Vii nonwestern music part Outline

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Part Outline


1. Music in Nonwestern Cultures

Characteristics of Nonwestern Music

Oral Tradition




Melody, Rhythm, and Texture

Interaction between Nonwestern and Western Music

2. Music in Sub-Saharan Africa

Music in Society

Elements of African Music

Rhythm and Percussion

Vocal Music


African Instruments



Aerophones and Chordophones

3. Classical Music of India



Elements of Indian Classical Music

Melodic Structure: Raga

Rhythmic Structure: Tala


Listening Guides in Part VII

  1. Ompeh, song from Ghana

  2. Maru-Bihag, by Ravi Shankar

Terms in Part VII

membranophone chordophone aerophone

idiophone heterphony call and response

tambura raga tala

sitar tabla



While nonwestern music reflects the diversity of the world’s social and economic systems, languages, religions, and geographical conditions, there are some features common to most musical traditions. These factors are discussed, as is the influence of Asian and African music on modern composers and performers. A distinction is drawn between the script tradition of European cultures and the oral tradition of nonwestern music, followed by discussions of improvisational traditions and vocal techniques. The various instrumental classifications are described, and regional factors discussed. The importance of melody, rhythm, and texture in contrast to harmony and polyphony is discussed, and the section ends with a brief discussion on the interaction between nonwestern and western music.

Discussion Topics

1. To give some visual experiences, you may wish to consider a video such as The Quiver of Life: Native Music Making Around the World (program 1 in The Music of Man series, EAV), Music and Culture (video or filmstrip, EAV), or others on the market. The Audio Forum (96 Broad Street, Guilford, CT 06437) catalog lists a number of interesting nonwestern CDs and videos.

2. The text concentrates on only two traditions, sub-Saharan Africa and the classical music of India. A research project in the workbook is devoted to the exploration of the musics of other cultures, such as the near and middle east, China, Japan, southeast Asia, Inuit, and Native American, that can be used to broaden the scope of the discussions, used for student projects (especially if the student comes from one of those cultures), or as a class project to find new materials. For help with Native American music, see materials and links on .

3. The workbook contains a research project dealing with nonwestern instruments. The listing given there can in no way be considered complete, but can be used as a basic introduction. Presentations by students from these cultures, especially if actual instruments and illustrations are included, would make this a very valuable and meaningful topic. Students could explore one culture, or choose a specific instrumental type and trace it through several cultures (guitarists exploring nonwestern plucked string instruments such as the p’i p’a, shamisen, etc.). The following instruments are suggested in the Workbook:

drums membranophones; many different varieties

bimpombu, wana idiophones; bells in many varieties

azibwasi, sakala, towa idiophones; rattles in many varieties

imbila, mbila, ilimba, marimba idiophones; series of graduated tuned wooden bars

mbira, sanza, kalimba idiophones; sound board with metal or cane tongues

kora chordophone; African harp

kerar chordophone; Ethiopian form of lyre

bwanzi, ihango, dorungu, gwanzu chordophones; African board zithers

ch’in chordophone; seven-stringed zither

sheng aerophone; mouth organ with 12 to 19 bamboo pipes

erh hu chordophone; two-stringed bowed fiddle

p’i p’a chordophone; four-stringed, pear-shaped plucked lute

san hsien chordophone; three-stringed long-necked lute played with a plectrum

chang ku membranophone; hourglass drum

(northern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh)

sitār chordophone; long-necked lute with 7 strings, 9-13 sympathetically

vibrating strings, and 19-23 movable frets

tablā membranophone; pair of single-headed drums

sarōd chordophone; fretless stringed instrument with four or five melody

and three drone strings, and 8-12 sympathetic strings

tamburā chordophone; long-necked lute with four metal strings used

to provide a continuous drone

shakuhachi aerophone; end-blown bamboo flute with five holes

shamisen chordophone; lute similar to the Chinese san hsien

koto chordophone; 13-stringed zither with movable bridges

sho aerophone; mouth organ similar to the Chinese sheng

biwa chordophone; lute similar to the Chinese p’i p’a

tsuzumi membranophone; hourglass drum similar to the Chinese chang ku

(southern India, Sri Lanka)

