Musical Instruments of Africa Portable Collections Program

Portable Collections Program
Musical Instruments
of Africa
Table of Contents
Checklist: What’s in the Case? –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1
Information for the Teacher: ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 2
How to Handle and Look At Museum Objects
African Music and Musical Instruments
Information about the Objects in the Case
Activities to Do with Your Students: –––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 8
1 Introductory Activity: Make Some Noise!
2 What Type of Instrument Is It?
3 Make a Percussion Instrument
4 Play With Rhythmic Patterns
5 Oboo Asi Me Nsa: Play a Musical Rhythm Game
6 Sing a Story
7 Additional Activities and Curricular Connections
Resources and Reference Materials: ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 16
Vocabulary Words
Correlations with New York State Learning Standards
Corresponding Field Trips
Bibliography and Web Resources
What’s in the Case?
Struck bell and beater
Thumb piano (Mbira)
Kettledrum (Antakarana)
Arm rattle
Box rattle
Basketry rattle
Angle harp
The Singing Man: Adapted from a West African Folktale by Angela Shelf Medearis
Let Your Voice Be Heard: Song from Ghana and Zimbabwe: Call and Response, Multipart,
and Game Songs (with audio cassette) by Abraham Adzinyah
Africa: The Music of a Continent (audio CD) by Various Artists
“Musical Instruments of Africa” Image Slideshow (with audio cassette)
How to Handle Museum Objects
How to Look at Museum Objects
Learning to handle objects from the Museum’s
permanent collection with respect can be part of
your students’ educational experience of the case.
Please share these guidelines with your class, and
make sure your students follow them in handling
objects in the case:
Objects have the power to fascinate people with their
mere physical presence. Holding an object in their
hands forms a tangible link between your students,
the folk artist who made it, and the artist’s homeland. This sense of physical connection makes it easier
for students to think concretely about the ideas and
concepts you introduce to them in your lessons.
• Students may handle and play the instruments,
carefully, under your supervision. Please make
sure they do not play them roughly. Over time,
sweat, body oils, and too much handling can
adversely affect all of these objects, even those
that seem sturdy. Many of these objects are not
• You may tighten the strings of the angle harp,
but do so cautiously. Excess stress on the strings
will rip the hide membrane to which they are
• Hold the instruments with two hands. Hold
them by the solid part of the body or by the
strongest area rather than by rims, edges or
protruding parts.
• Paint, feathers, fur and fibers are especially
fragile and should be touched as little as possible.
Remember that rubbing and finger oils can be
Objects also have the power to tell us about their
origins and purpose, provided we are willing to look
at them in detail and think about what those details
mean. Encourage your students to examine an object
carefully, touch it gently and looking at its design
and decoration. Have them describe its shape, size,
and color. Ask them questions about what they see,
and what that might tell them. For example:
• How was the object made? What tools did the
artist need?
• What materials did the artist use? Where might
he or she have gotten those materials?
• How is the object decorated? What might the
decorations mean?
• What does the object tell you about the person
or people who made it?
• Temperature differences, direct sunlight, and
water can be very harmful to certain objects.
Please keep the objects away from radiators and
open windows, and keep them secure.
African Music and Musical Instruments
Traditional African music
For thousands of years, music has been an integral
part of everyday life in Africa. It has provided a
constant background for work and play, an accompaniment to religion and ceremony, and a basic
means of communication.
Traditionally, children learned singing and clapping
by imitating their parents as they sang stories and
legends of important historical events and people.
Other songs with morals taught children right and
wrong. Music could also provide a way to resolve
hostilities; both children and adults would often
confront their enemies by means of mocking or
insulting songs rather than aggressive face-to-face
People of all ages worked while singing or listening
to music. Farmers clearing a field for planting would
sing or chant to provide a rhythm for their work.
Herdsmen would sing or play an instrument to pass
the lonely hours while tending their animals. Hunters
celebrated a successful kill with elaborate ceremonies,
dancing to reenact the hunt while an orchestra
played in the background.
Music was essential to other ceremonies as well,
such as those marking birth, death, initiation into
adulthood, marriage, and important political events.
These rituals were often accompanied by singing,
dancing, clapping, and drumming. One of the most
common musical forms was “call and response,” in
which a singer or instrument would lead the song
and the rest of the choir or orchestra would answer,
turning the song into a back-and-forth dialogue.
Percussion and background rhythms were often
provided by drums, gongs, and rattles.
Since songs were not usually written down, African
musical styles encouraged a great deal of improvisation and imagination. Each musician or orchestra
would have its own interpretation. A song might be
played a hundred times, with each performer adding
his or her variations to the words, melody, or rhythm.
African music today
Traditional music captures the beat of everyday life
in Africa. But as the political, economic, and social
realities of life in Africa have changed, its music has,
too, especially throughout the twentieth century
and into the twenty-first.
