Lesson #2 – Music’s Role in Society

Time: 40-50 Minutes

Creator: Betsy Nolan, Musical Educator

Institution: Edmunds Elementary, Burlington, VT


What is this lesson about?

In this lesson students will continue to develop their listening and responding to music skills and begin to explore different ways music is used in society as well as the similarities and differences in the roles music plays in different culture.

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will practice describe a piece of music without personal judgement.
  • Students will explore the ways music is used in society.
  • Students will look for similarities and differences between musics from different cultures that share a common purpose.

Lesson Plan: NNP #2

Deeper discussion can investigate our ideas and beliefs about what we actually hear. Why do we “like” or “dislike” music? Is culture important, or is music heard objectively by the ears and brain?

Section 1: Listening & Responding

Before saying anything about it, play the song once and ask students to listen with an open ear/mind, perhaps write down any reactions/thoughts/feelings they experience.

Possible Questions:

1. What do you hear? – Using the word bank, describe what you hear.  Do not share your feelings or opinions about the music.

Vocabulary Word Bank

Melody, harmony, major, minor, instruments, loud, soft, dynamics, tempo, beat rhythm, timbre, crescendo, decrescendo, form, verse, chorus, bridge, mood

2. Emotional Response:  Based on our group description, talk about how this music makes you feel and why.

3. What don’t you hear? – What strikes you as “missing” or “desired” in the song? This can help to point out the context in which we hold our musical experiences, even if we aren’t aware of it.

4. Provide contextual (i.e. historical, cultural, regional) information about the song.

Section 2: Social & cultural practice

Read or handout copies of the translation of one of the songs.

1.  Start with a discussion on the meaning of the lyrics. Are you surprised by the meaning or not? Does knowing the meaning change the way you experience the song?

2. What roles did these songs play in their cultures?

3. What songs from your culture do you know that might play a similar role?

4. In what ways are the songs musically similar?  In what ways are they musically different?  In what ways are the songs lyrically similar?  In what ways are they lyrically different?

Section 3: Engaging

After getting the context for the first listening example have students brainstorm the different ways songs are used in society, ie. celebration, spiritual practice, work songs, game songs, lullabies, story songs, lesson songs, etc.

1. Which of these have you used in your life?

2. How did you learn them? 

3. Which ones could you see yourself teaching to someone else in your life?

Section 4: Collective Reflection

Facilitate reflection, possibly stepping back except to record responses on the board, of what it was like to describe the song and to think about the different ways music can be used by different cultures..

Possible prompts to give:

1.  What was difficult or easy about describing the songs without adding your opinion of the music?

2.  What surprised you about the songs?

3. What surprised you about our brainstorm?

3. After thinking about the uses of song in different cultures what can we guess about the role of music in people’s lives?

Section 5: Taking it out into the World!

Talk to a family member about what songs they know that share this common use.  How was this person’s experience the same or different than yours?  What factors influence those similarities and difference?


Vermont Framework of Standards


Students show understanding of music CONCEPTS and VOCABULARY by…

A7-8:14 Students analyze, interpret, and respond to art by…

A7-8:17 Students show understanding of how the arts impact life by…

A7-8:18 Students show understanding of how the arts shape and reflect various cultures and times by…


H&SS7-8:16 Students examine how different societies address issues of human interdependence by…

  • Describing aural examples of music using appropriate terminology (e.g., pitch, rhythm, tempo, dynamics, form, timbre, texture, articulation, harmony, phrasing, style).
  • Explaining qualities (elements, principles of design, expression) that may evoke emotion and meaning.
  • Relating varied interpretations of works of art using some or all of the following (e.g., observation, personal experience, cultural context).
  • Comparing/contrasting works of art, which may include a student’s own work.
  • Demonstrating an understanding of how the arts contribute to physical and mental health (e.g., self-expression, such as anger, joy, confusion, frustration).
  • Researching and describing how the arts reflect cultural values in various traditions throughout the world.
  • Analyzing how shared values and beliefs can maintain a subculture (e.g., political parties, religious groups). i
  • After examining issues from more than one perspective, defining and defending the rights and needs of others in the community, nation, and world (e.g. AIDS in Africa; One Child Policy in China; nuclear waste disposal). i
  • Analyze differences and similarities among people that arise from factors such as cultural, ethnic, racial, economic, and religious diversity, and describe their costs and benefits.

Inyange is a Burundian song and dance group based in Burlington, Vermont

“The following song is about Burundian culture, about the harvest season. Those who harvest are grinding by using a pistil, the words say “I was there at the farm, I was alone, nobody came to help me so let me do it myself” and those who were not active, who were lazy, feel jealous. They say “Oh, now you’re harvesting, next year I should do like you.” The song is meant to encourage those people.”  – Aline Niyonzima

Listen to how the rhythm of the song will help someone who is working with a pistil to grind grain.

Excerpts on the musical style Sharerro Walinja. Chapin, Simeon. 2007. Music of the Somali Bantu in Vermont: Music, Identity and Refugees. MA thesis, Tufts University.

Shareero Walinja is performed at weddings and in staged performance situations. Bulle and Zuka describe learning and performing Shareero Walinja at weddings in Jilib and surrounding towns in the Jubba river valley. The performance of Shareero Walinja honors the bride and groom, their family, and others who are central to the community’s celebration. Zuka describes a performance as “pleasing someone”.

It starts with the name of someone like you are pleasing someone, the person who is getting married. You are telling [them], ‘This guy is a good guy and he is marrying a good lady and she comes from a good family,’ and so on and so on and all those things. It is like you are pleasing someone and at the same time you make a rhythm and perform it in that ceremony and people dance it. (2007-I)

At weddings small groups of women (between two and seven) dance in linear procession. Each group of dancers are of the same age group. The line circles the dancing space pausing opposite the musicians. The line then advances and retreats in a parallel line towards the musicians. The feet move close to the floor in a shuffling pattern right left right, left right left, short, short, long, short, short, long – driving toward the downbeat or beginning of the musical cycle. In staged performances this dance can be performed solo.

Chole speaks about the civil war in Sudan, which began in 1983 and continued roughly until 2005:

We had a civil war long ago and then people came from the north destroying our houses with fire, they take young kids, they kill young guys if you are like us you get killed, but if its a girl, or a kid, and a woman and cattle, they take them away. So someone was thinking, our house is on fire, our kids have been taken, what are we going to do? Whats next? So its time to be brave, to encourage people to stay aware that these guys are always there. The song is about awareness, encouraging people to be strong.

[The war was in] 1983 but these people came in 85 or 86, they came from the north and invaded the south. This thing happened between 86, 87 and 88 and after that they stopped, the south got their own military and they stopped coming back any more. But during these few years it was so bad.