mridanga membranophone; two-headed barrel drum

vinā chordophone; fretted long-necked plucked instrument with four melody

and three drone strings

tamburā chordophone; long-necked lute with four metal strings used

to provide a continuous drone

komunko, hyon kum chordophone; 6-stringed zither similar to Chinese ch’in

taegūm aerophone; transverse bamboo flute

haegūm chordophone; two-stringed bowed fiddle

chang go membranophone; hourglass drum similar to the Chinese chang ku

Native American

drums membranophones; many different varieties

bull-roarer aerophone; wood attached to a string whirled through the air

axmāl idiophones; rattles in many varieties

panpipes aerophone; set of end-blown pipes

whistles aerophones; end-blown flutes in many varieties

Near and Middle East

ūd chordophone; Arabic form of the European lute

saz chordophone; long-necked lute with frets

rabāb chordophone; fiddle with one to four strings

zurnā aerophone; double reed shawm

naqqāra membranophone; pair of small kettledrums

dawūl membranophone; large bass drum

4. Ethnomusicology is a relatively recent field to the recording industry, and so new items are constantly appearing. For that reason it is suggested that catalogs be scanned from time to time. In addition, the many varied selections available from Folkways (available from the Library of Congress) and Nonesuch should prove to be very helpful in demonstrating the wide variety of nonwestern music. Just playing portions for the sake of new experiences may be sufficient for some classes, but for others you may wish to ask the students to comment on scale types, tonality, melodic shape, or any of the elements discussed in Part I of the text (Elements). As suggested in that earlier unit, you might wish to compare an African vocal excerpt with a Japanese work, and then both to traditional western practices.

5. The video Japanese Koto Music: Old and New, hosted by Professor Leonard Holvik at Earlham College, Indiana, features the Kurosawa family, koto makers and performers, playing traditional koto music and tracing the development of koto to modern times. The program includes a brief explanation of the physical nature of the instrument and explores through musical examples the various influences that have shaped modern koto music, along with the influence koto has exerted in music throughout the world (Media Production Group, 37 minutes, color).

Questions and Topics

1. Contrast the methods by which western and nonwestern musics are transmitted.

2. Describe some instrument types used in nonwestern music.

3. Describe some vocal techniques used in nonwestern music.

4. The influence of Islamic music on the development of north African music.

5. The workbook has projects for exploring the musics of other cultures and non-western instruments.

6. Discuss the problems with terminology. “World Music,” “Global Music,” and even “Nonwestern Music” are imperfect.

7. Discuss the field of ethnomusicology, its links with cultural anthropology, and the concept of ethnomusicological fieldwork.



Dividing the African continent into two large geographical areas, this section focuses on the music of the countries below the Sahara Desert. The place of music in society, permeating virtually all aspects of African life, is briefly discussed. Some of the more important instrument types and ensembles are described, including the mbira and “talking drums,” and African texture, vocal techniques, and performance practices. The section ends with a discussion of Ompeh, a song from Ghana.

Discussion Topics

1. A map of Africa, though politically inaccurate as soon as published due to the constantly changing conditions, may still be of value in helping the students grasp the cultural variety and diversification of the area being discussed. Reference to the African sections of Alex Haley’s Roots may invoke responses in some students who saw the television series or read the book.

2. The text states “music permeates African life.” You may wish to take a few moments to discuss the use of music in our own society, and see if it is not also so permeated. The use of music for ceremonies such as graduations and to welcome visiting dignitaries, for rousing enthusiasm at sports events, to stimulate the spending of money in stores, to promote intoxication or seduction in dimly lit bars, to alleviate anxiety during the takeoff and landing of aircraft, for family and religious holidays; in short, virtually everything we do involves music. How then are the African peoples so different from ourselves?

3. The brief set contains the example discussed in the text, Ompeh. The basic set also contains a dance song from Tanzania, Mitamba Yalagala Kumchuzi (1:31), and a dance from Mozambique played by a xylophone orchestra, Hinganyengisa Masingita (2:19). Additional examples may be found in the Folkways catalog, or the recommended anthology Africa South of the Sahara (Ethnic Folkways Library FE-4506). Suzanne Flandreau (Center for Black Music Research) suggests checking the Music Library Association’s A Basic Music Library for a discography of available recordings of African traditional music. She also recommends Multicultural Media for finding recordings. You may wish to compare American “African” recordings of “talking drums” with Folkways African Drums (Folkways 4502AB).

4. As with any form of music, seeing and hearing a live performance far surpasses any discussion. There may be a local group or student club willing to perform and demonstrate in class, whose performance can be attended by the class, or a class demonstration by one of the performers followed by attendance at the full performance. If that is not possible, you might be able to find some authentic instruments at a local museum.

