Native American dancers

Native American Song and Dance

Native Americans use song and dance to teach life skills, such as hunting, and to tell stories. Many songs and dances also celebrate the events of everyday life. This learning experience was developed to go along with the unit for the Children’s Museum titled Moccasins and Sneakers.

Learning Context | Procedure | Instructional/Environmental Modifications | Time Required | Resources | Assessment Plan | Student Work | Reflection

LE Title: Native American Song and DanceAuthor(s): Theresia Giardino
Grade Level: 3-4School : Marcy Elementary School
Topic/Subject Area: MusicSchool Address: Maynard Drive Marcy, New York 13403

Learning Context

Throughout their history, Native Americans have used song and dances to teach life skills such as hunting, and to tell stories. Many Native American songs and dances also celebrate the events of everyday life. They also remind people to respect one another and the things of nature. These songs and dances praise what is important in the hearts of these people and in their culture.

Connection to Standards

National Music Standards (Arts)

#2 Perform on instruments, alone and with others

a varied repertoire of music

#5 Read and notate music

#6 Listen, analyze and describe music

#9 Understand music in relation to history and culture

Social Studies Standards

Standard #1.4 Students will view historic events through the eyes of those who were there as shown through their art, writings, music, and artifacts

English Language Arts Standard

Students will read, write, and speak for information and learning

Essential Questions

  1. What is the importance of the drum to the Native American?
  • How else did the Native Americans use drums?
  • How were dances used by the Native Americans to teach life skills and tell stories?

How were the songs used by the Native Americans to celebrate the events of everyday life?

Content Knowledge


Students will understand and explain the importance of the drum and drumming in the cultural context of the Native American.

Students will understand and explain the importance of Native American dances.

Students will identify the common musical elements found in the Native American songs to include: FORM (call and response), TEMPO, PHRASES, RHYTHM, ACCENTS, and MUSIC NOTATION.


Sing Native American songs as well as vocable responses learned aurally.

Accompany Native American songs by playing appropriate instruments to culture:

  • Play drum patterns showing rhythmic patterns, accents, crescendo, and steady beat
  • Perform Native American dance
  • Make simple “Native American” drums to be used to accompany song and dance



  • Introduce Canoe Song explaining to the students how Native Americans have used songs and dance to teach life skills such as hunting and telling stories
  • Tell the students the background of the song by telling them this story: The women of the village are paddling canoes down to the river to do some washing. They see the men of the village paddling upstream. The men are tired from the hard work of the hunting. At first the men pass the women, but they are so happy to see each other that the men turn around and they all paddle downstream together.
  • After reading the story, listen to the song
  • Learn to sing the response by listening to the recording
  • Learn the dance (see movement below)

Listen and perform the dance. Singing the response, having some non dancers accompany by drumming the steady eighth notes, making a crescendo on the last measure of the song.

Movement to Canoe Song:

Basic Step: Have students chant this verbal cue (Note that these words are for learning the movement pattern and do not represent the vocables in the song.

4/4 L R L R L R L L R L R L R L

Moving forward in a line Moving forward in a line

  1. Step to the rhythm of the words. When the pattern begins with the left foot, it travels forward and slightly to the left; the left foot leads and the right foot drags or slides close behind it. Reverse when the pattern begins with the right foot.
  2. Move in lines. For this dance, it is important that the girls and boys form separate lines of 4-5 students. The leader of each line bends his/her elbows. All others hold on to the elbow of the person in front of them.
  3. Final Form. All the girls’ canoes enter first, paddling “downstream.” The boy canoes then enter paddling “upstream.” (Moving in contrary motion to the girls’ canoes. The boys canoes pass behind the girls, turn, and arrive next to the girls. Now they are moving in parallel with the girls’ canoes and paddle downstream in unison.

