South African Inspired Activities for the Physical Education and Music Classroom

Lesson 4: African Instruments, Songs, and Games

North Carolina Essential Standards

5.MR.1.4 Classify classroom, Western orchestral, and world instruments into categories based on how their sounds are produced.

5.MR.1.2 Use music terminology in explaining music, including notation, instruments, voices, and performances.

5.ML.1.3 Use instruments to perform rhythmic, melodic, and chordal patterns accurately and independently on classroom rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic instruments.

5.C.1.4 Understand how cultural narratives (legends, songs, ballads, games, folk tales and art forms) reflect the lifestyles, beliefs and struggles of diverse ethnic groups

Prerequiste Knowledge

  • Students will have a knowledge of the world instrument classification system (aerophones, chordophones, idiophones, and membranophones).
  • Students will know very basic Xhosa vocabulary.
  • Students will be familiar with "Rhythm Ostinato."


Students will be able to:

  • identify African instruments and explain how their sounds are produced.
  • reflect how culture and geography can affect the music, instruments, and games that are played (e.g., instruments are made from found materials such as gourds, pottery, grass for weaving, wood).
  • discuss how the games, instruments and music that we play are  influenced by our culture (e.g., electricity, TV, CD’s, radio, materials for instruments we play).
  • demonstrate a rhythm ostinato to African folk song.  


  • Students will complete a worksheet on world instrument classifications.
  • Students will write about and/or demonstrate an ostinato.
  • Students will complete an exit ticket on what they learn about music in Africa.


Online resources:

  • SMARTBoard activity “Classifications of World Instruments” with accompany worksheet
  • Songs of the Rainbow Children by Cheryl Lavender: Impuku Nedati


  • South African Instruments PowerPoint created by the authors.
  • Exit ticket

Prior Preparation

  • Prepare PowerPoint presentation.
  • Copy worksheet and exit tickets.
  • Review and practice song, instrumental part, and game.


  1. Review the previous lessons where students explored the relationship between culture, sports, and games.
  2. In this fourth lesson, we will expand this discussion to how culture influences music.
  3. Ask: How does culture influence the types of instruments we play?  What are the similarities of United States and South African music?  How can countries so far apart still have so many similarities?
  4. Sing a song in Xhosa while playing a rhythm ostinato on the djembe.  Explain that Xhosa is one of eleven languages spoken in South Africa.  It is sometimes known as the language of “clicks.” Xhosa is also a group of South African people. Note that Nelson Mandela was of Xhosa descent.
  5. Discuss similarities and differences between U.S. and South African culture.

Guided Practice

Part I

  1. Students will brainstorm and identify the different African instruments they know.  
    • How did you learn of these instrument?
    • Describe the music you heard these instruments play.
  2. Present the South African Instruments PowerPoint.
    • Explain that the pictures at the beginning came from a museum display.  Discuss how some instruments have a “European” influence while other instruments are influenced by India.
    • During the presentation, student will  be introduced to African instruments and will listen to the instruments being played.
  3. After the PowerPoint, introduce students to shaker instruments found in our classroom (e.g., shekere, caxixi, pod shakers).
  4. Engage students in the following activity:
    • A quick review of terms for instrument classifications if needed:  (Review can be found on SMARTboard Lesson or in Word document)
    • Students will break into groups of two to three.  Each group will receive a“Classifications for World Instrument” chart and picture game pieces.  The students will categorize the instruments into groups according to how each instrument is played.
    • World instrument classifications include Aerophones: produce sound by using air, Chordophones: produce sound from a vibrating string, Idiophones: produce sounds from struck, shaken, scraped, or rubbed.  Membranophones: drum-type.
  5. Circulate around the room while the students are completing this work. After they are finished, use the SMARTBoard presentation to review the correct answers (or the Word document). Additional questions to pose:
    • How are most of these instruments constructed?  Why do you think the instruments are made from gourds, pods, and pottery? (Use materials that are available)
    • What African instruments have you noticed in our classroom?   (Our classroom has Djembe, kalimba, shekere, talking drum, caxixi, and pod shakers  ).
    • What other classroom instruments would be similar to the African instruments from the presentation? (Xylophones are similar to marimbas)
  6. Collect material from  Classification for World Instrument activity.


Part II

  1. Sing Impuku Nekati again with the Djembe.
  2. Teach the South African Folk song in Xhosa: Impuku Nekati from Songs of the Rainbow Children.  Consider teaching the song in the same manner they were originally taught, repetition of the song, no accompaniment.
  3. Remind the students that teaching music in a classroom environment is a Western concept.  In tribal culture, one’s family circle within the natural environment is the classroom.
  4. Reflect on the cultural struggles young African children may endure in a Xhosa home during apartheid. (“Kaffir Boy an Autobiography” by Mark Mathabane shares a vivid story as a young boy growing up in the 1960’s.  He writes how his family moved from one shanty to the next.  He expresses his fears of the police and white people and how he would stay in the house with his younger sister and brother while his parents were gone.)  
  5. Explain that this song describes the crying of  a mouse and a cat in a Xhosa hut. (I imagine this could be a game the children would play in the house to pass time during the days they were not to go outside.  They could be the cat looking to  “find the mouse” in the huts.)  
  6. Share pictures of a variety of homes today that were taken while in Africa the summer of 2016.  (Included at the end of South African Instruments PowerPoint ). Note there are many government houses and block houses with fences today, but still some signs of shanties. Compare these to the struggles of American children in different parts of our country.  

Part III

  1. Use the same groups the students were previous in for the first activity. Have them select a classroom African instrument.  Each group will create an ostinato pattern with their African instrument to go along with “Impulu Mekati”.  Students will play their rhythm ostinato while the class sings.  (Optional: groups will notate their rhythms using quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes, 16th notes, or quarter rests.) In pictures of this lesson, we used rhythm blocks to write our ostinatos. Students could also use whiteboards or paper and pencil.
  2. Performance suggestion from the book, Songs of the Rainbow Children, indicate that “the most significant part of South African singing is the part that’s not on the printed page - the spontaneous expression of emotion.  Almost all South African songs are performed with some kind of whole-group movement.”  Students are encouraged to create and include a four-beat step pattern to the song.
  3. Teach the Impuku Nekati (The Mouse and Cat) game that goes along with the song.   Image being a young child in a Xhosa hut entering the room and looking for the mouse
  4. Brainstorm any modifications or adaptations we make to the music and the game as compared to how an African child may learn and play this song and game.
    • May use CD accompaniment while playing game.
    • What would we use in our music room in place of a mouse to play this game?

Optional Extended lesson: Student learn the written instrumental parts to  “Impuku Nekati” from the book Songs of the Rainbow Children by Cheryl Lavender.


  1. Review the African instruments and their classifications.
  2. Reflect on how the song and game helped understand the Xhosa people and their culture, lifestyles and possible struggles.
  3. Students will complete their Exit Ticket statements:
    • My favorite African instrument was (and why):
    • One fact on how instruments, songs or games are part of our culture.
    • A question I have about the music or instruments of Africa would be….