Teaching Students About Native American Music
Native American music has a rich and diverse history that is often overlooked in traditional music education. By teaching students about this genre of music, we have an opportunity to introduce them to the cultural heritage of North America’s indigenous people while also expanding their understanding of music as a whole.
First, it is important to note that Native American music is not a monolithic entity. There are hundreds of different tribes across the United States, each with their own unique musical traditions. Instruments, rhythms, and melodies can vary greatly between tribes, making Native American music a diverse and nuanced field of study.
One way to approach teaching Native American music is by focusing on the traditions of a specific tribe or group of tribes. The Cherokee, for instance, have a strong tradition of storytelling through music. The Kiowa people are known for their war dances. The Navajo use chants and songs to connect with their spiritual beliefs. By highlighting different tribes’ musical practices, students can begin to appreciate the diversity of Native American music.
Another aspect of Native American music to consider is how it has been appropriated and popularized in mainstream culture. Hollywood Westerns often depict Native Americans drumming and chanting in a way that is not faithful to their actual traditions. Pop singers like Cher and Robbie Robertson have incorporated elements of Native American music into their work. By discussing how Native American music has been represented in pop culture, we can help students critically analyze its use and appreciate the importance of respecting other cultures’ artistic traditions.
In terms of actual pedagogy, students can learn about Native American music in a variety of ways. Group activities, like drumming circles, can introduce students to the concept of communal music-making. Listening to recordings, attending live performances, and watching documentaries can provide a deeper understanding of the history and contemporary practices of Native American music. Students can also try their hand at creating their own Indigenous-inspired music, using traditional instruments like the flute or drum.
It is important to approach teaching Native American music with respect and sensitivity. Teachers should strive to learn as much as they can about the traditions they are discussing, and invite local Indigenous leaders or musicians to speak to students. It is also important to remember that some Indigenous cultures consider their music to be sacred, and may not want it to be shared outside of their communities. Respecting these beliefs can only aid in building greater cultural awareness and empathy.
Teaching students about Native American music can be an enriching experience for both educators and learners. By fostering a greater appreciation for Indigenous traditions and broadening students’ musical horizons, we can help create a more just and equitable society.