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The aim of this unit is to introduce you to music from a number of different countries.
The music that will be discussed is often referred to as folk music, though definitions
of this term are varied. What all the music has in common is that it was orally
transmitted- in other words, it was not composed and notated by a composer but
was passed on from one person to the next ‘by ear’. We say ‘was’ because now it is
possible to buy collections of music that have been transcribed and printed, and the
traditional method of learning music is becoming less common.

There are a number of different names for this area of study: ethnomusicology,
comparative musicology, or musical ethnography. There is no common agreement
over which term should be used but they all refer to the study of music of an oral
tradition that exists apart from European art music. This music includes tribal music,
folk music, and music of the developed cultures that is not commonly written down.

Whatever the term used for this study, the goal is to find out about the music by
looking at examples of it, both recorded and notated, and by playing it. To help you
do this we have focused on a number of features: the uses of distinctive scales,
rhythmic practices, form, the functions of musical examples, and the instruments
used by specific countries. Remember, the idea is to study the music and actively
learn how it uses musical elements, not to learn about it just by reading. For this
reason each country studied includes pieces of music to be played, sung, and
analysed. There is also an accompanying examples to introduce you to some of the
sounds and instruments of these countries. As well, you should listen to as much
music from these countries as you can – these days, the amount of recorded
material available and the broadcasting of music from different cultures on multiple
media sources, live and online will help to make this easy for you.

World of Quizzies-
 How were all the music transmitted in the first instance?

 How has this method of music transmission changed throughout the

 Name one of the terms mentioned that refers to the study of music of an oral

 What are some of the ways we use to study about World Music?

The Music of Africa

Africa is a vast continent- over 30,097,000 square kilometres- which is made up of a
large number of nations. Each nation has its own culture, which gives it its unique
identity. This culture includes religious beliefs, customs, dress, music, art, language
and foods. No other continent can boast such a richness and diversity of cultures,
particularly in the area of music.

The role of music in African society

Music occupies a special place in African society. It is not only used for
entertainment, but also accompanies day-to-day activities. It is important in religious
ritual and provides a link between daily life and culture. While participation in
musical activities involves all members of a society or tribe, especially in singing and
dance, there are also specialist trained musicians who are highly valued and who
are seen, through their understanding of music, to possess special knowledge. The
griots of Senegal and other West African countries are an example of this. The word
‘griot’ is actually French and was applied to these musicians by French
musicologists working in those parts of Africa. Griots (both men and women) are
professional musicians who also have contact, through their music, with the
magic/spiritual beliefs of tribes. They fulfil an important role in society by being
bearers of history, legend, accrued wisdom, proverbs, and poetry.

 In African society music is classified according to its function. There are war songs,
planting songs, lullabies, songs to accompany minding cattle, wedding songs and
dances, songs for ceremonies such as death rituals etc. Traditional African music
are not normally written down but passed on through oral tradition.

World of Quizzies-
 List 3 events/locations in which African music is used:
 Who are the ‘griots’?
 How do African musician pass/transmit/teach the music to others?

The features of traditional African music

Features of traditional African music include the importance of rhythm (the flow of
music in time), the predominance of percussion instruments (except in South
Africa), the use of repetition as a means of structuring a piece, the simultaneous
playing or singing of different musical ideas by performers who frequently begin at
different times, call and response, the use of unchanging tempos and the
frequent use of a five-note scale.

The influence of black African music is widespread. It came over to America with the
African slaves and combined with the folk music of the European settlers to produce
new styles of music such as blues, gospel and jazz. These went on to form the basis
of pop music today.

Use the bullet points provided below to complete the following Music Element Chart
for Features of African Music
Pentatonic (5 note
Cross rhythm,
complex rhythm
Triads used in
Small range,
Contrast of leader
and chorus
Vocal, drum and
Call and response,
layers of
instrumental or



Untuned percussion instruments
As mentioned above, the most important African instruments are percussion
instruments. In addition to rattles, gongs and bells of all kinds, they include drums in
many shapes and sizes made out of hollowed-out objects such as logs, clay pots or
gourds (the dried shells of certain fruit), the tops of which are covered with
membranes (dried and stretched animal skins). The drums are played with either the
hands or sticks. Each tribe has its own battery of drums0 that is, a group of different-
sized and different-pitched drums- played by the master drummer who has high
status in the tribe and passes on his skills to his son.

Djembe (Pronouced ‘Zhem-bay’)
 It is shaped like a large goblet and played with bare hands. The body is carved
from a hollowed trunk and is covered in goat skin.

Talking Drums

 The drums can be used to imitate speech patterns or as signals to make
announcements or warnings.
 The pitch of the note is changed by squeezing or releasing the drum’s strings
with the arm.


 Played with the fingers.
 Dum is the bass tone played with your right hand in the middle of the drum
 Tek is a high ringing sound played with your right hand

Sakara, Gonkogui

 Sakara is a hand held drum played with a light stick
 Gonkogui is the agogo bell

Yenca, Axatse, Toke

 Yenca and Shekere is like a maraca shaker.
 Yenca has a sponge plug which can be removed to change the seeds for
different sizes, to give a different sound.
 Shekere can be hit at the top of the ball to create a deeper tone.
 Toke or a banana bell is played by striking it with a metal rod.

Practical activities

Tuned percussion instruments
Mbira (Thumb piano)

 Used at religious rituals as well as social gatherings
 22 metal strips of varying length, fixed to a soundboard
 The two thumbs stroke the keys downwards and the right forefinger then
plucks them back up.

Balofon (xylophone)

Balofon consists of a set of graduated wooden slats or bars laid across a frame,
sometimes with gourd resonators underneath to amplify the sound.

