This learning sequence provides students with the opportunity to develop their inquiry learning skills and cultural understanding of dance and music from India and Pakistan and create a Bhangra performance.
Activity 1: Exploring Bhangra dance and music
Bhangra dance and music originates from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. It is a traditional celebratory folk dance that heralds the coming of spring. It began as a style of lively folk music performed at harvests in the Punjab, India, more than 500 years ago. It represents Punjab culture and history, in particular, symbolising the struggles of its people over time. Its joyousness and liveliness has in recent times led it to become a popular form of dancing in many parts of the world.
Prior to discussing Bhangra, it would be beneficial to utilise and build upon students' background knowledge about the location of India in relation to neighbouring countries and the rest of the world.
Information about the various elements of the Bhangra performance is provided within the activity. The Non Stop Bhangra Story provides a context for teaching about Bhangra.
Traditional Indian musical instruments
The most well-known Indian traditional instruments are the sitar and tabla.
The sitar is a multi-stringed instrument that is played like a Western-style guitar. A sitar can have 18, 19 or 20 strings. Six or seven of these strings run over curved, raised frets, and the remainder are 'sympathetic' strings, which run underneath the frets and resonate in sympathy with the played strings.
The tabla is a pair of drums that are traditionally played sitting down. By striking the drums in different places, different tones are produced. Patterns of rhythmic variation can be complex and exciting. The drums are tuned to the same raga as the melodic note, creating a very close musical match to each strike of the drums. Tala is the name given to the rhythms of patterns of notes. In fact, where Western musicians might use the word 'rhythm', Indian musicians may use the term 'tala'.
Raga is the name given to sets of notes in Indian music, a little like a scale in Western music. A raga uses a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is constructed. However, the way the notes are approached and rendered in musical phrases and the mood they convey are more important in defining a raga than the notes themselves. In the Indian musical tradition, ragas are associated with different times of the day or with seasons. Indian classical music is always set in a raga.
Activity 2: Practising Bhangra styles
A specific pedagogical technique is suggested to assist students to develop dance awareness and cultural understandings. Informal music learning is a feature of the Musical Futures curriculum from the United Kingdom, stemming from the work of Lucy Green. This may be likened to social learning or discovery learning inquiry models.
Refer to the activity images, notes and videos on creating the dance and music.
There are many theories as to what the elements of music might be. Here is a list that may assist:
- Duration – the relative length of sounds and silences in music – rhythm, beat, pulse and tempo.
- Expressive devices – ways of influencing the mood and character of music – dynamics, louds and softs, and contrast.
- Pitch – the relative frequency of sound including melody, harmony and tonality.
- Structure – the form and design of music including repetition and variety.
- Texture – the density of sound including layers of sound, and melody versus accompaniment.
- Timbre – the characteristic quality of sound sources or tone colour including instrument combinations, brightness and mellowness.
Activity 3: Creating a Bhangra performance
Whenever teaching music and dance to students, it is important to follow workplace health and safety guidelines. Stretching and warming up and down are important parts of safe dance practices. In addition, the volume of music is a consideration for the safety of young ears.
Students could discuss why it is necessary to stretch and warm up by considering the following elements or components of dance movements:
- Action – movements of the human body used in dance, such as travelling, balancing, stillness, gesturing, flicking, jumping, falling, and turning and twisting.
- Spatial elements – how the body moves spatially to create patterns on the floor or in the air.
- Dynamic elements – how the body moves, including concepts of magnitude of movement, force, fluidity, rhythm and accent.
- Form – the structure of a dance, including repetition, variety and narrative.
- Non-movement components – the number of dancers, their gender and role; the visual setting such as performance setting, costumes, multimedia and props; and aural elements such as sound, music, spoken word and silence.
Activity 4: Reflection
It is important that students have the opportunity to reflect on the cultural elements of Bhangra and discuss their experiences of creating and performing Bhangra dance and music.