In rural areas, some traditional music is still performed
for the purposes described above, as well as for
magical ceremonies to promote rain, healing, and
good luck. All of these rituals are accompanied by
elaborate preparations and costumes, and often turn
into contests between the participants. Traditional
orchestras and elaborately costumed dancers also
sometimes perform during political events or state
visits from important guests. But with the increasing
industrialization and urbanization of Africa, the
population’s knowledge of and interest in traditional
music and instruments has declined. Many young
people have turned away from native music, more
interested in Western rock and roll.
Fortunately, some interested Africans and outsiders
have kept alive the traditional knowledge that makes
African music unique. These scholars, musicians, and
activists have worked to preserve native music by
recording performances, writing songs down in
musical notation, and photographing events. Their
interest encourages remaining traditional musicians
to practice their art and pass it on to the next
African Music and Musical Instruments (continued)
generation. Through their work, all of these people
have built international interest in African music and
helped maintain Africa’s traditional musical heritage
for Africans and the rest of the world.
However, it is important to realize that while traditional African music is worth preserving, contemporary musical styles also deserve admiration and
praise. Many musicians have taken traditional
elements and reworked them by adding Western
instruments, adopting different vocal techniques,
and using the latest sound mixing technology. They
have also incorporated aspects of musical styles
from around the world. African music has come full
circle. Many American musical styles came out of
the music brought to the New World by African
slaves, including jazz, the blues, gospel, rock and
roll, rap, and hip-hop, along with many Latin and
Caribbean beats. Those musical forms (among
others) now inspire and influence modern African
musicians. Through the process of borrowing from
other cultures and experimenting with their own,
these contemporary musicians have created a new
sound that is still rooted in the rich musical
traditions of their past.
Types of African musical instruments
One way to provide your students with an overview
of musical instruments in Africa is to talk about the
four representative categories of instruments:
aerophones, chordophones, mebranophones, and
idiophones. These categories can be used to organize
all musical instruments, not only those from Africa.
Aerophones are wind instruments, meaning that they
are caused to sound by blowing air through them.
People all over Africa make a variety of flutes, whistles,
simple trumpets and horns. However, for health
reasons, aerophones are not represented in this case.
Chordophones are stringed instruments, which are
caused to sound by plucking, strumming, or bowing.
Common African chordophones include zithers,
lyres, folk lutes, and musical bows (a single string
attached to a flexible stick). The angle harp in the
case is also a chordophone.
Membranophones are instruments that have a
membrane (usually made of animal or reptile skin)
stretched over a resonator (also called a soundbox).
The most common membranophone is the drum,
which may be played by striking its membrane with
the hand or a beater. Africa is home to many
different drum types, including cylindrical drums,
barrel drums, waisted drums, footed drums, and
goblet drums. Musicians in Africa also play several
varieties of a less common membranophone called
a mirliton, in which sound is produced by blowing
or singing against a membrane instead of striking it
(the kazoo is a familiar example). The kettledrum
(or antakarana) in the case is a membranophone.
Idiophones are instruments that vibrate as a whole
when they are played, and which are caused to
sound by striking or shaking. Common idiophones
from Africa include bells, rattles, jingles, gongs,
xylophones, clappers, scrapers, and thumb pianos.
This category is represented in the case by the
struck bell, the thumb piano (mbira), the box rattle,
the ankle rattle, and the basketry rattle.
African Music and Musical Instruments (continued)
Another important musical instrument in the African
repertoire is the human body, which fits into several
of the categories above. People may create a melody
or harmony line by singing, or add percussion to a
song by clapping their hands, slapping their thighs,
pounding the upper arms and chest, and stamping
or shuffling their feet. Known as “body percussion,”
these movements have traditionally been incorporated into the routines of dancers, who perform solo
or in groups, maneuvering in circles and line formations in time to the music.
Materials then and now
Musical instruments are made from whatever
materials are commonly available. In the past, that
included primarily natural materials, such as wood,
bamboo, clay, stone, seeds, gourds, reeds, palm
leaves, calabashes, animal horns, tusks, bones, and
hides, snake skins, and tortoise shell. Modern instruments may incorporate these materials where
possible, but are often made instead from recycled
materials, such as old oil drums, tin cans, wire, and
roofing metal. These materials are used both by
traditional musicians who make their own instruments, and by enterprising craftsmen who turn out
traditional instruments like thumb pianos en masse
for the tourist market. ❑
Words in boldface have been included in the
Vocabulary Words section on page 16.
Information About the Objects in the Case
STRUCK BELL AND BEATER (Object No. 68.26.4)
This iron bell has no clapper
on the inside, so it must be
struck from the outside with a
beater to make a sound. Struck
bells are most common in East
Asia, but are also made in
parts of Africa. This particular
bell comes from Cameroon,
and is rather plain compared to other bells from that
part of the world. Some struck bells from West Africa
have fancy handles featuring human figures, while
others are made in pairs connected with a curved
handle. Like other bells, struck bells are idiophones.
