Interactive Lesson Plan on Native American Music with 2 Craft Projects: For Elementary and Middle School Children

Interactive Lesson Plan on Native American Music with 2 Craft Projects: For Elementary and Middle School Children
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Exposure to Native American Culture and Music

With these hands-on music activities and lesson ideas, third to fifth grade students will be activley engaged in learning about Native American music. From comparing modern and traditional Native American music to making and performing with the instruments they have made, students will be provided with a variety of learning experiences.

YouTube offers short video clips of and about Native American music that are well suited for the elementary classroom. One that I use is located here:

For these lessons, I found clips using searches such as traditional Native American Music, and drums or rainsticks. A collection of videos that augment these lessons resulted. iTune recordings and CDs are also used in these lessons. One CD I use is Sacred Spirit: Chants & Dances of the Native Americans.

Teacher “Prep” and Background Knowledge

Materials for the lesson:

  • Computer with high-speed Internet connection (optional)
  • Digital projector or a computer “hooked up” to a TV (optional)
  • CD player and /or an Ipod

Rainstick Materials:

Rainstick Materials

  • Paper towel roll
  • Filler–dried beans, rice, split peas, lentils or popcorn kernels
  • Foil or paper filter
  • Brown construction paper
  • White printer paper
  • Scissors and glue
  • Crayons

Drum Materials:

  • One large, cardboard or metal can with top such as an oatmeal container, canned nut or coffee can with plastic lid.
  • White, manila construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue and a paintbrush
  • Container to hold a mixture of glue and water
  • A pencil
  • Colored pencils


After participating in these lessons, students will:

  • Gain knowledge of Native American culture and the importance of musical instruments
  • Perform using two Native American instruments
  • Understand and explain cultural uses of these instruments

Background Knowledge For Students:

Native American music is performed in ceremonies and in rituals of everyday life. Instruments were mostly used to add nature sounds and rhythm to this music. Both the drum and the rainstick are two such instruments. (The drum and the rainstick will be constructed by the students for these lessons.)

The rainstick represented the sound of rain. Some rainsticks began as hollow sticks of dried cactus. Their needles were plucked off and driven as nails into the stick. Small pebbles were poured into the stick. Each end was sealed and the rain stick was ready to play. (Student made rainsticks consist of a tube, a filter, and one or more fillers.)

Traditional Native American drums were made from hollowed out logs (frame) covered with stretched animal skins (the head). Drums were used to make music or send messages to other tribes. Different tribes or nations used different drums in differing ways. A drum was all a Native American needed to make music. Watch an example here:

The Rainstick

Directions for Students:

  1. Make two brown construction paper caps. Trace a pattern of a circle slightly larger than the tube. Trace the outline of the tube in the center.

  2. Cut out the larger outside circle and then cut small strips from the outside circle to the inside circle. Glue onto one end of the rainstick.

  3. Place a long coil of foil or place wads of paper inside the tube as a filter.

  4. Pour at least one filler inside the tube.

    Rainstick Filler

  5. Glue the second cap into place.

  6. Students should play their rainsticks along with Native American Music.

Math Integration: Older students can measure the cap one half inch larger than the tube’s measurement. Then they can measure the one eighth inch strips before they cut them.

Visual Art Integration: Overlap colors to make a somewhat realistic looking stick. Using black, brown and orange crayons, decorate the rainstick. The crayon should be used on its side. Combine colors by lightly coloring black vertically onto the stick. Small portions should be colored at a time to resemble bark. Add brown over the black using heavier strokes. Color orange onto the semi-thick brown layer.


Drum Cans

Directions for Students:

  1. Cover the sides of the drum frame (can of choice) with white construction paper.
  2. Glue in place.
  3. Cover the head (lid) by tearing Manila paper into medium sized pieces. Use a mixture of glue and water to “paint” the pieces onto the lid. Make sure the pieces overlap to make darker colors as animal skins would have.
  4. Draw Native American designs on the frame with a pencil. When satisfied, color over the penciled symbols with colored pencils.
  5. Place covered head on the drum and you are ready to play the drum.

Language Arts Integration

Instead of making Native American writing symbols on the drum frame arbitrarily, have students write a story using this language. Students can write a small story in as little as four to five symbols. Draw the story on the frame’s side with a pencil, then use colored pencils to complete the symbols. Form small groups and share stories.

Social Studies Integration

Students can individually pick a tribe or a nation to study. The names of drums for their chosen Native American group should be researched. Have students make pictures of each drum their tribe or nation used. Make a bulletin board with an outlined map of the United States placed in the center. Put student-drawn pictures of each drum researched outside the map. Run different colors of yarn from the drum picture to the area of the country where it was used.

Activity: Performing Native American Music

Corn Symbol

Classroom teachers may wish to watch this YouTube video on how to play the rainstick before they demonstrate how to use the instrument: Also consider inviting someone from the Native American community to demonstrate how to play the rainstick.

Have your students listen to traditional Native American music (Chippewa Travellers Song or Ceremonial Song Paiute from the CDs mentioned above). Next, students will listen to modern Native American music (Obsidian Butterfly or Coyote Dance). Decide where to add the rainsticks the students have made and where to add the student made drums. One half of the class can play their drums while the other half of the class can play their rainsticks. Sometimes all students will perform both instruments together. Other times only rainsticks will play or only drums will play. Students should be taught how to keep a steady beat while playing the drum with the music.

Summary and Review

Group students into fours or fives. Listen to one example each of modern and traditional Native American music. While listening to each type of music have children individually answer the following questions:

  • What instruments are playing?
  • Is the drum the loudest or most important instrument?
  • Is a rainstick sounding?
  • Is there singing?
  • If so, Is more than one person singing?
  • Can you hear any animal sounds in the music?
  • Is the drum mostly playing a steady beat?

After listening to the music examples, have students discuss their answers. They should then record a consensus of their answers onto a poster size tablet page. The teacher hangs the groups’ responses. The teacher then facilitates the completion of a large Venn diagram. One side of the circles reads Traditional and the other side reads Modern. After listing the characteristics of each type of music, the teacher should fill in the center of the Venn diagram (the space where the circles overlap) with the similarities between each musical example.


Have students listen to another example of Native American music, identifying it as traditional or modern. While the music is playing quietly, individuals should write a paragraph (younger children, just a sentence or two) about why they hold the opinion they do.

Place students in groups of four (two rainstick performers and two drum performers). Circulate through the room assessing the drummers’ performances. Can they keep a steady beat to the music? Play the composition again this time having the rainstick performers and the drummers switch instruments. Assess the second group of drummers.

Teaching Native American music through lesson plans and subsequent culture through hands-on activities will help an overlooked and unappreciated society spring to life. Students will also use differing senses and differing learning modalities in doing so.