Thursday, October 29, 2015

Native American Songs and Music

I'm teaming up with several fellow music teachers for "Fermata Friday", this is hosted by Elizabeth at Organized Chaos.
Native Americans, First Americans, American Indian, whatever name you have chosen or feel is "correct", the music of America is incomplete without their cultural and historical inclusion.  Did you know there are over 300 Native American culture groups in North America?  Wow! 
For the longest time, I was hesitant to teach this music as I was fearful to teach something I didn't know about. I was also fearful that I wouldn't be able to help the children feel comfortable with the vocal and song stylings which are different than ours.  I quickly got over that and while I still don't know much, I learn more every year. "Teaching is like a marathon" a friend once told me.  Great concept; learn 1-2 new things this year, add to that the next, etc. 
I am more careful in choosing music that is relevant to the children I teach and that I have researched. Take care to choose music that is not for religious or spiritual occasions, or ones that are for sacred events.  If in doubt, don't use it.  While researching for my book (see far left) I wanted to use a famous Maori song (from New Zealand).  It has been included in many music books so I thought, no brainer, right?  OOPS- hugely wrong; when talking with my publisher and later a Maori tribeperson, I came to the understanding that the translation was *ahem* about a bull's private areas.. yes, THAT!!! Needless to say, it was not included in the book.  Oh my!

As teachers of culture, a distinction should also be made between traditional vs. authentic.  Authentic Native American music originates from within a tribal culture.  Traditional music may have been borrowed from another culture but is sung by that specific tribal culture.  Many Hopi songs for children, for example, are not authentic but are traditionally sung by their children.  Complex, isn't it?  Should you choose to sing a song that is "traditional" versus one that is "authentic"?  To me, the point is to get them to sing music that is from the Native American culture, not to focus on the specifics.  It's just something to be aware of.

Here are a few things that resonate with me and my students:
1.  Songs for Teaching:  Click on the link; excellent resource for Native American music and culture.

2.  One of my favorite pieces, "The Earth is Our Mother".  Gorgeous and so accessible

.  3.  Sioux Lullaby.  So very pretty, another arrangement can be found in Shirley McRae's American Sampler book.

4.  Navajo Happy Song, from Hands to Hands, Clapping Songs and Games from Around the World by yours truly!  Book is available by clicking here!

5.  Beth's Music Notes  (wow, HUGE resource!!) has a section with about 15 Native American songs with sheet music!  I particularly love Hiya
I hope you've enjoyed this post and that you'll try something new during this time when we are particularly aware of the rich cultural heritage of Native Americans!


  1. This is all wonderful information and advice. Thanks for sharing! I'm a huge fan of Beth's Notes too :) #fermatafriday

  2. I agree, it's easy to be intimidated by music we don't have experience with and just decide not to teach it, but that it's important to go ahead and jump in! And I love your sentiment about teaching as a marathon- yes! Learn more as you go and adapt! I am really curious to know which Maori song you are talking about. I do several Maori songs in my classroom and have researched them but never had the opportunity to speak with someone from that culture personally. Thanks for sharing your ideas and resources! #fermatafridays

  3. I LOVE the Earth is Our Mother and I laughed out loud at the bull's private parts - YIKES!!!! :) Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thank you for the sweet Sioux lullaby. I can't wait to share it with my students...

  5. This a great idea! I will defiantly use this in my classroom. Thanks for sharing!

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