Timbre, Multi Cultural Music, and Jazz: A Text Set for Secondary General Music Class

I compiled a text set to be used in an eight grade general music classroom to discuss timbre across world music and how timbre from various countries of origin are combined in jazz and other forms of popular music.  These texts would ideally be used across a mini unit of study which would span for two to three lessons and could involve both writing prompts and small group or whole class discussions of the material. The text set begins by explaining exactly what timbre is, flowed by an article explaining how violinists achieve some of these differences in sound quality. I then included three musical selections from diverse countries of origin showing the different timbres a violin can create. This would then lead to a text discussing the multiple cultural influences on jazz music, and concludes with a jazz setting of a modern day pop song to get the students to connect al that they have learned to music that might be heard on the radio today.

What Is Timbre?

Smith, Cody. (2017, March 20). What Is Timbre: A Full Explanation. Retrieved from https://musiciantuts.com/what-is-timbre/      

This online article gives a great overview as to what timbre is, how to describe it, and how it is created. The article includes audio clips and graphics to help illustrate these concepts in addition to describing and defining them.  

Text Analysis

Quantitative: This article has a Flesch Kincaid Grade level of 8.03.

Qualitative: I agree with the Flesch Kincaid rating of this article, as I feel it would be accessible for students in eighth grade, which is my intended grade level for this text set. Although some of the discussion of formants may be a bit abstract for some students, I feel that the graphics included help to illustrate this concept.  Additionally, a complete understanding of formants is not necessary to grasp the main concept of what timbre is, which is what I want my students to gain from reading this article.  

Vocabulary terms: attribute, waveform, interchangeably   

Purpose: I would use this to introduce or review the concept of timbre to my students. Not all students in a general music class will have the same amount of musical training in their background so it will be important that everyone gains a general understanding of what timbre is before moving onto the next texts in this set. I also like how the article gives some words that could be used to describe timbres as this will be helpful for the students as we begin to delve further into this text set. 

Question for Students: Describe timbre using your own words. How is timbre different from texture and volume?   

Violin Sound Characteristics


Vienna Symphonic Library. (2019). Violin – Sound characteristics. Retrieved from https://www.vsl.co.at/en/Violin/Sound_Characteristics/

This is an article from the Vienna Symphony Library which gives more information about how violinists use their instruments to create a range of timbres. It also gives a range of describing word to use when discussing the timbre of the violin.

Text Analysis

Quantitative: This article has a Flesch Kincaid Grade level of 9.74.

Qualitative: I believe that the quantitative score for this article is fairly accurate. The vocabulary of this article is likely what students would struggle with the most, as it is quite elevated. To make this more accessible to students in eight grade I would possibly read through this article as a class in a “popcorn style”, stopping every couple of sentences to have students summarize what they have read. This would ensure that all students were gaining the important information from the article.

Vocabulary Terms: eloquent, introspective sensuous, lustrous, austere, oscillation, predetermined, homogeneity  

Purpose: This article would be used to show students how one instrument can make a variety of timbres. I feel that this is important for the students to grasp because often when timbre is introduced young musicians recognize it as simply the sound difference between instruments. This article will help students understand timbre as also being the wide array of musical colors an instrument can produce.  

Question for students: What is one way a violinist can change the timbre of the instrument? Why might he or she want to do this?   

Tigranyan, Ashot [Classical Concert Chamber Orchestra]. (2014. June 16). Vivaldi, The Four Seasons, Spring (La Primavera), 1st movement [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3nSvIiBNFo&list=PLETycSt-4rvMdsaqIjqlp1gaDDIRtXj_t&index=3&t=0s

This is a video of a performance of Vivaldi’s Spring, which is the first movement of his famous work “The Four Seasons”. This is a quintessentially Baroque piece and shows the instrumentation and musical style of the era. 

Text Analysis

Quantitative: This video is just over three minutes long, and likely intended for any audience with an interest in western art music. 

Qualitative: Although the style of music might not be interesting to most eight grade students, its recognizable melody is something students can engage with. Additionally the video uses a variety of camera angles which makes watching this performance more interesting. The short length of the movement also makes it accessible to students who may not necessarily chose to listen to this song, as it is a short sample of Baroque music.

Vocabulary: Although not stated in the piece, it would be helpful for students to have an understanding of who Vivaldi was and when the Baroque era was.

Purpose: I would use this video as part of a comparative listening assignment, asking students to write about their thought on the country of origin, instrumentation, and timber of the piece while they watch the video. Their notes would then be used in a class discussion after listening to two other pieces where we would compare and contrast elements of the pieces. For this musical selection I would want students to pick up on the European origin of the piece, as well as the deep and rounded tone of orchestra, which is comprised of all string instruments in this case.  

Question for Students: How would you describe the timbre of this piece? What instruments are used and what country is it from?

Shankar, Ragini and Nandini [Art and Artistes]. (2014, November 12). Ragini Shankar And Nandini Shankar | Raag Ahir Bhairav | Violin | Hindustani Classical [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OG9XVsYLK_k&list=PLETycSt-4rvMdsaqIjqlp1gaDDIRtXj_t&index=3

This is a video of a performance of “Raag Ahir Bhairav”, an Indian Raaga. This might be a style of music that students are unfamiliar with so it is good to expose them to a variety of musical styles.