When playing this instrument, it is important to hold
it by the handle and not to touch the resonating
chamber. This will deaden the sound and should be
done only for special effect.
THUMB PIANO (MBIRA) (Object No. 98.8.4)
Made in Zimbabwe, this
instrument is known as a
thumb piano, or mbira
(another common name for it
in other parts of Africa is the
sansa). Although it is called a
“piano,” this instrument does
not have any strings and is
not a chordophone; instead, it is an idiophone.
Thumb pianos originated in Africa as early as 1000
B.C.E. Originally they were made of plant materials
such as raffia, palm rib, cane, or bamboo, but gradually they came to have metal parts, too, as iron
technology became widespread. Africans brought
the thumb piano to the New World, where it is found
in parts of Central and South America, but it is still
primarily an African instrument. Thumb pianos are
played alone or as part of an ensemble by minstrels,
travelers, or other performers. Often a performer will
play for his own enjoyment or for group entertainment, and occasionally for religious ceremonies.
is how this instrument came to be called the thumb
piano). In general, the pitch of the note produced
depends on the length of the tongue; the longer the
tongue, the deeper the pitch it makes when plucked.
The antakarana is a kettledrum from Madagascar, an
island nation off the east coast
of Africa. Women and young
men play the antakarana for
recreation and entertainment.
This instrument also performs
as an accompaniment to
dances and songs during family events, such as
circumcisions or funerals. The antakarana is made
from a piece of animal hide laced over the top of a
clay bowl (its name means “drum on a cooking
pot”). With its shallow depth, it resembles drums
from India and the island of Java, and shows the
influence of Asian drum forms in Madagascar.
Drums provide the rhythm and structure for most
African music. They come in many sizes and are
made from a variety of materials, such as wood,
metal, or ceramic. Drums are membranophones.
Each drum has a resonator (the hollow body of the
drum) and one or two heads (the membrane of the
drum, which is struck to create sound). The heads
are often made from animal skins, with the hair left
on for decoration.
A thumb piano player holds the instrument in his or
her hands or rests it on the lap, and plucks the metal
or wooden tongues, usually with the thumbs (which
Information About the Objects in the Case (continued)
ARM RATTLE (Object No. 98.8.1)
ANGLE HARP (Object No. 2005.11)
Arm and ankle rattles are
found throughout Africa.
Usually these idiophones are
worn by dancers as they perform during ceremonies or for
entertainment. The rattles
sound as the dancers leap and
sway, providing a musical
accompaniment to their rhythmic movements. This
Nigerian example is made of brass, but rattles worn
on the body may be made from many different
materials, including shells, beads, seed pods, and
even insect pupae.
The angle harp is a
chordophone common in
central Africa. It gets its name
from the shape of its neck,
which rises up from the body
at a perpendicular angle. Folk
harps like this one are played
for both ceremonial and recreational purposes. Minstrels (such as West African
griots) often play the harp to accompany their singing, but it may also be played as a solo instrument
or with an orchestra. The earliest known angle harp
was made in Sumeria around 3100 B.C.E. It was also
played by ancient Assyrians and Egyptians. Today
angle harps are only found in Africa and in the
former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Arm rattles are often made in graduated sizes so
that several of them may be worn at the same time
on different places along the arm. On some other
instruments, like this one, the size may be adjusted
so the rattle will fit any part of the wearer’s arm.
BOX RATTLE (Object No. 81.14.1b)
Box rattles are a popular
rhythm instrument in
Cameroon. The player holds
the rattle in one hand and
shakes it hard or gently to
produce a loud or soft sound.
This rattle is made of reeds
that have been split, cut to
size, and formed into a box. Small pebbles or seeds
inside the rattle cause the instrument to sound when
shaken. Like other rattles, the box rattle is an
Angle harps are played with the resonator (sound
box) held upright against the player’s body. This
angle harp has a boat-shaped wooden resonator,
which is covered with an animal hide membrane.
The instrument has four strings attached to small
pegs in the neck. The performer tunes the instrument (raisse or lowers the pitch of each string) by
carefully turning these pegs.
You can learn more about these instruments and other
objects from around the world by visiting our Collections
Central Online database at On the “search”
screen, enter the object numbers above to find those
objects, or have your students look for other examples
of African instruments.
BASKETRY RATTLE (Object No. 81.14.2a)
Made by the Zulu people of
South Africa, this woven
basketry rattle would be
played to accompany music
and dancing performed for
ceremonies or for entertainment. The rattle is woven
from straw and filled with
pebbles or beans that make noise when it is shaken.
Basketry rattles are made in parts of both Africa and
the Americas. They are a type of idiophone.
Introductory Activity: Make Some Noise!
All Grades
Africa is a continent of many countries, climates and
peoples, but throughout the land music is a major part
of daily life. Hundreds of different instruments may be
combined in an infinite number of ways to create
unique melodies, harmonies, and rhythms.
