Elemental Music

What Is Elemental Music?

For a deeper dive, click here to listen to this Elemental Conversation with Victoria Boler

If you are like many music teachers out there you have probably heard the term Elemental Music before. You may have also wondered at some point in your life what that phrase means.

It’s one of those things that we hear thrown around at workshops at clinics at conferences… and even when people stop to explain what Elemental Music is, sometimes that definition can still feel fuzzy.

So is this question is very simply ….. What is Elemental Music?

Standard Definition

There isn’t a standard definition for elemental music out there. Different pedagogues use the term in different ways and actualize it in their classrooms differently.

However, in general, there are a set of characteristics we can expect to observe in elemental music.

Characteristics of Elemental Music

Basic Musical Structures

Elemental music uses the most basic musical elements. This doesn’t mean that the music isn’t artistic. It just means that it uses foundational musical elements.

Elemental Forms and Patterns

Elemental forms are how we piece music together. A few of the most common elemental forms are aba, aabb, abba, and aaab.

Elemental Instruments

For most people, the most naturally-occurring instrument is the human body. Elemental music is centered around the body as a way to express music through movement, speech, body percussion, and singing.

Where instruments are used, they are going to be the most accessible and the most natural extension of the human body. Often this means things like barred instruments and unpitched percussion.

Mixed Media

Elemental music uses a combination of textures and sounds.


A hallmark of elemental music is that anyone can – and should – actively participate in it, regardless of their level of formal musical training. Elemental music uses basic musical structures so it can be as accessible as possible to any child, or any adult.

“Elemental Music is never music alone, but forms a unity with met with movement, dance, and speech. It is music that one makes one’s self, in which one takes part not as a listener but as a participant.”

Carl Orff

At its core, elemental music is created by humans with the intention that other humans will participate in it. In this style, everyone has something to contribute. It is music that humans make themselves. They can make it in an ensemble with each other in a way that is organic, and in a way that celebrates community.

Victoria Boler

Victoria Boler is a leading elementary general music educator and curriculum designer. In addition to general music, Victoria has taught orchestra, choir, and percussion ensembles. In an administrative role, Victoria has served as Fine Arts Coordinator, leading band, orchestra, choir, general music, and musical theater at the programmatic level. She holds a Masters in Music Education from the University of Florida and has completed three levels of Orff certification, as well as Kodaly level two. She publishes general music curriculum and instructional materials at victoriaboler.com, where she serves and collaborates with educators in their journeys to create grounded and artistic music curriculum for their unique teaching scenarios. Victoria is a lesson author for Hal Leonard’s Essential Elements Music Class and the author of the forthcoming Hal Leonard book, “Creative Activities for Teaching General Music.”

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  1. Melodius on January 26, 2024 at 12:44 am

    Thanks for explaining Elemental Music! Your ideas about using basic musical stuff and making music for everyone to join in really make sense to me as a music lover. I like how you say that even if we’re not super trained, we can still be part of it. Using our bodies as instruments sounds cool too. That quote from Carl Orff is awesome, saying music is something we all do together. Cheers!

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