Pawnee Corn Song

  • Explain to the students how the Native Americans taught the early settlers to raise corn. The Pawnee Indians spoke of corn as Atira meaning “mother.” H means “the breath of life.” You can see how important corn was in their lives. They sang this song to celebrate the harvest.
  • Play the recording of “H’Atira” and ask students to listen for instruments that accompany the voices. (drum, rattle, recorder)
  • Play the recording again, listen for the drum beat, patting the beat on knees, accenting the first beat in each measure
  • Have students sing song with recording, patting the accented beat with one hand on one leg and pat unaccented beats softly with other hand on the other leg
  • Take turns playing the steady beat on drums as the rest of the group sings.
  • Dive the group into 2 groups, having one group plan a steady beat on the drums, while the other group plays eighth notes.

Extending and Refining Experiences

Canoe Song:

Social Studies: Have students record and present stories that an older relative, friend, or neighbor tells them.

Music/Dance: Have students add motions to another Native American song and perform for class.

Science: Have students work in groups to make a canoe model. They start with a sheet of aluminum foil folded in half. They fold up the ends and corners to make it leak proof. The canoe should be wide and long. Then they float the canoe and add pennies to it, as many as they can until the canoe floats very low. They record the number of pennies. They repeat the activity with a smaller canoe, about half the size of the first one. They use the same sheet, this time with the sheet folded in half twice. What happens to its ability to float low with pennies as the canoe gets smaller? (The smaller the canoe, the fewer pennies it takes to make it float low.

Comprehension strategies: Cause and effect

Compare and contrast

Pawnee Corn Song:

Music: Have students work in pairs to create new percussion parts consisting of quarter and eight note rhythm patterns that will be used to accompany song.

English Language Arts: Have students work in pairs to create call and response sentences used for communication purposes. Then add these patterns to instruments and play for class.

Instructional / Environmental


  • Students who may have difficulty maintaining a steady beat can work along side a partner who will assist them until they can feel the beat.
  • Students having trouble writing rhythms, may sing or speak the rhythm pattern and have another student/teacher write them down
  • Students who have problems with large motor skills required for dance, may be the “head” instrument chief.

Time Required

  1. 30 minute call periods (longer if teacher wants students to make their own instruments with materials they have brought in from home)


  • Recordings of Pawnee Corn Song and Canoe Song
  • Stereo
  • Drums and rattlers to accompany
  • Pictures of traditional Native American instruments
  • Pictures of Native Americans playing traditional instruments
  • Instructions for further activity of making drums to be used to accompany songs


Task Component5 points4 points3 points2 points1 point
Rote SingingWas accurately sung with correct pitchWas nearly accurate but included a minimum of imprecise pitchesIncluded the maintenance of a pitch center and a general sense of melodic directionIncluded the use of the singing voice and a general sense of melodic directionDid not include the use of the singing voice
RhythmWas accurately produced and included precise melodic rhythmWas nearly accurate buy lacked a precise melodic rhythmWas incorrect but began to approximate the teacher performed modelWas not recognizable but included an inconsistent performance of meter beatsWas not recognizable
MovementCan duplicate the teachers movement with retention, with consistency of tempo, and with flowCan duplicate the teachers movement with retention, with consistency, but without flowCan duplicate the teachers movement with retention, but without consistency of tempo, and without flowCan duplicate the teachers movement but without retention (executing the movement pattern more than three times)Cannot duplicate the teachers movement
InstrumentsWas accurately produced, included a knowledge of the notation, and precise melodic rhythmWas nearly correct but lacked the precise melodic rhythmDid reflect a beginning knowledge of the notation, and began to approximate the teacher performed modelDid not reflect the knowledge of notation, but did show basic knowledge of how to playDid not reflect any knowledge of notation, or correct way in which to play the instrument


This learning experience was developed to go along with the Unit for the Children’s Museum entitled Moccasins and Sneakers. It was the design of the committee to include the community with the Arts programs in the area schools. This experience can easily be done at the museum, or can be taken back to the elementary school as an extension of the Children’s Museum program.

Further reading: How to Write a Lesson Plan: 7 Steps