Text Analysis

Quantitative: The video is just under four minutes long and probably intended for those who are interested in traditional Indian music.

Qualitative: This piece is different from much of the music that middle schoolers enjoy listening to so it may be difficult for some students to connect with. The piece isn’t too lengthy however, and engaging students in taking notes on what they hear will help them to be more active listeners and hopefully add to their appreciation of the music.  

Vocabulary Terms: Although not stated in the piece, it might be helpful for students to know what a raaga is.

Purpose: Like the previous piece, this would be part of the comparative listening activity. Students would take notes on the country of origin and instrumentation as well as describe the timbre of the instruments used. These notes would then be used in a class discussion to compare the pieces to one and other, with an emphasis on the different timbres. I would want the students to note the buzzier and forward sound of the violin in this piece with roots in India.   

Question for Students: How would you describe the timbre of this piece? What instruments are used and what country is it from? How does this piece differ from the previous one?

Mariachi Sol De Mexico [Recording Academy/ GRAMMYs]. (2014, May 9). Mariachi Sol De Mexico Perform Guadalajara [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtRn2qmmOes&list=PLETycSt-4rvMdsaqIjqlp1gaDDIRtXj_t&index=4  

This is a video of a performance of “Guadalajara”, a traditional mariachi tune. The leader of this ensemble is a Grammy nominated director, which is reflected in the vibrancy of this performance.   

Text Analysis

Quantitative: This video is about three and a half minutes long and is intended for audiences with an interest in either mariachi music or the Grammys.

Qualitative: This piece’s cheerful melody combined with the enthusiasm of the performers makes it an engaging video for nearly any audience. It is impossible to pander to the musical taste of all students, so the short length of the video makes it accessible to those who may not enjoy this style of music. Also, having students take notes on what they hear will keep them engaged when watching this performance.

Vocabulary:  It might be helpful for students to know what mariachi music is and where Guadalajara is located before listening to this piece.

Purpose: This is the final piece that would be part of the comparative listening activity. Students would have taken notes on the country of origin, instrumentation, and timbre while watching the video, hopefully tuning into the bright and brassy tone of this mariachi piece which originates from Mexico. I would then have students share what they heard in this piece, the Indian raaga, and Vivaldi’s Spring. The main conclusion I would want my students to draw was that although the violin was used in all three pieces, it had a drastically different timbre in each. We could then discus how music and instruments from different countries have different timbres.  

Question for Students: How would you describe the timbre of this piece? What instruments are used and what country is it from? How does this piece differ from the previous two? What do all three songs have in common?

Where Did Jazz Come From?


Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. (2018). Where Did Jazz Come From? Retrieved from http://www.jazzinamerica.org/lessonplan/5/1/249

This resource from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz gives students a brief, easy to read outline about the musical origins of jazz, emphasizing the European and African elements that contribute to jazz’s unique sound. The article also includes some information about Louis Armstrong and includes an audio example of one of his songs.

Text Analysis

Quantitative: This article has a Flesch Kincaid Grade level of 9.67.

Qualitative: I somewhat disagree with the Flesch Kincaid score of this text, as I feel it is very approachable for students in middle school. The outline format keeps the reader organized as they read, and most of the vocabulary terms are explained within the article. Overall the vocabulary is simple and I feel that this would be a fairly easy read for most of the students in the eighth grade general music class for which this text set is designed.

Vocabulary Terms: improvisation  

Purpose: I would want students to engage with this text to understand how musical elements from multiple areas across the globe can be combined to create a unique sound, such as in jazz. This would be a great way to branch off of the previous discussion of how timbre differed across various countries of origin.

Question for Students: How would you describe the timbre of jazz? Is its timbre similar to any other style of music?  

Carling, Gunhild [PostmodernJukebox]. (2017, November 30) Happy – Pharrell Williams (on 10 Different Musical Instruments Cover ft. Gunhild Carling) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xywNeumntoE&list=PLETycSt-4rvMdsaqIjqlp1gaDDIRtXj_t&index=6&t=0s  

This is a video from the YouTube channel postmodern jukebox, who set modern pop music in various vintage styles. This video is a performance of Pharrell Williams “Happy” played and sung in the style of 1920’s jazz. The mail performer of the piece Gunhild Carling played many different instruments and showcases her skills in this performance.

Text Analysis

Quantitative: This video is about three and a half minutes long, and targeted towards audiences that enjoy both jazz and modern pop music.

Qualitative: I believe that this music selection would be very accessible for middle schoolers, as it incorporates music from the current century with the style of 1920’s jazz.  This makes exploring a new genre more approachable for students, and the short length of the song selection combined with the various types of instruments used will help to capture students’ attention and interest.  

Vocabulary: This song selection does not require much if any vocabulary for the students to grasp before viewing, thus adding to the accessibility of this multi-media text.   

