Teaching World Music

Dan Shultz

Thoughts on how to organize and teach a class in world music.

The all-pervasive concept of the global village has far reaching implications for music teaching. In the not too distant past, ensemble directors would, for variety, occasionally program a number or a concert featuring the music of another country. More recently, however, concerts that do not include either actual music from other cultures or compositions derived from or influenced by these cultures attract increasingly smaller audiences. Significant composers are meeting the challenge of this reality and producing sophisticated works for band, choir, and orchestra that incorporate the intricacies of music from other cultures.

At the same time, classically trained musicians have become increasingly aware and accepting of the catalytic role that wellcrafted popular and folk music play in the ongoing evolution of music as a whole. Music appreciation textbooks now include increasingly larger chapters on both popular and world music and classes on the subject are now required in accredited college and university music programs. The following article describes one teacherís experience in meeting the challenge of developing a class on world music.

In 1996, responding to a stipulation in an accreditation review that our program include a class on the subject of world music, I began an odyssey that would prove to be one of the most interesting and gratifying personal learning experiences of my career, one that has significantly altered and expanded my previous views about music.

The first reaction to the challenge of providing a valid experience for our students was to simply teach a traditional ethnomusicology class. But the stated requirement was that a class be provided that would introduce the students to the music of other cultures, a broader mandate than simply studying the detailed historic origins of the indigenous music of other cultures.

The first challenge was how to provide a class within the constraints of a quarter or semester that would be broad enough to convey the incredible variety of global music that exists, yet be detailed enough to have some depth. The search for a textbook proved frustrating since the few that exist have serious gaps in providing full coverage, tend to become too detailed, fail to provide enough geographical information, or rely heavily on fairly uninteresting audio recordings.


The greatest challenge in the end was how to make the topic "alive" enough to hold student interest. The need to cover the topic in a compelling way made me rethink my teaching methods, since lectures in the traditional format, with their usual mix of information and audio illustrations, were not sufficient to present the subject effectively.

I discovered through trial and error in the classroom that it was one thing to describe the music of another culture, better to hear it, but best to see it either live or on video. Accordingly, the presentations came to include a limited amount of geographic and cultural information and fairly detailed presentations on the evolution and music theory of both the folk and popular music of that culture, profusely illustrated by audio excerpts and video clips. At this point in the evolution of the class, I include over 75 audio excerpts and 400 video clips in the lectures.

One of the great challenges was locating video resources. This was solved to some extent by drawing on music, anthology, travelogue and instructional videos. Even in the limited time I have been teaching the class an increasing number of videos on the subject have been released.

Live concerts were also scheduled during class periods. This has proven to be a challenge, given our geographic isolation. Even so, we have been able to schedule Celtic, Andean, South Pacific, and other groups as well as various soloists. The six to eight concerts, coupled with mini performance presentations by guests, are a popular feature of the class, as indicated by student reactions in required reviews.

Another enhancement for the class was the use of actual instruments for demonstration and display. These can be purchased through several sources at reasonable cost.

Finally, lavishly illustrated study sheets have been developed which provide maps of the regions or countries, illustrations of instruments and, where appropriate, notation and/or words for the music. Department-owned CDís, records, tapes and videos are also listed for additional optional listening.

In the six years it has been offered, the class, which is a requirement for music majors, has become an increasingly popular humanities credit option, with the class growing from 16 to 80 students. The subject fascinates the students. They view it as a broadening experience, one that has increasing relevance as they prepare to enter the world of today and tomorrow.

For additional information:

Dan Shultz, shulda@valint.net

Dan Shultz has taught music appreciation classes for the past forty-two years. Chair of the music department at Walla Walla College from1979 to 2000, he previously taught at Union College and Adelphian and Forest Lake Academies. Now retired, he continues to teach a class in Introduction to Music in the autumn quarter and World Music in the spring quarter at WWC.

This article, printed in the Spring/Summer 1999 issue of IAMA'S quarterly magazine, Notes, was revised and updated in the summer of 2003 by the writer.