String Instruments
Stringed instruments may have one or more strings that can be plucked, struck or

Kora –
a 12 string harp-lute
The kora is often used to
accompany songs of
worship. Many kora player
play complicated melodies
at great speed.

Xalam – a plucked lute, similar to the banjo

Wind instruments
Wind instruments include horns, made from animal horns or tusks, and whistles and
flutes made from wood, bamboo or horn. Pitch is controlled by varying the tongue
pressure against the reed and by operating a single-tone hole with the left thumb.

Dundun Drummers (Niger)


Typical features of traditional African music are:
Repetition- rhythms, harmonies, and melodies are often repeated continually to
form ostinatos
Improvisation- melodies are frequently made up of improvised phrases
Call and response- usually occur between a soloist (who sings or plays a phrase)
and a larger group that responds with an answering phrase.
Layered Textures- music built up from independent lines that are designed to be
heard together.

All of these features can be found in the next set work, Yiri, performed by a group
called Koko. Koko is made up of six professional musicians from the country
Burkina Faso.

Complete the following chart as you watch/listen to the video
You may need to watch this several times to complete the table.


Tonality +Melodic Material

Metre +Tempo


Texture and Dynamics

Test yourself on Yiri:

1. Which country does Koko come from?

2. Explain the following rhythmic devices that are used in Yiri:
o Cross rhythm

o Syncopation

o Triplet

3. What is the term for the repeated pattern used in the drum parts?

4. What sort of textures does the work open with?

5. What is the name for the tuned percussion instrument made from wooden

6. What is the name for the phrase structure, used in Yiri, in which a melody for
solo singer is answered by the chorus?

7. What instrumental technique is used in the introduction?

8. Most of the melodies in Yiri are built from a scale of 6 notes. What is the term
for this sort of scale?

9. Apart from talking drums, name one other type of drum played on Yiri.

10. Describe two characteristics of the melodies in this piece.

11. ‘Yiri’ means ‘wood’. Why might this be an appropriate title for this piece?

Music Theory- Pentatonic Scales

African melodies are based on a number of different arrangement of notes. One
such arrangement of five notes is called the pentatonic scale.

The pentatonic scale is built on the 1
, 2
, 3
, 5
, 6
notes of the scale.

Below is the C major pentatonic scale

Draw the pentatonic scales for the following major key. Include the key signature.
F major

Bb major

G major

D major

Pentatonic Negro Spirituals
Africans were transported to North America as slaves from the 17
century to the
century. They were not allowed to follow the religions or sing the music of their
former homes, but they kept many features of their musical culture, including the
use of the pentatonic scale, call and response and syncopation (accenting a beat or
part of a beat that is not normally accented). Forced to adopt Christianity, they
applied these traditional features to new religious songs, which became known as
Negro spirituals.

Score Reading + Listening –
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Answer the following questions:
1. What is the key of the piece?
2. What is the scale used in this piece?
3. How would you describe the male vocal range at the start of the piece?
4. Describe the texture and timbre changes throughout the piece:

5. Describe the melodic and phrasing structure to keep the piece cohesive but

South Africa Vocal Music
The music of South Africa has been dominated by the Zulu tribe, which came
into prominence in the early 19
century. Their music was largely vocal, with a
rich choral sound, accompanied mainly by stamping and clapping. Few
traditional instruments existed other than single drums and rattles, partly
because much of the country was treeless veld and lacked the materials to
make instruments. This in turn meant that the music lacked the polyrhythms
evident in music of the north.

 Melodies are usually short and simple, repeated XX
 Melodies are usually in a scale of 4-7 tones (easier to sing) or pentatonic
 These melodies can be changed at will by other singers- format into theme
and variations, sometimes improvisation
 Polyphony- performers improvise new melodies while others continue the
original melody.
 Texture- singers coming in a different points in a continuous cycle.
 Harmony- in unison or parallel 4
, 5
, or 8ve. Others harmonize in 3rds or
 Call and response a central feature

In the 20
century Zulu music has absorbed Western musical influences.
Solomon Linda’s ‘Evening Birds’ group recorded the famous song ‘The Lion
Sleeps Tonight’.

Listening Comparison–
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Performance 1
Performance 2 uEuRCKq1s

ELEMENT Performance 1 Performance 2
conjunct, disjunct, diatonic/atonal,
pentatonic, chromatic, scalic,
sustained, phrase lengths, sequence,
fragmented, ornamentation, resultant,

Sonata form, ternary form,
coda/codetta, verse/chorus, head
arrangement, free rondo, binary, non-
standard form

Syncopation, hemolia, cross rhythms,
polyrhythms, dotted, ostinato, swung,
triplets, 4/4,2/4,12/8, etc..

Fast/slow (and musical words to
describe this!), ritenuto, accelerando

KEY, modulation(s), tonal, modal,
atonal, help define structure (ex:
sonata form)

How many lines and how they work
together. Homophonic, contrapuntal,
monophonic, layered, start thin, gets

How loud (forte) or quiet (piano) the
music is. How the piece/excerpt starts
and ends.
Fades out, crescendo, decrescendo.
Be able to discuss how the dynamics

Consonant, dissonant, diatonic,
chromatic, pedal notes, cadences
(perfect, imperfect, plagel), added
note chords, substitution chords,
static harmony, chord progressions
for songs,

Instruments and HOW they are used.
Example – Handel – strings support
the voices by playing what they sing


Complete the following glossary bullet points for African Music
o Griots
o Oral tradition
o Rhythm
o Repetition
o Call and Response
o Cross Rhythm
o Djembe
o Talking drums
o Doumbek
o Sakara
o Gonkogui
o Yenca
o Axatse
o Toke

o Mbira
o Balofon
o Kora
o Xalam
o Pentatonic scale
o Spiritual