hold their own part while listening and blending into the whole. It’s a wonderful experience to prepare for Orchestra in the middle school years. 

Through all of their music classes, music is brought to reflect where the child is in their development. This is the same philosophy as the academic material meeting the child where they are developmentally.  We weave the stories and themes of the academics into music. For instance, counting and animal songs for first and second; farming songs for third grade; strong rhythmic beats in grades four and up; folk songs that celebrate the hero in all of us in fifth. We study the history of music notation and Gregorian chant in sixth; 7th grade brings the study of intervals and music of the Renaissance, and in 8th, both more modern music and music reflective of the more recent history they are studying.

In summary, music in Waldorf education provides the child a pathway to knowing who they are, both  individually and in relationship to the world around them.