As your students prepare to learn more about the instruments in the case, it is important to remind them that
they already possess the most common instrument in
the African orchestra: the human body! Along with singing, people from all over Africa also boast an amazing
repertoire of “body percussion.” You and your students
can begin to make music like them by simply clapping
their hands, slapping your thighs, or stamping your feet!
• Just yourselves!
What To Do:
1 Gather your students in a circle. Discuss how the
human body may be used as an instrument (see
Discussion Questions below).
2 Have each child come up with a different sound.
They may use their mouth, hands, feet, or any other
part of their bodies (examples: clapping hands,
slapping thighs or chest, stamping feet, whistling,
hooting, or shouting). Encourage them to use their
3 When each student has chosen a sound, go around
the circle quickly, with each student repeating his or
her noise so that you all can hear how the noises
sound in combination.
4 Mix it up! Try having students make their noises as
you point at them in turn. Move back and forth
around the circle to create different patterns or
5 Introduce rhythm into the mix by varying how long
you point at each student. Have students repeat their
sounds continuously until you point to the next child.
6 Create unique harmonies by pointing at two students
at once, having them overlap their sounds.
7 Conduct the children in a “rhythm symphony” as
you create a variety of interesting patterns!
Discussion Questions:
• When you make music by singing or clapping, what
instrument are you using?
• What are some other ways you can make musical
sounds using parts of your body?
• Have students name some musical instruments with
which they are familiar. How do these instruments
make sound? Talk with students about instruments
that make sounds by having air blown into them, by
being plucked or bowed, and by being struck, shaken,
or scraped. Older students may be able to classify the
instruments they know (as outlined in the next activity).
• What role does music play in your life? Do you make
music yourself by singing or playing an instrument?
Where do you hear music? What kind of music do
you like to listen to?
See page 17 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
What Type of Instrument Is It?
4 Remind the students about how to handle the objects
according to museum guidelines.
Grades 3–5
Related Objects: All
This activity encourages your students to observe the
instruments in the case very closely in order to classify
each instrument and relate it to the environment in
which it was made. Ask the students to focus on the
physical properties of each instrument, which may yield
clues about which category of instrument it belongs to
and where it was made.
• A copy of the “What Type of Instrument Is It?” chart
for each student, OR a transparency of the chart and
an overhead projector, OR a large piece of chart paper.
• “Musical Instruments of Africa” audio tape
What To Do:
1 Start with a discussion: Tell the students that the
instruments in the case represent three of the four
categories of instrument that can be found not only in
Africa but throughout the world. Those categories are
aerophones (flutes, horns, trumpets, and whistles),
chordophones (harps, lyres, lutes, and guitars),
membranophones (drums with skins), and
idiophones (bells, rattles, gongs, and thumb pianos).
(See page 5 for more information about these
categories of instruments.)
2 Create several stations in the classroom. Place one or
more of the instruments at each station.
3 Use one instrument and the observation chart to
demonstrate how to observe and describe an object,
and how to record what you have seen. Talk about
the shape and sound of the instrument, the material
from which it is made, and its decoration (if any).
5 Divide the students into groups and have them go
from station to station observing the objects and
filling out their charts. Alternatively, you can do this
activity as a class, looking at the instruments in turn
and filling out the chart using an overhead projector
or large chart paper.
Discussion Questions:
• Some instruments are easy to classify, but some are
tricky. Discuss the student’s classifications. What
characteristics put the instruments in one group or
another? (Be aware that membranophones and
idiophones comprise a broader category of percussion
instruments, and that thumb “pianos” are not
• Have your students close their eyes while you play
an instrument from the case, and see if they can
identify it by sound alone.
• Listen to the “Musical Instruments of Africa” audio
tape in the case, which demonstrates the sounds
made by the different types of instruments. How do
your students describe the differences?
• As a group, have the students name all the materials
from which the instruments are made. What do
these materials have in common? Are there other
natural materials not represented in the list that can
be used to make music? Why aren’t these instruments
made from those materials, too?
See page 17 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
What can
objects tell me?
Look at each instrument carefully. How does it make
sound? Put an X in the category where you think it belongs.
What type of instrument is not found in the case?
What materials is
Aerophone Chordophone Membranophone Idiophone this instrument made of?
Make a Percussion Instrument
Grades 2– 4
Related Objects: Kettledrum (Antakarana), arm
rattle, box rattle, basketry rattle
One of the most common elements of the music of
many African nations is percussion. Percussion instruments are a type of instrument that is beaten or struck
to create sound. They often mark the tempo of a song,
and usually include membranophones and idiophones
(though people may also create “body percussion” by
clapping their hands or stamping their feet, for example).
Since percussion instruments do not necessarily need to
maintain a certain pitch, they are much easier to make
than tuned instruments like harps or thumb pianos. The
three instruments described below are simple and fun
to make, and can be used to complete other activities
in this guide.
3 Have students decorate the exterior of their shakers
with paint or decoupage.
