African-American Studies


After reading the John Chernoff chapter on African music and the Kyra Gaunt chapter on musical blackness, I want you to reflect on the idea of culturally or racially coded musical styles. What makes a particular piece of music stylistically African? What makes a piece sound “black”? Or “white”? Or “Russian”? For this assignment, you are asked to listen to a recording of music that might be classified as “African American” (hip hop, R&B, blues, jazz, trap, etc.) and identify the specific musical elements that contribute to its musical identity. Words like “soul” and “groove” aren’t precise enough—think about timbre, scales, ornamentation, instrumentation, ensemble interaction, etc. There are no right or wrong answers, but I will be looking for a thoughtful interaction between you and the piece of music you select for this assignment.

Sample paper

African-American Studies

For centuries and decades, music has been used to pass messages as well as promote interaction and integration among communities and countries.  However, it is worth noting that the different elements used in a different genre of music give it the unique culturally and racially coded music. One of the notable unique characteristics of African music is it rhythm. According to A. M Jones, rhythm is important to the African music as harmony is important to the western music. This shows that rhythm is one of the important element and characteristic of African music that helps to differentiate it from other genres of music.  Further research shows that harmonic potential of tones used in African music substantially differentiates this genre of music from other music from other regions. Notably, this music has fixed intonations of specific intervals and is often moved by chords or melodies.  The rhythm of African music is often defined by tapping a foot or clapping as most of the audience attempt to separate the music into easily comprehensible units of time and indicates when the next code is likely to come (Hickey, 2012). Unlike the African music, the western music uses rhythm as a secondary element as they take harmony and melody more seriously. Furthermore, African music is also known to involve a lot of drumming thus differentiating it from other genres.

One of the known African-American music in the world today is the Jazz music.  Jazz can be described as a genre of music that originated in New Orleans and is widely associated with African-American back in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. However, to many Americans and people around the universe believe that jazz is American classical music.  After carefully listening to this genre of music as well as analyzing the elements used in this kind of music, below are some of the elements that defined this kind of music.

  1. Melody – according to most musical analysts, the melody is one of the important elements of a song. In other regions, the melody is often referred as the tune. The melody of any songs helps to determine the pitches and notes of a song and how they are organized to form a shape or a pattern (Hickey, 2012). Each note in the jazz music is given a duration that depends on the rhythm of the melody.
  2. Harmony – the harmony of any music is often determined by the vertical combination of pitches often in a group of three tones. The common terms of harmony include chord and triad. Chords are often used to harmonize a melody by providing accompanying notes that blend with and support the melody (Hickey, 2012).
  3. Key – musical key focuses on grouping together pitches into families. Each key family is comprised of all the notes with something common among themselves. A good musical key should always have a common scale. A scale is made of a series of notes in which the first and last are usually the same organized to a particular pattern.
  4. Rhythm – rhythm describes the way time applies to music. The notes of the melody have rhythm since they have different lengths. It is worth noting that different songs have different rhythm depending on the pitches and chords of the music. From the above discussion is it clear elements of music is important in creating best music.


Hickey, M. (2012). Musical Elements. Music Outside the Lines, 105-128. doi:10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199826773.003.0006

Hickey, M. (2012). Big Elements. Music Outside the Lines, 129-146. doi:10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199826773.003.0007


To what extent was the Blues genre helpful among the African Americans in fighting for liberation and equality?