Ms Thelan’s class was studying Ancient Civilizations.  We looked at the role of music in Ancient Egypt and the evidence we have in hieroglyphics.  We compared ancient and modern egyptian music and considered some of the ways Ancient Egyptians used music- to synchronize movement, to worship gods and goddesses, and to represent cycles in their lives.  We then translated a cycle from their own lives into a musical rhythm.



Student #1

First, students looked at heiroglyphic images of ancient Egyptian musicians and listened to old and new Egyptian music to infer what the music may have sounded like and been used for.

Egyptian frame drummers

Here are 2 student’s journal entries tracking their observations and inferences.

Student #2

Here is a normally very quiet student responding to modern Egyptian music:


Student #3

We discussed rhythms as a reflection of repeating cycles in Egyptian life.  Students thought of a repeating cycle in their own lives, assigned a sound to each element in their  cycle, and played it as a rhythm.

Click play to see Dominic demonstrating his original 7-beat rhythm based on a cycle in his own life:  a week spent between his mom’s house and his dad’s house.

Here is the invented notation Dominic used to remember his rhythm.

Invented notation for a rhythm from a life cycle.


In music, Ms Thelan’s students learned skills on the frame drums: holding positions, how to produce the tones, beat vs rhythm, keeping time and playing together.  They learned notation for – and worked on playing- an ancient egyptian rhythm called Baladi.



Student #1

It was difficult for students to understand the difference between beat (the steady pulse) and rhythm (a repeating pattern of accented and unaccented beats and silences).  We worked on it a lot.  Here a student shares her frustration.

Student #2

We used the arabic system of vocables : DUM and TEK for the sounds on the frame drum, and students (as well as Mrs Ramos!) worked on good playing technique and tone quality and distinguishing their low DUMs from their high TEKs.

Here is a student’s note to himself on what to remember:

And a note on notation:

Musical notation and arabic vocables

Student #3

It is not easy to keep track of the beat while playing a rhythm.  Here are 2 students’ reflections on the process:

Meta-cognition: what is happening inside my brain

A student discovering FOCUS


Finally, the students learned a Syrian melody by ear (Hala Lala Laya) and combined it with Baladi.  Some of the band students requested the sheet music, were practicing at home and wanted to play it on their recorders!



Student #1

One student’s experience of learning the ancient Egyptian rhythm of Baladi.

Learning the ancient Egyptian rhythm Baladi

Student #2

One student’s honest self-assessment after trying to pass a rhythm around the circle and stay in time.

Honesty in a student journal

Student #3

Students chose whether they would sing the melody, play it on their recorder, or play Baladi on the drum.  We created the arrangement together.  Here is our final performance!


Year One
Year Two
Year Three

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