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Importance of World Music

by Music Teacher Amira Fuller

Fourth grade is currently entrenched in one of my favorite sections to teach, our world music unit. Each year our fourth graders embrace the adventure of becoming ethnomusicologists as they study the different instruments and musical traditions of nine different cultures around the world. We spend time learning about Native American, Latin American, African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, and Australian Aboriginal music. As we learn about each of these different peoples and cultures we discuss the similarities and differences between each of them as well as in our own music experiences. One of my favorite parts of this unit is encouraging students who share heritage with one of our nine cultures to share their experiences and knowledge with the rest of the class. This unit is a wonderful opportunity for students to listen and learn about music and instruments that might be different from what they are familiar with.

Each year as we go through each new musical culture the students are able to make wonderful observations and comparisons. Students are often surprised to find that there are more similarities between instruments created halfway across the world than they would initially expect. Every year the students are excited to notice that most cultures come up with their own version of flute like instruments. We discuss that while they may be similar they each still have different sounds, playing techniques, and different materials are often used to create the instrument itself. The same can be said about various percussion and string instruments as well. 

One of my favorite parts of this unit is when the students choose to share their thoughts and insights of their own musical culture and heritage with their classmates. I’ve had students bring in instruments from their culture and show their classmates how it works in person. Often, I have students who are thrilled to simply give a deeper explanation of how certain instruments are played and explain what we are seeing in the videos we watch. Each time the student presenting is excited to share their experience and their family’s heritage. Their peers are equally as excited and eager to learn and grow their understanding of both their classmate as well as the instrument or music. 

This unit is able to demonstrate the similarities of people all over the world and that music is a constant in every culture that ties everyone in the world together. It is a wonderful reminder that we all have more in common with other people than we might initially believe. Our unit culminates in a fieldtrip where the students attend an African drumming performance, before learning to create an African drum circle of their own. Each year the students thoroughly enjoy our musical trip around the world, as it brings out the inquisitive nature of our students as they learn about music around the world and helps them to become better global citizens.