Hispanic Rhythmic Patterns and Drums

Grade Levels: 6 - 12


  • Students will imitate rhythmic patterns created by the teacher or taken from the drum performance on "Oshossi," from Afro-Brazilian Religious Songs: Cantigas de Candomble/Candomble Songs from Salvador, Bahia (Lyrichord LLST 7315), using percussion instruments or by striking the body.
  • Students will study and perform some of the layered and interlocking rhythms of the drum ensembles of Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Suriname, and Venezuela using classroom percussion instruments.
  • Students will combine three different rhythmic ostinatos written in TUBS (Time Unit Box System) notation to produce a composite ensemble pattern.
  • Students will improvise patterns in a small-group setting.


  • Suggested recordings:
    • Afro-Brazilian Religious Songs: Cantigas de Candomble/Candomble Songs from Salvador, Bahia (Lyrichord LLST 7315)
    • Amazonia
    • Cult Music of Northern Brazil (Lyrichord LLST 7300 or LYRCD 7300)
  • Book: Sounds of the World: Music of Latin America: Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil (Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference, 1987)
  • Classroom drums, preferably bongos or congas, claves, triangles, sticks, tins, bottles, spoons, or other available percussion instruments
  • Question and answer sheets (optional)


  1. Play line A (the quarter-note pulse) of figure 12 from Rhythms and TUBS Notation for Hispanic Drumming on a drum. Have the class imitate it, using their bodies as instruments by tapping, clapping, clicking, or stamping.
  2. Play line B of figure 12 on a triangle. Ask the students to imitate it using bottles and spoons while saying the vocable "mm" on the rests.
  3. Play line C of figure 12 on the claves, and instruct the students to imitate it using sticks. Students again say "mm" on the rests.
  4. Divide the class into three sections, assigning one section line A, the second section line B, and the third section line C. Begin with one section, and then add the other sections to form a layered texture.
  5. After the composite rhythm is successfully achieved, discuss the activity by asking students the following questions:
    • Did we all perform the same rhythmic pattern after we divided the class?
    • Did our different patterns fit together?
    • How did we put them together?
  6. Drum ensemble. In Afro-Latin America, the drum ensemble is important to both secular and religious festivals. A three-drum ensemble is common. One drummer provides a time-line with a simple ostinato that may vary only slightly; another answers with interlocking phrase patterns influenced by the other drummers; the third drummer usually improvises by bringing cross rhythms, syncopations, irregular phrase lengths, and rhythmic excitement to the performance. Certain rhythms are usually associated with specific occasions. Discuss the terms "time-line," "ostinato," "rhythmic layering," "interlocking rhythms," and "composite pattern." Ask the class which parts of the world have drum ensembles that use these principles.
    • Time-line – a steady rhythmic pattern that is repeated throughout a performance. It serves as a foundation or organizing principle for the entire rhythmic structure. It is usually played by idiophones such as the claves or cow bell and is sometimes played in a drum ensemble as a rhythmic ostinato. Sometimes more than one percussion instrument may be used to play the time-line.
    • Ostinato – a repeated rhythmic pattern that may be changed slightly during the performance but never loses its basic form.
    • Rhythmic layering – the principle of creating a dense texture in which more than one rhythmic pattern occurs simultaneously. If the parts enter at different points, the layering effect becomes more evident.
    • Interlocking rhythms – rhythms that fit together as they progress through time. If the drums or instruments have various pitches or textures, the interlocking effect is easier to detect.
    • Composite pattern – the total rhythmic phrase that emerges as the drummers play ostinatos and improvised patterns together.
  7. Play a recording of an Afro-Latin American drum ensemble performance ("Oshossi," from Afro-Brazlian Religious Songs: Cantigas de Candomble/Candomble Songs from Salvador Bahia). List students' answers to the following questions on the board:
    • Is there more than one drum playing?
    • Do you hear a steady pattern that you could imitate?
    • Does the steady pattern ever change?
    • What else do you hear? Do you hear voices, clapping, other instruments, or a foreign foreign language?
    • Can you tell which instrument or instruments play the time-line?
    • Can you guess what kind of occasion this music is being played for?
    • Can you guess what country this music comes from?
  8. Show the students the example of TUBS notation in the Rhythms and TUBS Notation for Hispanic Drumming printable, and explain how to read it. Explain that the notation gives them three different rhythmic ostinatos that they must put together to produce a composite pattern. Lead students in counting eight-beat measures slowly. Students should play their percussion instruments when specified by the boxes marked with dots; when the players are secure in their parts, increase the tempo.
  9. Divide the class into three sections. Section one establishes the time-line using sticks or claves, section two plays the second rhythmic layer using sticks and tin cans, and section three plays the third rhythmic layer using bottles and spoons. The rhythms should be precise and the ostinatos regular.
  10. If possible, select one student from each group, and encourage them to perform the composite pattern as a solo group using three drums. As an alternative, play the recording again and have the class perform improvised patterns or ostinatos along with the drum ensemble on the recording.
  11. Introduce the idea of improvisation by having students experiment with hitting the drum in various ways, such as with sticks, hands, or fingers, in the middle of the membrane, on the edge, or on the side. Incorporate these new techniques for given measures at prescribed times.

National Standards for Arts Education Correlations

  • Content Standard #2: Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music
  • Content Standard #3: Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments
  • Content Standard #6: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music
  • Content Standard #9: Understanding music in relation to history and culture

Excerpted from Multicultural Perspectives in Music Education.

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