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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Japanese Rain Song: あめふり (Amefuri, Ame Ame)

I love using different songs with similar themes to compare and contrast specific musical elements- I find using songs with lyrics that are about the same topic makes it easier to draw young students' attention to the musical aspects of the songs. Today I want to introduce you to one of my favorite examples of this using a song from my childhood in Japan, あめふり ("Amefuri", aka "Ame, Ame"). 

I don't know why more music teachers outside of Japan don't use this song- it's easy to learn because the refrain is just onomatopoeia, and the pentatonic melody is so fun to sing! The video below shows the pronunciation of the lyrics with English alphabet letters and animation to show the meaning if the words:

There are several verses that together tell a sweet story about helping a friend with no umbrella, but I just use the first verse which basically translates to, "Let it rain, I'm so happy my mom is meeting me with an umbrella". 

To introduce the song, I tell students I am going to sing a Japanese song about rain, and I ask them to listen for the sound of raindrops first ("picchi picchi"), then listen again to find the sound of rainboots splashing in puddles ("chappu chappu"), then the sound of happy humming ("ran ran ran"). Then I ask students to listen to the whole song again and decide if they think the person singing the song is happy or sad about the rain (they always immediately know they're happy), and have them skip around the room on the beat and sing the onomatopoeia refrain at the end. Then I tell them what the rest of the lyrics mean and it all makes sense!

The obvious pairing for this song in the US is "Rain, Rain, Go Away". I sing the song one time and ask students to think about how the person singing this song feels about rain (clearly sad / mad), then we trudge angrily around the room on the beat while we sing it. It's a perfect contrast to the Japanese song that can lead to a quick conversation asking students whether or not they like the rain and why.

These two quick movement activities lend themselves naturally to experiencing compound vs simple meter. I don't actually label them that way with the young PK-1st grade students I use this lesson with, but I do point out how the Japanese song "sounds skippy" and the English song "sounds stompy"- I demonstrate trying to skip with the English song and it doesn't fit the same way. It's a great introduction to the concept without having to get into the mechanics of the time signatures or introduce complex vocabulary.

That's my favorite way to use the song, but I've also used it with slightly older students (2nd-4th grade) to practice pentatonic solfege and improvisation while incorporating compound meter again in a natural, accessible way. This works especially well if the students learned the song already when they were younger, so most of them will recognize it, but I would use a video like this one with anime-style graphics to introduce it to this age group. 

If students are familiar with pentatonic solfege, this is a great melody to use to identify the solfege visually or aurally because it goes up and down the scale several times. You could stop there if that's what students are working on, or you can add some pentatonic improvisation by removing the bars they don't need on the xylophone and having a few students take turns improvising a set number of beats each using the notes from the pentatonic scale to create a B section for the song. Boom, they just created music in compound meter! I find most of them start off improvising on the macrobeats, and when I model playing the "skippy rhythms" from the song (quarter-eighth) and encourage them to incorporate some skippy sounds into their melodies, they get it. It's a great way to lay the groundwork for identifying and labeling compound meter when they're older by experiencing it without worrying about the mechanics.

I hope this sparks some ideas for you to use the song in your own classroom! If you want ready-made visuals and materials to use in your classroom, I've shared my resources for the song, including a recording of the song and the spoken lyrics, visuals of the notated melody, lyrics in the original script, the translation, Orff instrumentation to add, solfege manipulatives, and more in this resource:

The theme of rain is perfect for spring, but really it's relatable for students any time of year, and I have found a lot more songs about rain from other countries that I'll be sharing in future posts so stay tuned- I'm so excited about these! For more springtime thematic lessons with songs in different languages, check out the frog unit I created last year with songs from Sweden, Puerto Rico, and Japan, as well as a book that I love to use in my elementary music lessons.

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