1 If their beverage bottles are smooth, your students
will need to give them ridges. Have them wrap
several thin sections of wire around the bottle’s
center, with about half an inch of space between
each section. (If a beverage bottle already has
ridges on it, all it requires is decoration.)
2 Have students place brightly colored tissue paper
inside the bottle, or paint the top and bottom
sections of the exterior (away from the ridges).
3 Students may play their scrapers by running a
pencil up and down the ridges.
• Containers (such as metal or sturdy plastic cans, or
ceramic flower pots) of different sizes
• Uninflated balloons (one per student), cut to fit over
the head of the each child’s container
• Large rubber bands, twine, and raffia (optional)
• Paper cups
• Dried peas, beans, or rice
• Plastic beverage bottles (labels removed)
• Wire
• Glue and colorful collage materials or paint to
decorate the outside of the instruments
What To Do:
1 Have each student choose a container, and work
with the students to stretch the balloons over the
open end of their containers. Secure the balloon
with a large rubber band.
2 If desired, they may tie twine or raffia around the
drum to cover the rubber band.
3 Pass out collage materials or paints for students to
decorate the outside of their drums.
1 Have your students fill one paper cup halfway with
dried peas, beans, or rice.
Discussion Questions:
• What is a membranophone? What is an idiophone?
What type of instrument did you make? What other
percussion instruments can you think of?
• What are the three ways a percussion instrument can
be played? (Struck, shaken, or scraped)
• What role does percussion play in making music?
Is it always in the background, or can it provide the
melody as well?
See page 17 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
2 Then they should turn the second cup upside down
to make a lid for the first cup, and tape the two
cups firmly together.
Play With Rhythmic Patterns
Grades 2–5
Related Objects: Kettledrum (Antakarana),
arm rattle, box rattle, basketry rattle
How can a group of percussion instruments play together
without sounding like a bunch of meaningless noise?
The trick is to establish a steady beat and have each
instrument play a rhythm that follows it. Try these easy
patterns with your class using the instruments in the
case, or instruments your students have made themselves. Students will learn how rhythmic patterns are
produced and combined to make music using mathematical thinking.
• Percussion instruments from the case OR percussion
instruments made in the previous activity
What To Do:
1 Try these patterns in roughly the following order.
You should start out as the leader, but once the class
has gotten the hang of each pattern, try letting a
student lead.
2 Call and response: The leader plays a rhythm on one
instrument, and everybody else plays the same
rhythm in reply.
3 Question and answer: In pairs, one person plays a
rhythm (the “question”) and their partner plays a
different rhythm (the “answer”) in reply.
4 Together beat: The leader repeats a rhythm over and
over. Everyone else joins in only on every third, fourth,
or fifth beat.
5 Conductor: The leader acts as “conductor” and signals
other players to join in, drop out, play louder or
softer, or go slower or faster.
6 Concentration: Divide the class into three groups—
drums, rattles, and scrapers. Then give each group
one line to play, based on a four-beat pattern:
Write these patterns on the board, and count out
loud as each section practices its pattern individually.
When each group knows its rhythm, have all three
groups play at the same time.
7 Once the students have completed this last exercise,
encourage each group make up its own four-beat
rhythm and have the three groups play all together
Discussion Questions:
• Have students evaluate how they performed in their
groups and as a class. Did they follow each pattern
as it was established? Were they able to maintain a
steady beat? In the last activity, were they able to
play their own group’s rhythm, or did they unintentionally start following the rhythm of another group?
See page 17 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
Oboo Asi Me Nsa:
Play a Musical Rhythm Game
and third beats, and pass the rock to the neighbor on
their right on the second and fourth beats.
For example:
If a student does not have a rock, he or she simply
mimics the same motions empty-handed.
Grades 1–5
Related Objects: Kettledrum (Antakarana),
arm rattle, box rattle, basketry rattle
Music is a vital part of everyday life in Africa, even for
the very young. Children learn to sing and keep rhythm
by observing their parents and elders. Many children’s
games allow them to practice these skills. We have
adapted the following activity from Oboo Asi Me Nsa, a
well-known Ghanaian children’s rhythm game found on
pages 14–16 of Let Your Voice Be Heard! Songs from
Ghana and Zimbabwe (included in the case). The book
includes several other game songs you might try in
addition to or instead of this one.
• Let Your Voice Be Heard! Songs from Ghana and
Zimbabwe book and audio tape
• One or more rocks, balls, beanbags, or other small
objects to be passed around during the game
• Percussion instruments from the case OR percussion
instruments made in the previous activity
What To Do:
1 Write the words to Oboo Asi Me Nsa on the board,
along with their pronunciations (found on page 15
of Let Your Voice Be Heard!).
5 Pass out a rock (or several), and start singing and
playing the game!
6 Although this is a game emphasizing accuracy and
group cooperation, it can also be played competitively.
If a player makes a mistake in the pattern, he or she
can be eliminated from the circle. So can any players
who throw rocks or place them out of their neighbors’
reach (whether deliberately or on accident).
