Parlez-vous Multicultural

When using multicultural music, “go for the native language,” recommends MENC member Maria Schwab. “The flow of the original language always fits better with the original melodies.”

When Schwab introduces a new song, she likes to sing it for her classes before saying anything about it, “just to open their ears to the sounds of the language.” Teaching a diverse student population, she frequently has a student who recognizes the language or the melody.

Schwab says, “Challenge your students (and yourself) to learn the real thing.”


Books with CDs of songs that are sung and/or spoken by native speakers:

  • Roots and Branches by Patricia Shehan Campbell, Ellen McCullough-Brabson, and Judith Cook Tucker (World Music Press, 1994)
  • Wee Sing Around the World by Pamela Conn Beall and Susan Hagen Nipp (Price Stern Sloan, 2006)
  • Tunes and Grooves for Music Education by Patricia Shehan Campbell (3 CDs, an iTunes list on Pearson’s Web site, and “Recommended Listening”) (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008)

Schwab recommends listening to CDs with original instruments and watching DVDs and online videos of groups performing:

  • Smithsonian Global Sound Web site has downloads of traditional music from around the world. Click on “Tools for Teaching.”)
  • Putumayo World Music CDs cover music from Native Americans and Afro-Latino to the Mediterranean and South Pacific islands–more pop oriented than strictly traditional. Putumayo World Playground CD has a teacher’s guide, student passports, and an activity kit. The Web site has teacher tools and downloadable teaching guides.
  • Travel the World with Putumayo DVD features music videos and concert performances filmed on location in places like India, Senegal, Cuba, and the Czech Republic.

“There is no reason to water something down by singing it in English,” Schwab says. See her lesson plan, Call and Response Style in African Music.

Maria Schwab teaches preKindergarten through 7th-grade music in Astoria, New York.

Do you have a lesson using multicultural music you’d like to share?

–Linda Brown, October 15, 2008, © National Association for Music Education (