5. The video Seven Ages of Music “traces the development of African music from the rattle of drums by the light of a desert fire to the creation of authentic South African jazz, born in the shebeens and music halls of the townships – a high-energy testament to the community of men and women who took the best and worst of life in a tormented land and turned it into music. Performances by traditional tribal singers as well as modern pop performers like Ladysmith Black Mambazo are featured.” (FfH&S ANE4007, 52 minutes, color.)

6. For a general overview of African culture, see . Do a Web search for other sites of interest at .

Questions and Topics

1. Describe the use of music in sub-Saharan societies.

2. Describe the importance of drums in African societies.

3. Describe the basic construction of the mbira.

4. Vocal techniques used in sub-Saharan Africa.

5. The human body as a percussion instrument.

6. The relationship of “talking drums” to “tone languages.”



A brief survey of music and musicians in India is followed by a discussion of the elements of Indian classical music. The melodic and rhythmic structures (ragas and talas) are described, with examples of each. The most typical Indian instruments are described, and illustrations of the sitar, tabla, and tambura are included. The section ends with a discussion of Ravi Shankar’s Maru-Bihag.

Discussion Topics

1. Portions of the video Indian Classical Music, which features some of the finest musicians of India, can be used as a general introduction to the subject (FfH&S ANE5066, 85 minutes, color).

2. Some Web sites to visit for information and links to Carnatic and Hindustani music are Classical Music of India, , Music India OnLine , and Indian Classical Arts,


3. Sandra Graham (New York University) recommends the 4-CD set Anthology of World Music: North Indian Classical Music (Rounder CD5101-04) as an indispensable aid to the enjoyment of the vocal and instrumental classical music of North India. The 48-page accompanying booklet explains instruments, raga, and tala, and provides notes on each selection. Other recordings may be found in the Folkways and Phillips catalogs. Some specific titles to be considered are Ragas – lecture-demonstration (Folkways 8368), Ragas from South India (Folkways 8854) and Traditional and Classical Music (Folkways 4422). The Anthology of Indian Music (World Pacific Records WDM-6200/WDS-26200) is also highly recommended.

4. As mentioned in the previous section, you may wish to investigate the possibility of a live performance in your area, and the availability of instruments in a local museum or musical instrument collection.

5. There are two videos available featuring Ravi Shankar: Ravi Shankar: The Man and His Music and Ravi Shankar in Concert (FfH&S ANE4345, 60 minutes, color, and ANE5070, 50 minutes, color). The former is a portrait of the man, including performances and his conversations with prominent musicians such as Yehudi Menuhin, Zubin Mehta, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and George Harrison. The concert includes a range of classical pieces in which Shanker is accompanied by virtuoso tabla player Allah Rakha Khan.

6. An example of Indian music, Shankar’s Maru-Bihag, is included in the brief and basic sets (4:25). After discussing the various aspects of raga and tala as given in the text, play Shankar’s spoken introduction to the recording in which he discusses the work to be performed (0:35). Help the students recognize the entrance of the tabla following the alap and quietly reinforce the tala until the students have the feeling.

7. This chapter’s Performance Perspective on Ravi Shankar would make an ideal starting point for several important discussions concerning nonwestern music. The Performance Perspective alludes to the introduction of “alien” art forms into other cultures, as well as to the issue of combining different musical-cultural practices in collaborations between Western and nonwestern performers. Both of these issues have been examined critically in ethnomusicological discourse, and students should be introduced to some of the complexities and problems underlying these seemingly simple issues. A good place to start—for the instructor or for advanced students—would be to read Steven Feld’s article “A Sweet Lullaby for World Music” Public Culture 12/1 (2000): 145-171.

Questions and Topics

1. Explain the concept of raga in Indian music.

2. Explain the concept of tala in Indian music.

3. Explain the importance of improvisation in Indian music.

4. Discuss music education in India.

5. Ravi Shankar and the spread of Indian music in the west.

6. The “musical trinity” of India.

Suggested Supplements for Part VII

Many resources have been mentioned above. Since it seems that every year an increasingly large number of “global music” titles appears on CD, DVD, and VHS, even a brief representative list of such titles is impractical here. However, you and your students may wish to consult the following website:
Wesleyan University’s “Virtual Instrument Museum”

IM – Part 7 |

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