7 Once everyone has the general idea, try speeding up
the tempo of the song or adding different actions to
the song to keep the players on their toes. For
example, eliminate one of the motions and replace it
with a handclap, so that the order of the actions
becomes tap, pass, tap, clap! Substitute these actions
as many times and as often as you like.
8 Players who are eliminated can sit on the sidelines
and play their percussion instruments in time with
the beat of the song.
Discussion Questions:
2 Practice chanting the words out loud with the class.
3 Play the song from the audio tape. Now try singing
the words along with the tape. Practice until you and
the class can sing the song by yourselves, without the
audio tape.
4 Have the class sit close together in a circle on the
floor, and teach your students the motions for the
game. (The object of the game is to pass one or more
rocks counterclockwise around the circle, but it is
easiest to practice the motions before giving them
anything to pass.) In a four-beat pattern, the students
pick up the rock and tap it the ground on the first
• How did singing the song help you keep track of the
rhythm of the game? Did it make passing the rock
easier or harder?
• Do you play rhythm games with your friends? What
kind? (Examples: chanting or singing while performing
hand-clap patterns or jumping rope.)
• What lessons do these rhythm games emphasize?
(Examples: accuracy, cooperation, paying attention.)
See page 17 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
asi me
asi me
see me
see me
Sing a Story
All Grades
Related Objects: All
Africa has a rich storytelling tradition. Travelling minstrels
(known as griots in West Africa, though they have other
names in different parts of the continent) go from village
to village, playing harps and other instruments, and
entertaining their audiences with legends and folktales
told in a combination of story and song. We have
adapted the following activity from Zangaiwa Chakatanga
Pano, a Ghanaian story song found on pages 37–41 of
Let Your Voice Be Heard! Songs from Ghana and Zimbabwe
(included in the case). The book includes several other
story songs you might try in addition to or instead of
this one.
• Let Your Voice Be Heard! Songs from Ghana and
Zimbabwe book and audio tape
• The Singing Man by Angela Shelf Medearis (optional)
• Instruments from the case OR percussion instruments
made in the previous activity (optional)
What To Do:
1 Optional: Read The Singing Man aloud to your
students to introduce them to the role of storytellers
in West African society.
2 Write the words to Zangaiwa Chakatanga Pano on
the board, along with their pronunciations (found on
page 38 of Let Your Voice Be Heard!).
3 Chant the Leader’s line out loud for the class, and
have your students practice chanting the Group line
back to you in response.
5 Read your class the story of “The Boy and the Tree of
the Animals” (found on page 40). Pause where
marked in the text, and lead the class in singing
Zangaiwa Chakatanga Pano. Make sure to sing it
at the story’s ending, too!
6 If you like, your students may play their percussion
instruments softly as they sing, to help keep the beat.
Alternatively, they may make up sounds or actions to
accompany different parts of the story.
Discussion Questions:
• What would the story of “The Boy and the Tree of
the Animals” have been like if there was no song to
go with it? How did the song add to your experience
of the story?
• Discuss how people in the U.S. tell stories using a
combination of words and music. For example,
encourage students to draw parallels between a griot’s
tale and musical theater, both of which tell stories in
words and music.
• Is it possible to tell a story while singing all the words?
Can you name some American examples of stories
told entirely in song? (Classic examples include “The
Star-Spangled Banner,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,”
and “My Darling Clementine,” but there are plenty
of modern rock and rap examples, too, such as
“Leader of the Pack,” “Love Potion No. 9,” “Parents
Just Don’t Understand,” and “I Missed the Bus.”)
See page 17 for details on how this activity meets
New York State Learning Standards.
4 Play the song from the audio tape. Now try singing
the words along with the tape. Practice until you and
the class can sing the song by yourselves, without
the audio tape.
Additional Activities and
Curricular Connections
Music has been called a universal language. Certainly it
is one with instant appeal for children, and which they
can appreciate across cultural boundaries. All over the
world but particularly in Africa, music is closely tied to
cultural practices. Therefore, music in Africa offers a
good starting point not only for music and art curricula,
but also connections with topics in social studies,
literacy, geography, and even science.
The activities and resources in this guide are all intended
to give you some ideas for incorporating African instruments into your curriculum. They are only meant to
provide a starting point, though. We have included a
matrix detailing how each activity connects to current
New York State Learning Standards (see page 16), but
there are many more connections you could make with
other content areas. You and your students together
can determine how and where you wish this curriculum
to go.
Arts: Musical comparisons
Grades 3–5
Choose two tracks from the CD Africa: The Music of a
Continent (one should be marked “traditional,” while
the other should be contemporary) and have students
listen to each song carefully. Then have them compare
and contrast the two songs based on what type of
instruments they heard in each one, what the singing
(if any) sounded like, what percussion techniques they
heard (if any), and so on.
Arts: Explore African art
All Grades
Show students (or have older students research) examples
of appropriate African artistic motifs or symbols to use in
decorating the instruments they make.
