The art of making music

By Wolfgang Seel, February 2023

In Waldorf education, the use of musical instruments already begins in kindergarten. The author is a Waldorf teacher and instrument maker and describes elementary experiences with a range of Choroi instruments in the first and second seven-year-periods of life.

No educational concept is needed to introduce children to instruments. When my seven-year-old granddaughter comes home from school into our living room, the first thing she does is pick up an instrument to try out what sounds it can make, sometimes playing a song she has just learned in class.

The world is sound. All matter is in oscillation. Children understand this intuitively. They experience the world as a living, animate being. Exploring the oscillations and sounds of matter is obviously a fascinating experience for them.

The origin of the Choroi instruments

About 50 years ago, there were practically no instruments suitable for children in the context of Waldorf education. Music teachers had to resort to the Orff instruments or to self-made or simple instruments from foreign cultures.

It is thanks to the pioneers of music education connected with Pär Ahlbom (Sweden), Julius Knierim (Germany) and Norbert Visser (Holland) that today we have a diverse set of instruments for music education and music therapy. To ensure that these instruments could be produced in an appropriate environment, Norbert Visser, together with Bernhard Lievegoed, founded the Foundation “Child and Instrument”, which was later renamed the Choroi Association.

All Choroi instruments are developed and manufactured in non-profit, social-therapeutic workshops. The focus is not on private economic interests but on the need for new, previously unheard, educationally and therapeutically effective sounds.

Their sound

Nature is filled with sounds and noises, like the rustling of the wind in the treetops or the crunching of sand under our shoes. Choroi instruments are also intended to convey an elementary experience of matter with their sound. However, there is a fundamental difference to instruments found in the realm of traditional, non-Western music. Modern music can also be played on Choroi instruments. Bright, clear, rather consonant-like tones sound from them. They respond easily, their sound fills the surrounding space and does not emanate selectively from the instrument. Due to the particular pentatonic tuning of the sounds, which are harmonious to each other in our western shaped hearing, they encourage improvisation and enable the children to make their first sound experiences in a very natural, playful and inviting way. In this way, the richness of the sound of matter can be experienced in wonder.

Anyone who observes children making music spontaneously can perceive how it is not so much the purity of the sound or the exact tuning of the instruments that is important to them, but rather the elementary experience of sound.

Pentatonic tuning

The fifth is defined by a gap of seven semitones from the root to the tone above it that produces the interval, for example: d – a or e – b.

The music teacher Gerhard Beilharz has explained that the pentatonic space corresponds in a special way to the musical experience of children in their first and at the beginning of their second year of life and is very well suited to facilitate a first encounter with the music that lives in our culture.

On the children’s harp and pentatonic flute the playable scale is tuned as follows:

(D – E – G – A – b(b flat) – d – e)

It is noticeable that there are no semitones in this scale. When two pentatonically tuned instruments are played together, it is therefore not possible to play the minor second – which is initially experienced as discordant. Thus, two children playing pentatonic instruments always produce a melodious sound when improvising.

In the case described, D is the lowest fundamental, and the playable scale comprises seven notes. In the middle is the A. Around it are mirrored a fifth downwards (a’ – d’) and a fifth upwards (a’ – e’’). The total range of playable notes thus spans a double fifth. This opens up the possibility – for example in the accompaniment of children’s songs – of bringing a separate musical cosmos to experience.

Children’s harp and pentatonic recorder (Quinta)

In the following, I would like to discuss the most widely used Choroi instruments in the practice of Waldorf schools, kindergartens and special needs education institutions. Instruments such as the Prim lyre and the Carellion, which are also very suitable for making music in a fifths tuning, are not considered here, but should not go unmentioned.

The children’s harp

The children’s harp arose from the need to create a simple stringed instrument that could also be played by children. In its shape, an elongated lemniscate can be seen in the upper arch. Instead of a closed resonance chamber, the lower loop of the lemniscate is shaped into an open bowl so the sound of the harp is delicate and peripheral and several children’s harps playing together blends into a harmonious overall sound.

The pentatonic recorder (Quinta)

The pentatonic recorder is the most widespread choroi instrument. Up to 20,000 of these instruments are produced annually at the Telleby Verkstäder in Järna, Sweden. In Waldorf schools all over the world, the recorder is used as an instrument with which the pupils gain their first experience of sound during lessons. It is made of pear wood, has a small, specially shaped, rather narrow labium and a cylindrical bore of the recorder tube.

We live – especially in our cities – in a noisy, restless time. Our senses are flooded by artificially generated stimuli and often no longer find access to the natural sounds of our world. Stress and tension are thus increased and put people’s health at risk. It seems to me of crucial importance that young people should be sensitively introduced to the world of sound and that instruments should be made available to them that correspond to their sense of sound and can convey the joy of making music. In this way, music education can contribute to the healthy development of people.


Wolfgang Seel, born 1954, is a social education worker, master craftsman in metal work and instrument maker. He worked as a teacher at the Waldorf school in Kassel and as a workshop manager and house father at the Lebensgemeinschaft Münzinghof social therapeutic centre, active in the Choroi movement since 1990. Gives seminars and workshops with Choroi instruments at home and abroad.