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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Exploring Cultures Through Music

Like it or not, distance learning in some form or fashion is likely going to be a part of many of our lives for some time. One of my favorite sets of lessons I got to teach online this spring was my lessons on music of specific cultures around the world. While it's certainly not the same as in person, there are lots of great ways to get students exploring music around the world through online lessons and virtual teaching- here are some ideas!

Online Teaching

One of my favorite websites to get kids exploring music from around the world independently is Global Jukebox. Students can click on names of specific regions or click on different parts of the map to hear authentic recordings of music from that area! One way to assign this would be to simply invite students to explore any part of the world they may be interested in and report back on what they learned. This could also be a great introductory tool for lessons on a specific culture or region- tell students to find a specific location on the map and listen to a certain number of recordings, or give them the title of a specific recording to find and listen to. If you're directing them to a specific region or recording, this would be a great time to give students some more specific questions or prompts to guide their listening.

Another great way to get students exploring music from specific regions or cultures is through the Online Radio Box. This site allows you to stream radio stations from around the world, and you can search by location and genre. Obviously you'll have to direct students to specific stations you've vetted to make sure they are age-appropriate, but this is a great way to expose students to more contemporary and popular styles from around the world instead of just traditional/ folk music. 

One component of my regular lessons I was able to keep in my online lessons was the World Instrument Listening slides (link is to the slides I made) I use to introduce traditional instruments from different countries. I gave students the PDF version of the slides, which have links to videos of authentic performances from the countries of origin already embedded, and asked them to describe one instrument to someone who has never heard of it before. 

Another component from my regular lessons I was able to keep and actually expand in my online lessons was videos introducing instruments, musical genres, dance forms, and different aspects of the culture, geography, and other basic information. I put together videos that I normally use in class along with other videos showing more examples of the music from each country into playlists. Then I asked students to explore the playlist, watch at least part of each video, and tell me something they learned about the country or its music. Many families reported that this was their favorite lesson of the entire school closure and said they spent a lot of time exploring the culture further with the whole family!

Virtual Teaching

I didn't have the ability to teach live virtual lessons this spring, but if that is an option for you then many of the normal songs and dances I teach from cultures around the world would be perfect to include in a live lesson! In my online lessons I posted on google classroom, I recorded videos of myself teaching one dance or song from the culture I focused on for each grade and just invited students to watch and learn it along with me. In a live virtual lesson you could do the same but have them do the dance moves, passing games, or singing along with you (just make sure they're muted!). You'll find links to specific songs, dances, and games I teach from each of 9 different cultures in this post:

I hope this gives you some ideas to incorporate "world music" into your teaching, no matter what form that teaching may take! If you have more ideas or resources you've come across to teach music from specific cultures or regions, I'd love to hear them in the comments below. You can find lots more ideas for distance learning on this page, where I'm compiling all of my relevant posts with lesson ideas for online and send-home packets, equity and other considerations for distance learning, along with ideas for managing life at home during closures:


  1. Thank you for this article with your helpful ideas and resources. I also found a great resource for World Music from might be worth checking out

    1. I'm glad you found it helpful! The worksheets on FunMusicCo could definitely work as sub plan material or something like that, but I would caution against using it as actual lesson material- anything that generalizes the entire African continent is problematic, first of all, and the cursory experience students would get from the worksheets would not be meaningful learning musically or culturally.