The Power of Music

Lesson Plan


Students will explore the cultural and social role of music as reflected by the Senufo Drum and musical devices they use today. They will then use their imaginations to write a letter justifying the inclusion of an early 21st century musical object in an art museum of the future.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Language Arts


Students will be able to:

  • describe the purpose and use of the Senufo Drum in its original setting;
  • discuss cultural and social purposes of music in different settings; and
  • combine factual knowledge and creative ideas in a writing activity.


  1. Warm-up: Divide the class into four groups. Tell them that you are going to have a “sing-down.” You will say a word and the students have two minutes to think of as many songs using that word as possible. After two minutes, you will call on each group, one at a time, to sing part of one of the songs that uses the word. Then go on to the next group. No songs may be repeated at any time. The last group able to sing a song using the word wins. (You may do more than one word if you have time). Ask them if the activity was easy. Why or why not? Focus on the importance and prevalence of music in their lives (Would they wear their mp3 players/iPods all of the time if allowed?)
  2. In small groups, have students discuss the role music plays in their culture (encourage them to look at different aspects of their culture: family, friends, religion). Allow time to come back and share ideas as a large group.
  3. Show students pictures of the Senufo Drum and play the sounds of the similar drum from Ghana. Be sure to tell students this is not an exact recording but sounds similar to the Senufo Drum. Using the About the Art section, tell them about the role of the Drum in its original setting.
    • How does it compare to the role of music for the students today? Is music important to both cultures? In what ways is this importance similar; different?
    • Compare the purpose of music in each culture: communal or isolating; pleasure versus work functions; religious or secular.
  4. Focus on and talk about the shapes on the Drum. Share their meanings with the students. Ask students to compare the “artistry” of the Drum with musical devices they use and value (e.g. CD players, iPods, headphones, etc.)
  5. Tell students to imagine that they are collectors for an art museum 100 years in the future. They come across a musical device from the early 21st century and want to have it in the museum. Have them write a short letter to the head curator of the museum describing the object and justifying why it should be added to the museum’s collection.
  6. Have students read their letters in small groups and revise based on feedback if necessary.


  • Paper and pencil/pen for each student
  • Assorted colored pencils (to use during warm-up)
  • Online link to African drumming sounds from Ghana (Note: this is not an actual recording of the Senufo Drum, but sounds similar)
  • About the Art section on the Senufo Drum
  • One color copy of the drum for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

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.