Multiple Ways to Go Multicultural

“Teachers shouldn’t be afraid to use the music of an unfamiliar culture, for the rewards are rich,” says MENC member Patricia Shehan Campbell. She points out several possibilities, saying, “Why stick with just the most familiar musical cultures?”

1. Teachers can (and do) build study units around particular music cultures—“Music of Mexico,” “Music of China,” “Music of our African American Heritage.”

  • Including other fields and disciplines can further understanding of a culture’s music.
  • Stories, objects, histories, and folk/classical arts all enrich learning.

2. Teachers can also use songs, rhythms, etc. from various musical cultures to focus on the development of particular music concepts and skills:

  • Identifying rhythms by ear or by notation, or notating them
  • Understanding that some music follows a question-and-answer pattern
  • Developing skills on keyboard or wind instruments

Campbell says, “A teacher could use an Anglo-American play-party song to develop singing skills, or a song/singing game from Korea, or Nigeria, or Puerto Rico—why not? Another teacher could work on sensitivity to phrase changes in a eurhythmic movement activity based on a piano piece by Robert Schumann, or an orchestral work by Aaron Copland, or a choral work out of Bulgaria, or an instrumental ensemble piece from Egypt.”

With a commitment to multicultural goals, teachers can develop study units on musical cultures that run for days or weeks, as well as integrate music from the world’s cultures into their regular lessons.

Campbell would like to see multicultural music enter the realm of school bands and orchestras too. While it could be difficult for these ensembles to play this music on their traditional instruments, students can listen to great musicians play music from India, Ireland, Brazil, Japan, Tonga, etc. “They could also try playing the music of other cultures on their instruments, where an immediate ‘arrangement’ would transpire as new timbres replace the timbres of the original rag, jig, or other piece. The benefits include bringing students to a close connection with the sonic properties of some of the world’s beautiful musical expressions.”


See Patricia Shehan Campbell’s lesson plan Music from Cajun Country.

Smithsonian Folkways and Smithsonian Global Sound

  • Check out the information under “Tools for Teaching.”
  • Try out the lesson plans.
  • Use the free videos that feature musicians, dancers, instruments, and discussions on how the music is learned.

Global Music Series (from the Oxford University Press)

  • Seventeen books with music CDs cover music from different regions around the world (China, the Andes, Central Java, etc.) and include an instructor’s manual with supplementary materials coded by grade level.
  • Two books with CDs, Thinking Musically and Teaching Music Globally, have ideas and techniques for engaging students in studying the world’s music cultures.

Patricia Shehan Campbell is a Donald E. Petersen professor of music at the University of Washington in Seattle. She has written extensively on using multicultural music and is the author of Teaching Music Globally and Tunes and Grooves for Music Education.

Linda Brown, November 5, 2008, © National Association for Music Education (