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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: Bolivian music in elementary music class

Today I'm back to my series on music from cultures around the world, and this week I'm talking about Bolivia! 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. 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, Ireland, and Maori culture (native New Zealand) already linked at the end of this post.

I study Bolivian music with my first graders. I find that it is accessible for them at this age, as enough of them have had some exposure to South/Central American culture and/or the Spanish language in some form to feel a connection to it. I am also able to reinforce steady beat, quarter notes, paired eighth notes, quarter rests, and A and B sections through the music we study.

I start off the unit by having everyone listen to the instrumental recording of "Alturas" from this book and recording set from Daria Music. I ask students to listen silently and try to imagine what the song is about, and we all listen with the lights off. Most students are able to identify the sound of the wind blowing, which leads to a discussion of the composer's intent to convey the image of the Andes mountains, with the blowing wind and the llama's hooves. I love starting with this because it has great examples of zamponas (panpipes), rain stick, chajchas (rattle/shaker), and other typical Andean instruments.

We briefly discuss the instruments (I have rain sticks, chajchas, and zamponas in my room to show them) and then the students make their own zamponas (panpipes)! I keep it very simple: I cut one large straw per student into 3 sections (each different lengths)- I got these from IKEA because they are under $2 for a pack of 100 and they are a good size (and come in lots of colors)- and have the students arrange them in height order on the floor. As I go around helping each student put a piece of tape around the straw pieces to hold them together, we make predictions about whether or not the 3 pieces will sound different (I don't demonstrate on the real one until after this activity), and if so, how. This is a great introduction to the science of sound, and the students are able to make the connection to the xylophone bars that sound higher or lower with different lengths. (If you want to make slightly fancier versions of the zamponas, the book from Daria has an awesome tutorial as well- still easy and cheap but adds a bit more decor so kids can personalize!)

Once the students have had a chance to try playing their DIY zamponas, I demonstrate a little on my real set. I also like to show the second half of this video (when he switches to the panpipes) so they can see it played by someone who actually knows what they're doing:

I try to give students a quick turn playing the rain stick and chajchas (rattles) as well- my favorite thing to do is pass them around and have each student touch them before telling them that the chajchas are made of toenails- the looks on their faces are priceless!

After finding the Andes on the map of South America (which I also got from Daria's book), I tell them that we will be focusing on Bolivia, which we find on the map as well. Then we learn a dance to accompany the Bolivian song, "La Mariposa". In the A section / verse, the students walk around the circle on the beat, switching directions after 8 beats. In the B section / chorus, the students face the middle of the circle and sing, "con las manos" and then clap 3 times, sing "con los pies" then stomp three times, then sway both arms back and forth while bending their knees while the sing "la morenada, la morenada" (you can see another version of the dance, which is similar but has some different movements, in this video). I have this recording from Smithsonian Folkways (which I highly recommend- it's only a dollar for the song!), but you could also use the audio from this video (which also shows the clapping and stomping I'm talking about):

The best part of the dance is when we add scarves! I tie scarves to each students' wrists (or if we're short on time, they can just hold them in their hands) and have them do the dance. Now when they sway their arms back and forth in the chorus, it looks like a butterfly's wings (the title of the song)! The students love this, and it is a great way to prepare for half notes- I bring it back briefly in 2nd grade to introduce the 2 beat note (each sway is 2 beats long).

We also add some instruments to the song. I have small groups of students play a repeating pattern using quarter notes and rests and paired eighth notes on chajchas and drums, and other students play whole notes on rain sticks- I'll teach everyone the patterns for the chajchas and drums by reading from the notation, and then have small groups of students play it on the instruments while the rest of the class is singing and dancing (I usually have the instruments play only on the A sections). At the end of all of this, we have a brief discussion about the two sections of the music (A and B).

We also learn the song, "Mi Gallito"- you can find the sheet music, recording, lyrics, and translation here on Mama Lisa's website- along with motions. I like this song because it is short, simple and hilarious (at least to first graders)! It is a great way to end our study of Bolivian music. You can find more songs from Bolivia here.

That's everything I teach for music from Bolivia. Do you teach Bolivian 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. What a great series!! I will definitely be coming back to these posts later as I plan! Thanks!

    1. That is a great compliment- thank you for the comment! I'm glad you found the posts helpful.

  2. Wow, these lessons have been so comprehensive. I love the idea of pretending to travel the world with these lessons. What a great way to teach geography! I probably had the same kind of face the first time I learned I had been playing with toenails, and I was 22! But they're so cool, it's worth it.

    1. Haha, the toenails... ;) I'm glad you found these lesson ideas helpful!