Music of Japan Mini-Unit

Japanese songs, drumming pieces, and more for your elementary music lessons!


Today, I'm blogging about a mini-unit I recently did with my 4th graders. I have a unique situation this year, in that I see all of the 4th graders once every five days for 50 minutes, but my colleague–who is also Kodaly-trained–also sees them once every five days for 50 minutes. We decided this year that the first marking period, she would teach them the “typical” Kodaly-inspired lessons, and I would teach extension lessons. Then at the start of the next marking period, we would switch, so that I'm teaching the typical lessons. This marking period, I've been doing the extension lessons, and the last couple of weeks, I did a Japanese mini-unit.

First, I taught them the singing game “Stew Pot,” shown below:
Stew Pot: A Japanese folk song. Blog post includes lots of other ideas for a Japanese mini-unit for your music lessons!
This is a fun folk song that I learned from this book:

This book has lots of other great folk songs, and includes a CD!

I've been using the song for recorder, as the song only uses mi, re, and do, which I have them play on B, A, and G. I have a slideshow for the song in this recorder set.

Then I taught them the chant “Omochio Tsukimasho,” which has a REALLY fun hand jive. Here is a video:

I started off teaching them just the chant and the hand motions that are not the steady beat, and then in the next lesson put the steady beat and hand motions together!

I also used this Powerpoint to teach them about traditional Japanese instruments; it is a great freebie by Elizabeth from Organized Chaos!

The Powerpoint has links to Japanese instruments such as the koto and taiko.   After students listen to taiko drumming, I introduced bucket drumming. Bucket drumming can be a great way to introduce students to taiko drumming without the expense of taiko drums. You might check your local hardware store or fast-food restaurants to see if they would be willing to donate buckets, and then a pair of dowels for each bucket.   For the bucket drumming, I used a piece I learned from Julie Froude, who is an amazing clinician and knows a lot about Japanese culture, as she grew up there! This piece is called “Renshu,” and is a great practice piece!  

Renshu: A bucket drumming piece. Blog post includes lots of ideas for a Japanese mini-unit for your music lessons!

For this piece, I play the first time and have students join me the second time, on the repeat. I played the “dorosuku”and “donsuku” on the rim, the accented notes on the top of the bucket. The “hoi” is spoken loudly.   I learned about the book “The Drums of Noto Hanto” from Julie. The book tells a true story of a village in Japan, and how they used drumming to scare off an enemy. I used the book as a way to discuss Japanese culture and music:  

Drums of Noto Hanto--a great picture book to explore bucket drumming!  Blog post includes lots of ideas for a Japanese mini-unit for your music lessons!

  Lastly, I used the song “Sakura,” which is one of my all-time favorite Japanese folk songs:  

Sakura: A beautiful Japanese folk song! Blog post includes lots of ideas for a Japanese mini-unit for your music lessons!

The translation is:  Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms, Across the spring sky,
As far as you can see.
Is it a mist, or clouds?
Fragrant in the air.
Come now, come now,
Let's look, at last!  

The song is beautiful, and is a great way to practice half note.  

If you are looking for more resources for teaching the music of Japan, check out the Smithsonian Folkways Website.   Although I would love to delve deeper into the culture, the mini-unit was a great way to learn a bit about Japanese culture and music, while extending students' musical understanding. If you have any specific questions about teaching the music of Japan, Julie Froude has volunteered to answer your questions, since she is so knowledgeable (and if you're looking for a clinician for your local chapter or school district, she is wonderful!) You can comment below with your question, and I'll forward it to Julie. Also feel free to comment below with any of your favorite Japanese songs or resources, and have fun!

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Hi, I'm Aileen

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