Purpose: After having the students view this video we could discuss the various timbres used in this jazz setting of a modern pop song, with a particular focus on which sounds were part of the European and African traditions. We could also branch off of the previous comparative listening activity and discuss how the string instruments timbre differs within the jazz genre. This would also be a great way to spark students’ interest in studying jazz due to the creativity seen in this song selection. This video could also serve as a segway into a discussion of how jazz contributed to rock and roll as well as other modern popular music genres.

Questions for students: Which timbres do you think came from the European tradition? Which are influenced by the African tradition? How does the use of string instruments in this piece differ from the use of violins in the pieces we previously looked at?

Infographics for the Music Classroom

Below is a link to an infographic I created for teaching students about some of the elements of musicality.


When considering a music concept to translate into a digital visual aid there were several topics I had contemplated making a visual for including tricky rhythmic patterns, instrument families, reading notation, etc.  I decided to make an infographic covering the topic of musicality. As music educators we can often become so wrapped up in making sure our students can sing or play the music for the concert that musicality, or the expressive quality of music can at times be neglected.  For my infographic I split the greater topic of musicality into four sub categories, which is shown on the opening graphic for the project. I think visually dividing the topics in this way with small icons on the title page gives students a sense of what is to come in the rest of the graphic. I tried to pair the topic headings with images that represented the topic, such as a speaker for dynamics and an emoji for facial expressions. The other two topics, articulation and phrasing, were more difficult to select an image for, however I feel like deciding on a picture to represent these topics deepened my understanding of them. I chose a streamer and confetti for articulation because I felt it visually represented both detached and flowing connections between notes. The line graph was used to represent phrasing as it mimics the high and low points of a musical phrase. These images therefore served as a sort of pre reading to the rest of the infographic.  

               For the infographic about dynamics I wanted to use the color spectrum to show the change in loudness from forte to piano. To me, warmer colors (red, orange, yellow) seem “louder” and cool colors (green, blue, purple) seem “quieter”, so I used this analogy to correlate with the various dynamic elements shown in the infographic. The infographic about articulation I chose to use the hexagonal shapes to outline the terms I was using because they visually seem to connect with each other. This correlates well with the concept of articulation, which is the differing ways music notes connect to each other. I also included some examples of various notation for different articulations to show students how they might see these markings in actual pieces of music. The infographic for text stress and phrasing employed less visuals than the previous two, partially due to the more aural and verbal nature of this concept. I still used text layout to compose the text in an organized manner, and tried to use capitalization to demonstrate stressed syllables visually. For the infographic on facial expressions I used a variety of emoji’s to show the range of emotions that can be expressed not only through our faces but in music as well. The layout of the page also visually separates the four main points, which can help readers keep the concepts distinct in their mind. 

Elementary Music and the Use of Text

I will be exploring the use of texts in music education. As someone new to teaching I know that textbooks are often one of the few resourced teachers receive from administration and I am interested how this can help to shape the curriculum. For music teachers, textbooks often serve as a supplemental resource for planning lessons and are rarely used as a strict outline for the course’s curriculum the way a math teacher might cover the material in the text book chapter by chapter. Additionally, in the field of music education textbooks can be seen as irrelevant to many music teacher as they do not always address all of the state standards.  In particular, the standard of improvisation and composition is one that is neglected by many texts, which adds to the difficulty of teaching this learning goal.

As someone who is most interested in elementary general music I will be focusing my research on that area of music education. Elementary general music also incorporates a greater variety of text, which includes textbooks and picture books, in addition to supplemental repertoire and readings. Contrastingly, there is often very little use of text outside of concert repertoire for middle and high school music ensembles such as bands, orchestras, and choirs. Although secondary general music classes may use texts, they often focus more on music theory and the textbooks are used more sequentially. For this reason I find the study of texts in elementary music education to be particularly interesting not only because it is my primary career focus, but also due to the unique nature of the texts used, especially for students who are just learning to read both regular language and musical notation.

In exploring this topic, I would like to gain a better understanding of how text books that the school designated for the music classroom can be combine with outside resources to create lessons that are cohesive in a unit exploration and also meet the national standards, with an emphasis on reaching the improvisation and composition standard.  Below are some resources that I may use to aid in my research:

Some ideas of children’s books to use in music class


A brief overview of textbooks available for the elementary classroom  


This link provides a pdf of a text that gives more information about teaching elementary general music  


A great resource about using picture books in music education


Hello! My name is Cassandra Diehl, I am pursuing a degree in choral and general music education at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. I have attended UWM since the fall of 2015, initially intending to major in architecture, but switching to music education after my first year in college. My dream job would be as an elementary general music teacher in a suburban elementary school. I currently work as a lead teacher for preschool during the summers. As a music educator I will strive to foster a lifelong love of music in all my students by ensuring that my students have a supportive and nurturing learning environment. I am set to student teach in the spring of 2020 and will be using the national core arts standards (linked below) to guide my planning as I embark on my journey as a new music teacher.


I am excited to share my love of music with the next generation of musicians!

A little more about me: I am from the suburbs of Chicago and have loved music since I was a child. I have participated in a variety of choirs since fourth grade and truly enjoy being a vocalist. My other interests include traveling, painting, and British history ff