Multicultural Music: Add Zing with Instruments

Using authentic instruments when teaching multicultural music adds a captivating cultural element. MENC member Linda White shares how she’s obtained instruments for her classes:

  • Grants: Drums (buks and chongos) for her Korean drumming group and ukuleles for her classes
  • Parent teacher organizations: Funds for instruments.
  • Trips: Several instruments from a visit to China on a Fulbright Hays fellowship made a unique Chinese New Year celebration; others from New Zealand, Japan, and Ukraine.
  • School resources: Two school didgeridoos helped introduce music from Australia.
  • Unexpected places: TJ Maxx and World Market.
  • Parents: Those who travel abroad can buy instruments for their children to show at school.
  • Students from other countries: When they visit their home countries, they can bring instruments back with them.

Korean Drumming Group

White organized a Korean drumming group with a music teacher from another school. Students met after school once a week to learn drumming techniques. When they performed for other fifth-grade students throughout the county, journalists from Korean newspapers and television stations came to the show.

“Many students of Korean background had never seen live performances of Korean drumming and dance. In the evaluation forms we received afterwards, teachers told us how proud their Korean-American students were. They were able to identify with their own culture, even though their native country was miles away,” White says.

Buy, Borrow, or Make Instruments

Native instruments from many countries are now available online and from music stores. Try searching for specific instruments or “multicultural instruments” with an online search engine.

Invite musicians from other cultures who live near your school into the classroom to demonstrate their instruments.

Make instruments that resemble the look and sound of the real thing. Use pictures and audio samples of the original instruments to give an authentic presentation.

  • “Make It and Take It! World Instruments for the General Music Classroom” workshop given by Lance and Lisa Lehmberg, MENC-sponsored National Symposium on Multicultural Music, held biennially.
  • Parents grew gourds in White’s school’s garden to make shakeres–a multicultural, cross-disciplinary experience.

Linda K. White has been an elementary school teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. She was one of 20 educators nationwide named to USA Today’s 2007 All USA Teacher Team and was honored by the Virginia MEA as General Music Teacher of the Year in 2006, the year she was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

Linda Brown, December 3, 2008, © MENC: The National Association for Music Education (