Drumming for Work and Play

Lesson Plan


Children will explore the role of the Senufo Drum as art and a means of communication by moving, dancing, and listening to different drums. Students will then decorate a line-drawing of their own African drum.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • describe how the Senufo Drum is different from other drums they’ve seen;
  • identify at least three objects on the Senufo Drum; and
  • describe how drum beats feel.


  1. Warm-up: Play “Freeze frame” with the students. Tell the children that you are going to play a rhythm on a drum and they can dance and move around. When you stop drumming they need to “freeze” exactly as they are. Repeat a few times. You can let the children take turns playing the drum and stopping the sound (Note: Almost everyone will want a turn to be the drummer, so budget your time accordingly if you ask them to help drum).
  2. Show students a picture of the Senufo Drum. Play the clip of drum sounds.
  3. Measure students next to the life-size sketch of the Senufo Drum to give them a sense of its size. Let them talk about how big it is. Brainstorm with them on why it would be so large (e.g. the quality of the sound, the importance of the object).
  4. Play the different drums you brought with you and help the children listen carefully to the unique sounds each one makes (pitch, tone, volume). Prompt them to talk about their observations (e.g. can they feel the vibrations in their bodies?).
  5. Ask them what they think the large Senufo Drum might sound like and why.
  6. Share that drum music was an important part of the people’s daily lives and still is in many communities inAfrica. Talk about how people sing and beat drums to guide the villagers through the different activities of their day.
  7. Drum out different beats and sounds for special movements or tasks in the classroom. Kids can even tap out the rhythm for the teacher to play. (e.g. What rhythm could we use when it’s clean-up time? What rhythm could we use for snack-time? What’s a good walking rhythm; a skipping rhythm?)
  8. Talk about the images on the Senufo Drum. What do they see? Is there anything they recognize? Tell them that each shape has special meaning for the people who made the drum and talk about these meanings, which are found in the About the Art section.
  9. If you have time, you can have students draw pictures of things that are important to them on the line drawing of the African drum. Allow them time to talk about and share what they’ve drawn with the class (their descriptions will most likely be more detailed than their drawings!).


  • Three or more drums that differ in height and width (the more you have the better!)
  • Clip of African drumming sounds
  • One sheet of butcher paper cut to the height of the Senufo Drum, with a sketch of the drum drawn on it
  • Assorted colored crayons or markers
  • About the Art section on the Senufo Drum
  • One color copy of the drum for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
  • Line-drawing of the Senufo Drum for each student (to be printed out)


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Self-Direction

About the Art




Senufo artist

Who Made It?

This drum was carved by a Senufo [seh-NOO-foe] artist. The Senufo live in small communities throughout Mali and the Ivory Coast in West Africa. They are known as excellent farmers with a very strong sense of community. Often, the land is worked collectively, with every family contributing to the good of the community. The communities are organized into a caste-like system, with farmers at the top and musicians at the bottom. Carvers, along with other artists like blacksmiths and potters, belong to a special social caste and live apart from the rest of the community. Training to become a carver takes about seven or eight years. Carvers start as apprentices, making secular objects, and must go through a kind of initiation before they can begin to produce ritual objects. The role of an artist is inherited through a mother.

What Inspired It?

Drums like this are both musical instruments and works of sculpture. The Senufo use music for much more than entertainment. Music is an important part of everyday life and plays a significant role in work, celebrations, healing, and rituals. Drums are used in ceremonial functions like funerals or memorials to summon ancestor spirits. This drum is covered in images that reference proverbs, cultural traditions, ways of behaving, and values that are important to the community. Animals play an important role in the Senufo belief system and ancestor spirits can take the form of any animal. Animals often serve as a source of inspiration for carvers. (Check out the "Details" section for more information on the individual carvings.)



The top of the drum is covered in hide and tightened with straps. This is what produces the sound.


The python is one of the most common Senufo motifs. He is associated with divination. Bracelets with python imagery are traditionally worn by diviners, who foretell future events and interpret omens.


The Senufo consider the crocodile to be one of the first creatures to inhabit the earth.

Two-headed Crocodile
Two-headed Crocodile

The image of the two-headed crocodile refers to an ancient myth from Ghana. The story tells of a crocodile with two heads who would argue over which would eat the food they caught first. One day they finally recognized their need to share.


Senufo diviners advise farmers to sacrifice chickens and communicate with spirits in the fields. This drum shows a figure with a bird and possibly a sacrificial bowl.


The padlock is usually a statement about power and control. Locks are standard devices imported from the north.


Some fish are sacred and not to be eaten. Certain fish represent wealth and happiness.

Hornbill Bird
Hornbill Bird

The hornbill was the mythological founder of the Senufo people and is considered a noble bird. Hornbills mate for life and share equally in the raising of their young, whom they protect by spreading their wings.

Sankofa Bird
Sankofa Bird

These birds are usually shown with their heads turned back. They represent the message “pick it up if it falls behind,” which means if you have forgotten something, you can return to retrieve it; or that mistakes can be corrected; or that one must look back to the past to make good decisions for the present and future.


The blacksmith is shown with a hammer, anvil, and bellow. The blacksmith was viewed as an artisan with magical connections to fire and transformation.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.