Comparing Native American and American Folk MusicStudents explore similarities and differences between Native American and American folk music.
- Length: 55-60 minutes
Concepts/Objectives:Students will understand how aspects of Native American and American folk music are alike and different.
“Grass Dance Song,” performed by Dennis Banks; “Cluck Old Hen” and “I Had a Rooster,” performed by Mike Seeger; and “Shady Grove,” performed by Jean Ritchie
From: Old Music for New Ears Programs 19, 5, and 2, respectively
Total length of segments: 12:15
Vocabularybanjo, dulcimer, gourd banjo, pitch, rhythm, timbre, voice parts
TV/DVD player; dry-erase board and markers, chalkboard and chalk, or chart paper and a variety of colored markers; butcher paper or white paper used to cover bulletin boards; markers, crayons, or colored pencils
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Focus on Native American Music
Announce to the students that they are going to listen to an excerpt from the video titled Old Music for New Ears. Ask them to think about what is meant by this title. Invite a few volunteer responses. Then encourage them to listen carefully and jot down key words that will help them discuss the video after they listen to the excerpt. Ask the class to listen especially well to what Dennis Banks says about the drum and Native Americans. Now play the “Grass Dance Song” video performance.
Divide the class into pre-arranged small groups. Ask each group to create a list of what they learned from the video excerpt. Examples of what might be on the lists include a steady beat, non-English language, drum, male voice, etc. Assign one member of each group to share the group’s ideas for a class discussion. Provide a few minutes for each group to create a list.
Give each student a piece of paper with the phrase “Native American Music” written in the middle. Divide your dry-erase/chalk board or a large piece of chart paper into two sections. Write this phrase in the center of one section. Ask for volunteers to offer definitions of Native American music. After a brief discussion, ask students to add an equal sign after “Native American Music” and write “music of Native Americans.” [Native American Music = music of Native Americans]
Ask a representative from one group to share the group’s list of what was learned while watching the video excerpt. Write each idea offered around the words in the center and ask students to do the same. Circle or draw a cloud around each idea and draw a line to connect the idea to the phrase in the middle, “Native American Music.” Ask students to do the same. Ask the other groups to share their lists and note new ideas that need to be added to the board or chart paper. When the discussion ends, each student should have a chart identical to the one created by the teacher.
The following points need to be included in the class discussion. If students do not include all of these ideas, make sure to add the missed ideas to the board or chart paper so that students can do the same.
- Emphasize a steady beat. Native Americans believe that a steady beat is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Most, if not all, instruments used in Native American music would play this steady beat, unlike African music, which uses polyrhythms—many rhythms at the same time.
- Music is used for dance. Most, if not all, Native American music is closely related to dance and created for that purpose.
- Music was sung by men and/or women. Recall what Banks said about women singing higher than men.
- The drum was used. Native Americans used very few instruments—usually drums, rattles, or jingle bells. Boys often serenaded their girlfriends with a “love flute.”
- Drums were easily made out of natural substances, as were rattles. Native Americans used what was available to them for making instruments.
- The drum beat was not just accompaniment for the singers. The drum beat was considered as important as what the singers were doing.
- Native American music is usually not in English. Native American music is usually sung in tribal languages.
NOTE: If a music textbook series is available, you may want to find some pictures of Native Americans or even learn a song. If not, several elementary textbook series have information at each grade level about Native American music along with examples. (Allow extra lesson time for this activity.)
Focus on American Folk Music
Announce to the students that they will now view two new excerpts from Old Music for New Ears. Remind students that the same listening plan they used to listen to Dennis Banks will be used for listening to Mike Seeger and Jean Ritchie. Play videos of Seeger performing “Cluck Old Hen” and Jean Ritchie performing “Shady Grove.”
Again, divide the class into pre-arranged small groups. Ask each group to create a list of what they learned from each video excerpt. Examples might include a man and a woman singing, mountain dulcimer, banjo, gourd banjo, songs sung in English, etc. Assign one member of each group to share the group’s ideas for a class discussion. Provide a few minutes for each group to create a list.
Write the phrase “American Folk Music” in the center of the other section of the board or on another piece of chart paper. Ask for volunteers to offer definitions of American folk music. After a brief discussion, ask students to add an equal sign after “American Folk Music” and then write “music of the ‘common folk’ passed down through generations, often in many versions and without a known author.”
The following points need to be included in the class discussion. If students do not include all of these ideas, add the missed ideas to the board or chart paper so that students can do the same.
- The music followed a steady beat, but the beat was not emphasized as much as the words.
- The music was used to tell stories (folk stories) or entertain.
- Men and women both sang.
- The instruments seen used strings. Folk instruments were made from what was available to American settlers: gourds for banjos, wood for dulcimers. Jean Ritchie mentioned how a member of her family had made a gourd fiddle, etc.
- Instruments provided accompaniment to the singers.
- The English language was used.
