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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: Maori music in elementary music class

Although I use music from a variety of cultures and traditions regularly in all grade levels throughout the school year, I spend about a month focusing on the music from a particular culture in each grade. Over the last few weeks, I've been sharing my lesson ideas for each of those countries. Today's focus: Maori culture- the native people of New Zealand! I'm including a list of all of the countries / cultures I will be writing about in this series at the end of this post. As I publish the posts, I will add the link so that you can find each post quickly from that list- you may want to bookmark this page so you can find all of the posts to reference later. You'll find links to my previous posts on Brazil, Mozambique, China, Native America, the Philippines, and Ireland already linked at the end of this post.

I study Maori music with my second grade students. It is a great way to get students more comfortable with triple meter (3/4 time) and introduce dotted half notes, the lyrics to the songs we learn are repetitive and easy to pronounce, and I can reinforce musical forms like A and B sections, verse/refrain, and/or call and response.

First of all, if you aren't familiar with the Maori people, they are a native people group from modern New Zealand. My first real introduction to their culture came through the movie "Whale Rider". I wouldn't recommend a complete viewing with an elementary class (although a short excerpt may be appropriate and a great way to introduce or close out a unit), but if you are personally interested in getting a better sense of the culture, the people, their history, and the place of dance and music in their lives, I would highly recommend it.

The main focus of our study of Maori music is the Tititorea sticks. I introduce the study by showing students the first part of this video:

I definitely get some giggles and grimaces when we first start the video, but as the level of difficulty escalates and they see the sticks flying through the air, the faces are quickly replaced by gasps of delight and awe! To teach a simplified version of the song and stick game, I first have students learn the one-line refrain from the song: "E hine hoki maira". Then I teach the students the first stick pattern with their hands by having them pat their legs on beat 1, clap their hands together on beat 2, and put both hands out (as if to clap a partner's hands) on beat 3. We then listen to the following recording of the song while we clap the pattern on the first verse and then stop and sing the refrain.

For older students you could certainly use the video to help students learn and sing along with the rest of the song as well.

Next I split the class up into pairs and they sit on the floor facing each other to practice doing the same clapping pattern with a partner (patting the floor next to their legs instead of on their legs on beat 1, and clapping each other's hands on beat 3). Once they can do that with the music, pausing to sing the refrain, we learn the clapping pattern for the second verse: pat the floor on beat 1, cross to clap partner's right hand with your right hand on beat 2, left hands on beat 3. We practice until students can do the first clapping pattern on verse 1, sing the refrain, then do the second clapping pattern on verse 2 and sing the refrain.

This is when I bring out the sticks. I have lummi sticks in my classroom that are plain wood (not painted colors), so we use those. I have students hold them as close to the bottom of the stick as possible, and when they tap the floor they tap the bottom of the stick on the floor (holding the stick straight).

Once they are able to do the 2 verses with the sticks, I have students invent their own 3-beat pattern with their partner for verse 3. Most students are eager to include some form of passing their sticks to each other after seeing it in the initial video. My only rule is that they are not allowed to throw the sticks, so they usually end up setting them in each other's laps or on the floor for the other person to pick up, or just using one pair to pass back and forth. This is a great way to assess which students are getting the 3/4 feel and which are stick stuck in duple meter- there are always a number of groups that either pause between each set of 3 beats (to add a fourth beat) or create a pattern that is 4 beats long!

With my second graders I want to really focus on triple meter, but in the past I have also used the song "Epo I Tai Tai E" with some of my older students to do a tititorea game that is great for teaching or reinforcing the "syncopa" (eighth quarter eighth) rhythm pattern (I stopped using it because the meaning of the lyrics is quite vulgar and my students are so used to me telling them what songs in other languages mean that I couldn't skip past the translation without them getting suspicious, but it is still a great song for these concepts...):

The song, "Hine E Hine" is also great for teaching whole notes. You can find the lyrics, translation, notated melody, and sound recording of this Maori folk song here on Mama Lisa's website. Along with the song, poi balls are a great way to practice whole notes as well- I have had students do the "helicopter" movement with the poi on the whole notes (basically swinging them in a circle to the side). There are instructions for making your own poi, and links to websites with more information on the subject, in this post from Instructables. You can see an example of traditional poi dancing in the first video at the top of this post, right after the tititorea stick performance.

That's everything I teach for music from the Maori culture. Do you teach Maori music in your class? I'd love to see any additional ideas and resources you have in the comments below! And don't forget that I will be posting more ideas, focusing on different cultures around the world, over the next several weeks. Check out the posts below and be sure to keep checking back for more ideas. Here's the schedule of countries/cultures I will be writing about over the next several weeks (country names will link to posts once they are published):

1. Brazil


  1. Thanks for these blog posts on World Music- I find these very helpful. I haven't been able to start my unit yet, but when I do, I'll be checking your blog!

    1. I'm glad you've found them helpful! I love teaching music from a variety of cultures- it has been fun for me to put everything together for these posts myself :)

  2. I wish I would've known about that first video and this lesson idea when I was teaching. I would've LOVED using our lummi sticks for it. Thanks for all the great ideas! #fermatafridays

    1. Tititorea is so much fun and so easy to incorporate in most general music rooms! I love it.