Japanese Music Games

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Japanese music has such a long and storied history; it's difficult to find it uninteresting. This lesson gives teachers ideas for classroom games intended to teach students about Japanese music.

Japanese Music

The Japanese word for music, 'ongaku', literally means to 'enjoy sound.' As with many ancient art forms, Japanese music stretches back hundreds of years and includes a wide variety of styles intended for different occasions and purposes. Try the ideas in this lesson to enhance other aspects of Japan you are currently studying in class.

What Does That Sound Look Like?

This game incorporates both listening and creative skills. To prepare, you will need to find audio clips and pictures of the following traditional Japanese instruments.

  • Koto (a type of zither)
  • Shamisen (a 3-stringed, banjo-like lute)
  • Taiko drum (a type of drum)
  • Biwa (a pear shaped lute)
  • Horagai (a large conch shell)

Once you've assembled the materials, follow these instructions for the activity.

  1. Instruct students to take out five blank sheets of paper and a drawing utensil.
  2. Using your classroom's audio equipment (or your laptop/phone), play the audio clip of the first instrument. (Be sure not to show students the picture yet!)
  3. Play the clip again, but this time, tell your students to begin drawing what they think the instrument making the sound looks like.
  4. Play the clip a third time and then allow students a few more minutes to draw.
  5. Repeat this process with the remaining instruments.
  6. Once the students have completed their five drawings on five pieces of paper, ask for volunteers to come to the front of the room and display their drawings of a Koto with the class.
  7. Then, display a picture of real Koto. At this point, the class will usually erupt in laughter as the image of a real Koto is compared to the students' ideas.
  8. Repeat the previous two steps with the rest of the images.

To extend this activity you can award the artists whose drawings were closest to the original instruments with a prize. You can also give awards for best drawing or most creative.

Music Review

This next activity will expose students to the modern side of Japanese music while encouraging them to think critically. You will need to find a song by each of the following contemporary Japanese artists.

  • B'z
  • Mr. Children
  • Hikaru Utada
  • Southern All Stars
  • Any Japanese artist of your choice

Once you've assembled your audio clips, follow these instructions for the activity.

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