Compare and Contrast
Next, compare the two charts. Ask students to suggest things that were the same. Be certain to include the following points, but allow students to create other appropriate comparisons:
- Both used the language of their native people.
- Both served purposes related to their cultures.
- Both used instruments that were made with available materials.
Now contrast the two charts. Ask students to list things that were different. Be certain to include the following points, but allow students to create other appropriate contrasts:
- Native Americans relied almost entirely on drums for their music, while American folk music did not incorporate drums.
- Native American music emphasized the steady beat (probably because of dancing), but American folk music placed emphasis on the words.
- Both served purposes, but the purposes were different: Native Americans for dances and ceremonies, American folk to tell stories, entertain, etc.
See the Performance Assessment below for a culminating activity.
Support • Connections • Resources
- Downloadable teacher’s guide for Old Music for New Ears: Programs 1-16 and Programs 17-22 (PDF format). The Jean Ritchie excerpt is from Program 2, the two Mike Seeger excerpts from Program 5, and the Dennis Banks excerpt from Program 19.
Extensions for Diverse Learners
- Assign a partner for listening and participating to LEP students and any students with disabilities who may need additional support to successfully participate in the lesson.
- Let gifted students work together to create comparisons and contrasts for Native American, American folk, and West African cultures.
- Let students work independently or in small groups to create an audiotape of music samples from diverse cultures being studied. This musical puzzle can then be played for the class to see how many cultures the class can successfully identify. The range of products will be simple to complex and will allow students to apply what they have learned.
Applications Across the Curriculum
- Native American culture
- Early American and American folk culture
- Appalachian culture
- Add dance to this exploration of the similarities and differences between Native American music and American folk music. Check out KETs Dancing Threads for instructions to several dances that might work, such as the Zuni Harvest Dance, Goin to Boston, and Weevily Wheat. How are these dances alike and different?
Open Response Assessment
Prompt: Imagine that you are at a Native American powwow. Aside from all the dancing and costumes, you pay attention to the music being played. You know a folk song that you would like to perform so that it sounds like Native American music.
- List three things that make Native American music sound unique.
- Explain how each of these three things is different from American folk music.
- Tell how you would perform your folk song so that it would sound like Native American music.
Open Response Scoring Guide
|The student gives three legitimate aspects of the music of Native Americans and contrasts each one with at least one way that American folk music is different. The student effectively applies knowledge of both styles. [Example: Native American music heavily emphasizes the steady beat/American folk music does not; it relies on lyrics. Native American music uses drums/American folk music does not; it uses many stringed instruments, like the dulcimer or banjo. Native American music is primarily used in connection with dances/American music is not; it is used to express folk stories or to entertain.]||The student gives at least two legitimate aspects of the music of Native Americans and contrasts each one with at least one way that American folk music is different. The student effectively applies knowledge of styles.||The student gives legitimate aspects of the music of Native Americans but does not give a way that each is different from American folk music. OR, the student names one legitimate aspect of the music of Native Americans and tells at least one way that it is different from American folk music. The student makes limited or incomplete application of knowledge of styles.||The student names one or two legitimate aspects of Native American music but does not give at least one way that American folk music is different for each. The student is ineffective in applying knowledge of styles.||No answer or irrelevant response.|
Performance Event: Students will create graphs to show comparisons and contrasts between Native American and American folk music.
Directions: In your group, use the large piece of paper and markers/crayons/colored pencils provided to create a chart that shows how American folk music and Native American music are ALIKE and DIFFERENT. Show three ways they are alike and three ways they are different. You can use pictures, phrases, etc. in your graph. Use the chart on the board you created as a reference point.
Performance Scoring Guide
|Students create a graph with three ways the two types of music are alike and three ways they are different.||Students create a graph with three ways the two types of music are alike and two ways they are different, or vice versa.||Students create a graph with at least two ways the two types of music are alike and different.||Students list at least one way that the two types of music are alike and/or different.||Non-participation.|
- 1.14: Students construct meaning and/or communicate ideas and emotions through music.
- 2.23: Students analyze their own and others’ artistic products and performances.
- 2.24: Students appreciate creativity and the value of the arts and humanities.
- 2.25: Through their productions and performances or interpretations, students show an understanding of the influences of time, personality, and society on the arts and humanities.
Program of Studies:
- Use appropriate terminology to describe music of diverse cultures, periods, and styles.
- Perform music from diverse cultures, periods, and styles.
- Compare and contrast music of diverse cultures, periods, and styles using appropriate terminology.
Core Content for Assessment:
- AH-(04) 05-1.1.1: Students will (identify or describe) analyze or explain the use of elements of music in a variety of music.
- AH-(04) 05-1.1.2: Students will identify and describe various styles of music.
- AH-(04) 05-2.1.1: Students will (identify) describe or explain how music has been a part of cultures and periods throughout history. Cultures: Native American and Appalachian. Periods: Colonial American.
- AH-(04) 05-3.1.1: Students will (identify) describe or explain how music fulfills a variety of purposes.
Author:Tim Lawson, Waco Elementary School