Get a Leg Up on Multicultural Lessons

So many cultures, so little time. How often do you teach music from other cultures? Would ready-to-use lesson plans help? The cultural diversity of the world and increasingly of the United States can be reflected in songs, choral and instrumental works, and listening experiences.

Multicultural music “also encourages interdisciplinary study through not only music but also art, dance, drama, literature, poetry, and social studies,” say William M. Anderson and Patricia Shehan Campbell in the new third edition of Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education. Enrich student experiences with

  • choral and instrumental ensembles
  • storytelling
  • dramatic presentations
  • puppet shows
  • folk dances

Benefits of Multicultural Study

Students can

  • expand their palette of musical experiences
  • learn that other cultures create music that is as sophisticated as their own culture’s
  • discover many different and equally valid ways to construct music
  • develop greater music flexibility and increase their ability to perform, listen intelligently to, and appreciate many types of music

On a deeper level, students learn about cultural assumptions and biases and racial prejudice, and teachers learn ways to teach diverse racial, cultural, and socio-class groups and to different learning styles.

Developing Curriculum

Try organizing study units around cultural groups covered in the social studies curricula at each grade level. Anderson and Campbell offer a rich collection of ready-to-use lesson plans covering cultures across the globe—many providing sheet music, dance steps, and worksheets or Internet resources:


 Volume I  Volume 2  Volume 3
 Africa  Europe  East Asia
 African-America  Euro-America  Southeast Asia
 Latin America and the
 Native Peoples of North
 South Asia: India
 Jazz and Rock  Oceania and the Pacific  Middle East
   World Beat  

Lesson plans were developed by a variety of music educators and ethnomusicologists. Use them as they are, or tweak them for your individual needs. Find a sample lesson plan featuring Chinese instruments (zheng, xiao, pipa, and sheng) in MENC’s lesson plan library, My Music Class®.

Anderson and Campbell emphasize that there are many different but equally valid forms of cultural expression. Through study, students can develop a broad perspective based on an understanding of and a tolerance for a variety of opinions and approaches. In our increasingly global world, what could be more important?
Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education, Third Edition, edited by William M. Anderson and Patricia Shehan Campbell, MENC/Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

William M. Anderson is professor emeritus at Kent State University (Ohio), where he was a founding director of the Center for the Study of World Musics.

Patricia Shehan Campbell is Donald E. Peterson Professor of Music at the University of Washington, where she teaches courses at the interface of music education and ethonomusicology.

—Linda C. Brown, February 9, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (