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Rhythm is one of the most important features of African Music. Much of African
music is played on percussion instruments and rhythm plays an important part in
Much of African music is in 12/8 time (4 main beats in a bar). The focus can very
often be on the second and fourth beats of a bar which are considered the off beats in
the bar giving much of the music a slightly syncopated feel. The off beats are often
Polyrhythm is a huge part of African music. Several rhythmic patterns can be
played at the same time. This gives the music a very exciting feel. Sometimes
rhythms can sometimes be played simultaneously in different time signatures.

African pop music

Found in cities
Talking drums can play a major role in highlife performances.
Chords used in Highlife performances are based on the Tonic (I), Subdominant
(IV) and Dominant (V).

Talking Drums: These are master drummers in Africa that loosen and tighten the
membranes of the drums they are playing. With changes in the membrane, master
drummers are thought to be able to mirror the sounds of speech and communicate to
the other people within a tribe.
Instruments, music, dance and drama varies from tribe to tribe. Instruments can
depend on the raw materials that are available in the locality. Instruments are tuned
to different pitches also depending on the area.
Songs are all important in Africa. Songs are used for work, celebration and other
events. Field Hollers are used for example while doing repetitive work.
Call and Response: The performance technique of Call-and-Response if very
common in African singing. This is when a solo performer sings a line of verse that
is then passed to a group of performers who answer or respond. The response can
come in one of two ways:


1. Identical to that which the caller has sung

2. A different melody to that which the caller has sung.
The call will generally be a monophonic line as it will generally be sung by one
The response can vary in texture from: Homophonic or heterophonic.
Vocal melody is all-important in African music.
There is no fixed scale or pitch in African music. Instruments are tuned according to
the comfort level of performers.
Melodies are often within a very narrow range.
Many melodies are based on a five-note scale known as the Pentatonic Scale
Harmony: Even when harmony sounds chordal in African music, in fact each line is
considered to be another melody with singers singing a 4th, 5th or octave below the
actual melody.
This can sometimes cause Parallel Movement. This is very common in African
music causing the music to move in parallel 3rds, 4ths, 5ths or Octaves. The vocal line
is very often sung in parallel 3rds.
African Instruments:
An enormous variety of instruments exist in the African Tradition. These are usually
made by the musicians in the tribes themselves to suit their particular style or
tradition. Materials from which the instruments are made vary according to what is
available in local areas.
Typical instruments include:
Drums: A collection of drums in different sizes. Depending on the size of the
membrane these drums will differ in pitch from high to low.
Xylophone: Usually made from wooden blocks placed on top of a hollow
gourd. It is a melody or chordal instrument. It is struck using wooden mallets.
Mbira (Thumb Piano): Consists of metal strips, cut to different lengths. The
thumb piano is tuned to the pentatonic scale. The metal or bamboo strips sit on
top of a hollow gourd and are played using the thumbs.

Rattles, Wood Blocks, Shakers are also used.
Kora: This is a string instrument made of 21 strings. The sound is produced
by plucking the strings using the thumb and forefingers. The resonating
chamber is also made of a large gourd covered in skin. A hole is cut in the skin
to allow the sound to come through.
Rhythmic ostinatos occur quite frequently in African music because of the heavy
reliance on rhythm in the region.