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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Music of Mozambique in elementary music class

Over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of posts with my favorite resources, lessons, and strategies for teaching music from a particular country or region. 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. Today's focus: Mozambique! You'll find links to all of my other posts on music from other countries and cultures at the end of this post, so be sure to read to the end!

I teach music from Mozambique to my 5th graders because it is a great way to introduce the concept of chords (on which we spend a great deal of time in 6th grade) and include a lot of syncopated rhythms. Within the music of Mozambique, I focus on two elements: the Timbila ensemble and Ngoma drumming.

Timbila music is perfect for elementary general music classes because they are easily adapted to Orff barred instruments. Here is a video I like to show my students (and point out that the leader is younger than they are!):

I found a wonderful book a few years ago when I was fortunate enough to see Walt Hampton's elementary student group perform at the Texas Music Educator's Conference, and I use his arrangements, or modified versions of them, to teach the Timbila ensemble music on xylophones. If you can, grab your own copy of this book- you seriously won't regret it! The arrangements are written to be performed on Orff instruments and the teaching instructions are laid out very clearly, so it makes it much easier to teach (and for students to learn!).

(The book is also available on Amazon, but without the CD as far as I can tell)

Walt Hamptom's background, and the basis for the book, is in the marimba ensemble from Zimbabwe. However the Zimbabwean marimba ensemble is a modern phenomenon that comes out of the Timbila ensemble tradition from Mozambique, so the style, techniques, rhythms, and instrumentation are almost identical- just slightly modernized and simplified for the purposes of teaching elementary students! I explain all of this to the students to help them understand the connection between what they are playing and what they see in the video examples I show them.

For drumming, I teach more general African drumming. I have already written about how I teach my drumming circles: click below to see those posts.

There are some suggestions for including drums and other percussion instruments in the timbila book mentioned above, but I like to take it a step further and put all of the instruments together for our culminating performance- I have 3 hoshos (gourd shakers) and plenty of djembes and xylophones so I split the class up into 3 groups and, within each group, have students rotate between all of the different parts so that everyone has a turn on each one (shaker, djembe, soprano xylophone, alto xylophone, and bass xylophone- usually doubling some of the xylophone parts depending on class size). If they can handle it, I'll throw in some other African instruments I have collected over the years- talking drums, various shakers, a Frikywa bell, etc. When they start having to switch instruments, the students really start to pay attention to the other parts while they are playing and they truly start to play as an ensemble. It is truly amazing to watch! They hate me at first for making them repeat the song with different parts over and over, but when it "clicks" it is magical.

Because of the Zimbabwean influences in the Timbila music we perform, and the instruments from other African countries (mostly Ghana) that I include, we actually end up studying the basic geography and culture of several African countries in our studies. A word of caution: be careful to distinguish from which part of Africa each element you study originates. Because the musical traditions of many African countries are so historically intertwined, I think it is OK to mix and mingle various instruments and styles (especially at the rudimentary level that elementary students can realistically achieve). However, I think it is important to explicitly tell students when you do so, and never generalize and say that an instrument or style is "from Africa". If you are interested, you'll find the visuals and worksheets I use for teaching basic facts about Mozambique as a country and its instruments in this set:

That's everything I teach for music from Mozambique. Do you teach Mozambican 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. I am fascinated at the depth of your understanding of African music! Your class seems wonderful and I pictured myself there having a magical time playing all of those instruments. Thanks for sharing these amazing curriculum resources and your talents!

    1. Thank you for the compliment! My knowledge of African music as a whole is limited at best, but I do believe that part of the advantage of focusing in on particular cultures to study (rather than trying to provide students with a complete overview of every culture ever) is that students can gain a more in-depth understanding of that culture, which then transfers to their understanding of other cultures as well. As a teacher, it makes my job easier if I stop worrying about exposing students to every single culture in my class and instead focus on giving them greater depth of understanding of a few.