Arts and English Language Arts:
Write a story song
Grades 2–5
After your students learn and perform a story song from
Let Your Voice Be Heard! (or as an alternative to working
from that book), have them write their own stories and
put them to music. They may make up the melody as
they go, or frame their words to fit a tune they already
know. Have them perform their original works before
the class.
English Language Arts: Word play
All Grades
Have students brainstorm as many different words or
phrases for musical instruments as they can. Encourage
older students to move from more general words (like
“drum” or “wind instrument”) to more specific words
(such as “bongo” or “clarinet”).
Social Studies: Geography
Grades 2–5
Have students cut out copies of the instrument images
from pages 6–7 of this guide and pin them to a world
map, either on the country where that instrument was
made (if known) or on the area where the instrument
type was originally made.
Social Studies: Cross-cultural comparisons
Grades 3–5
Have students identify and research musical instruments
from their own culture or other world cultures, and
classify them as one of the four types of instruments
identified in this guide (aerophone, chordophone,
membranophone, or idiophone). Working individually
or in groups, they may write their research up into a
report or create an oral presentation for the class.
Science: How sound is produced
Grades 2–5
Use the instruments in the case to introduce your
students to the scientific concepts behind music. Explain
to students how an instrument produces vibration and
sound as it is played. Demonstrate how that sound
changes pitch when the player plucks different strings
on the angle harp or plays different keys on the thumb
piano. For more ideas on activities to supplement this
lesson, visit
See page 17 for details on how these activities meet
New York State Learning Standards.
Vocabulary Words
a wind instrument, which is caused to sound by
blowing air through it. Flutes, trumpets, horns and
clarinets are examples of aerophones.
a pattern of evenly spaced, rhythmic accents used
to keep time in a song.
a type of instrument (or group of instruments in a
band) that is beaten or struck to create sound.
Percussion instruments often mark the tempo of a
song, and usually include membranophones and
idiophones. People may also create body percussion
by clapping their hands or stamping their feet, for
a combination of two or more musical notes that
blend harmoniously when played together.
how high or low a tone is.
a hollow chamber in a musical instrument that
increases its ability to sound (and therefore its
volume). Also known as a sound box.
a stringed instrument, which is caused to sound by
plucking, strumming, or bowing the strings. The
arched harp in the case is a chordophone. Guitars,
lutes, fiddles, and zithers are other examples of
an organized pattern of accented and unaccented
tones or silences that carries music forward.
a piece of wood or metal hung inside a bell. When
the bell is rung, the clapper strikes the sides of the
bell and makes it sound.
a traveling singer and storyteller from West Africa.
a musical sound produced by an instrument or the
human voice.
a series of musical notes that, when played at the
same time as the melody, create chords.
how fast or slow a song is.
a membrane stretched across one end of a drum,
which is struck to create sound.
a piece of metal, wood, or another material that is
attached to a musical instrument (such as a thumb
piano) and resonates when plucked. Known as a
tongue because, like an animal’s tongue, it is long
and fastened only at one end.
an instrument that vibrates as a whole when it is
played, and which is caused to sound by striking or
shaking. Bells and rattles are examples of idiophones,
as are gongs, xylophones, and cymbals.
in musical instruments, vibration is how sound is
produced. When a string is plucked or a bell is struck,
the tiny particles it is made out of move back and
forth rapidly (but often so slightly as to be invisible),
creating sound waves that the human ear interprets
as a musical tone.
the tune of a song.
For more vocabulary ideas, see the “Word play”
extension activity on page 15.
an instrument that has a membrane (often made of
animal skin) stretched over a resonator. The most
common membranophone is the drum, but mirlitons
(such as the kazoo) are also membranophones; their
membranes vibrate and create sound when air is
blown across them.
Correlations with New York State Learning Standards
New York State Learning Standard Performance Indicators (Elementary Level)
Standard Area Standard #
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Students will
Imitate experiences through pantomime, play
making, dramatic play, story dramatization, story
telling, and role playing
Create short pieces consisting of sounds from a
variety of traditional, electronic, and
nontraditional sound sources
Sing songs and play instruments, maintaining
tone quality, pitch, rhythm, tempo, and dynamics;
perform the music expressively; and sing or play
simple repeated pattern with familiar songs,
rounds, partner songs, and harmonizing parts
• • • •
Identify and use, in individual and group
experiences, some of the roles, processes, and
actions used in performing and composing
music of their own and others
Visual Arts
Experiment and create art works, in a variety of
mediums, based on a range of individual and
collective experiences
Use classroom and nontraditional instruments in
performing and creating music
Construct instruments out of material not
commonly used for musical instruments
Identify the various settings in which they hear
music and the various resources that are used to
produce music during a typical week
Demonstrate appropriate audience behavior,
including attentive listening, in a variety of
musical settings in and out of school
• • • •
Discuss ways that music is used by various
members of the community
• •
Through listening, identify the strengths and
weaknesses of specific musical works and
performances, including their own and others
Describe the music in terms related to basic
elements such as melody, rhythm, harmony,
dynamics, timbre, form, style, etc.
