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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Brazilian 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. I think it is so important for students to have the opportunity to really experience and appreciate the music (and, by extension, other elements) of a particular culture rather than always just including cursory overview lessons in elementary music (such as a "world music" lesson where students listen to, perform, or otherwise learn about music from a bunch of different cultures all in a short period of time). It can be difficult, however, to teach music from an unfamiliar tradition at more than a surface level if you as the teacher don't have experience with the culture yourself! I hope that these resources and ideas will give you the courage to delve deeper with your students- it really is a valuable learning experience for both students and teacher when you do!

Today's focus: Brazil! I'm including links to all of my other articles with focuses on other countries / cultures around the world at the end of this post so be sure to read to the end!

I focus on Brazil with my 6th graders because I know that they study some things about South America in their Social Studies curriculum, and because I can include some dotted quarter- eighth note rhythms from the Carnaval music we study. Quick tip: don't choose a country/region to study with a particular grade arbitrarily. Figure out which one(s) lend themselves to teaching/ reinforcing musical elements that are a part of their music curriculum and/or relate to something they are studying in their other school subjects.

If you know anything about Brazil, you will know that there is a HUGE variety of cultures within the country because of the history and geography of the country. In my case, I chose to focus on the Samba music performed in the annual Carnaval festival, in particular the Batucada music. It is fast-paced, upbeat, looks cool, can be replicated with classroom percussion, includes the rhythms they are studying, and is one of the most recognizable musical traditions from Brazil.

Here are some of the videos I show to introduce students to the style of music:

Depending on your students you can also show a video of the actual Carnaval parade and/or festivities in Rio- I avoid it because I don't want to deal with the fall out from showing the skimpy costumes (which are virtually impossible to avoid when you show Carnaval), but if I describe Carnaval to them, I have found that many are at least somewhat familiar with what it is.

Next it's time to learn some rhythms ourselves! Usually when I am teaching traditional music from any culture I like to teach it in the same way that it is traditionally taught. In this case, I want to reinforce the dotted quarter-eighth note rhythm notation, so before I teach it with mnemonics and modeling, I have them read the rhythms from standard notation. Once they have read it accurately and performed it from the notation (usually just with clapping), I leave it on the board and teach it by rote as if the notation wasn't there- I really think that part of immersing students in the cultural experience is doing our best to teach it in the style that it is normally taught. 

I adapt the instrumentation based on what I have. In the past I used our Mexican-style guiros in place of the metal ones used in Brazilian samba. This year I have a metal one from Brazil, so I will probably use both. For pandeiros I use tambourines, and for the drums I use hand drums in a few different sizes. I use egg shakers for the ganza, and luckily I have a few agogo bells. Use the instruments that you have on hand that will produce similar sounds- just tell students up front what you are doing, and make sure they see the "real thing" through videos etc. 

I use rhythms adapted from this excellent resource by Art Drum, which includes notation of some different rhythms and suggestions for how to teach them to elementary and middle school students. As suggested, I start by having all the students step back and forth (as you see the players doing in the first video above). I explain that they need to play while stepping back and forth because this is supposed to be parade music! It is also a part of the style, and how players learn in Brazil. Then I teach one part at a time, usually by having them speak their part first (either on numbers as suggested in the Art Drum resource, or on neutral syllables like "dum-di" etc), then echo me on their instruments. We layer them on top of each other, everyone stepping back and forth on the beat the whole time. It is always so cool when the whole thing comes together!

Although I don't have a cuica or anything even close to it, I love having my students learn about it because it is so different from anything I have seen anywhere else. This is another great video to use to introduce students to the different Batucada instruments, and it includes the cuica:

I also use some worksheets to have students describe the different Batucada instruments and compare and contrast them with instruments they already know. If you are interested, you can get the worksheets, teaching slides, and additional videos and resources that I use for this in my World Instrument Listening Unit (click on the picture to check it out):

The resource above also includes some basic information about the country of Brazil, but I don't spend a lot of time talking about generic facts about the countries we study- I find it is much more meaningful and memorable for students to simply experience the musical culture of the region, even if it is just one very small slice of the culture as a whole.

After we have studied and performed Batucada music, I like to throw in this cup song / game from Brazil as well:

I like that it gets them singing in Portuguese (even if it is just nonsense syllables), and it gives them a connection to Brazilian culture as well because it is so similar to the popular "cup song" here in the States. I usually just have them repeat the lyrics of the first half of the song when they get to the second part so they don't have as much to learn (without changing the melody):

Zum zum zum, escatumbararibe,
Escatumbararibe, escatumbatinga
Zum zum zum, escatumbararibe,
Escatumbararibe, escatumbatinga

If it's hard to figure out how to do the cup movements from the first video, you can find tons of tutorials on YouTube. Here's one example:

That's everything I teach for music from Brazil. Do you teach Brazilian 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 there are tons of posts related to world music being linked up the whole month of February. Check out the posts below!

1. Brazil
9. Japan

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  1. Hey Elizabeth!
    Anectodal info. on Escatumbararibe; when I first started researching for my Hands to Hands, Clapping Songs and Games Around the World book I ran into this song and got in touch with a teacher in Brazil. Although the song is Portugese nonsense, the middle chant "Lenga la lenga" is in Catalan, which is an infrequently used regional language. I love that song. so very catchy! Great post and I look forward to adding more Brazilian music!

    1. Thank you for the comment! Yeah I had found that as well, but I don't use that part of the game- as you saw I don't even teach all of the words to the main part of the song! Normally I hate to modify but because of the level of difficulty of the game, which is the main point of the activity, I decided that shortening was the best way to realistically fit it in and make it fun for the students instead of dragging on too long... ;)

  2. This is awesome! Have you looked into some of the Smithsonian Folkways stuff at all? There are great resources for teachers there, and they are always looking for new lesson plans.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    Anne (

    1. I have but not for some time- thank you for the reminder, they are a great resource!

  3. Hi! I just wanted to say thank you for collecting these resources and making this post! It was so helpful to me and Im looking forward to using it in the classroom!