Discuss the basic means by which the voice and
instruments can alter pitch, loudness, duration,
and timbre
Describe the music's context in terms related to
its social and psychological functions and
settings (e.g., roles of participants, effects of
music, uses of music with other events or
objects, etc.)
• •
Identify the primary cultural, geographical, and
historical settings for the music they listen to and
• • •
• •
• • • •
Correlations with New York State Learning Standards
New York State Learning Standard Performance Indicators (Elementary Level)
Standard Area Standard #
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Language Arts
Listening &
Gather and interpret information from children's
reference books, magazines, textbooks, electronic
bulletin boards, audio and media presentations,
oral interviews, and from such forms as charts,
graphs, maps, and diagrams
Listening &
Select information appropriate to the purpose of
their investigation and relate ideas from one text
to another
Listening &
Ask specific questions to clarify and extend
Speaking &
Present information clearly in a variety of oral and
written forms such as summaries, paraphrases,
brief reports, stories, posters, and charts
Speaking &
Select a focus, organization, and point of view
for oral and written presentations
Speaking &
Use details, examples, anecdotes, or personal
experiences to explain or clarify information
Speaking &
Create their own stories, poems, and songs using
the elements of the literature they have read and
appropriate vocabulary
Speaking &
Listen attentively and recognize when it is
appropriate for them to speak
• • • • • • •
Speaking &
Take turns speaking and respond to other's ideas
in conversations on familiar topics
• • • • • • •
Speaking &
Recognize the kind of interaction appropriate for
different circumstances, such as story hour,
group discussions, and one-on-one conversations
• • • • • • •
Social Studies
Study about different world cultures and
civilizations focusing on their accomplishments,
contributions, values, beliefs, and traditions
Social Studies
Understand the roles and contributions of
individuals and groups to social, political,
economic, cultural, scientific, technological, and
religious practices and activities
• •
Social Studies
Explore the lifestyles, beliefs, traditions, rules and
laws, and social/cultural needs and wants of
people during different periods in history and in
different parts of the world
• • •
Social Studies
Study about how people live, work, and utilize
natural resources
Social Studies
Gather and organize geographic information
from a variety of sources and display in a number
of ways
Health &
Students will
Demonstrate mastery of fundamental motor,
non-locomotor, and manipulative skills, and
understand fundamental principles of movement
• • • • • • •
• • •
• • •
Corresponding Field Trips
Bibliography & Web Resources
The following museums and organizations have
exhibits or programs related to African music or
musical instruments. Check with each for details.
Then do a treasure hunt through the African exhibit
galleries to find examples of musical instruments,
art that depicts musical instruments, or objects
related to African music (such as masks or costumes
worn during dances and ceremonies in which music
plays a part).
The following books and websites have provided
valuable source material for this guide and may also
help you to enrich your experience with the objects
in the case.
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street, Manhattan
(212) 769-5100
Brincard, Marie-Therese. Sounding Forms:
African Musical Instruments. New York: The
American Federation of Arts, 1989.
Dagan, Esther A., ed. Drums: The Heartbeat of
Africa. Montreal: Galerie Amrad African Art
Publications, 1993.
DjeDje, Jacqueline Cogdell, ed. Turn Up the
Volume! A Celebration of African Music. Hong
Brooklyn Museum
200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn
(718) 638-5000
Kong: University of California Los Angeles Fowler
Museum Publications, 1999.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art: “The
Heritage of African Music.” Written for children,
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
(212) 535-7710
this site includes good contextual information and
vocabulary words.
Museum for African Art
36-01 43rd Avenue, 3rd Floor, Queens
(718) 784-7700
NYPL Schomburg Center for Research in Black
515 Malcolm X Boulevard, Manhattan
(212) 491-2200
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum also offers programs
on a variety of cross-cultural topics. For a listing of
programs currently available, please see our website
at, or contact the Scheduling
Assistant at 718-735-4400, extension 118.
National Museum for African Art: “Audible
Artworks: Selected African Musical
Instruments.” This Smithsonian site includes
audio clips of different instruments being played.
Stanford University Libraries: “African Music
on the Internet.” A comprehensive list of links to
Internet sites about African musical styles (both contemporary and traditional), musical instruments,
and musicians. Includes many links to audio clips of
African music.
Beth Alberty
Niobe Ngozi
Chrisy Ledakis
Yuko Waragai
Tim Hayduk
Nobue Hirabayashi
Portable Collections Series Coordinators
Jewell Handy
Melissa Husby
Special Thanks
Gloria Cones
The Teachers of the New York City Department of Education
This revision of Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s
Portable Collections Program is made possible
by a Learning Opportunity Grant from
the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
© 2006
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11213
718-735-4400 ext. 170
For information about renting this or other Portable Collections Program cases,
please contact the Scheduling Assistant at 718-735-4400 ext. 118.