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Lesson 1: Learning “Mary Ann”

Aim: What are the characteristic rhythms of calypso?
Summary: Students learn to sing the chorus to “Mary Ann” and explore calypso rhythms with found percussion instruments.
Materials: Musical Explorers Digital Resources, Musical Explorers Student Guide, percussion instruments made from everyday objects
Standards: National 1, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11
Vocabulary: engine room, steel band, and steel pan

Etienne Teaches “Mary Ann”

“Mary Ann” Demonstration

Calypso artist Etienne teaches “Mary Ann.”

Sing “Mary Ann”

  • Listen to “Mary Ann,” Track 58. “Mary Ann” is a famous calypso song that incorporates a folk song (with the same title) from Trinidad as its chorus.
  • Learn to sing the chorus, Track 59.

“Mary Ann”


All day, all night, Miss Mary Ann,
Down by the seaside, she sifting sand
Strings on her banjo can tie a goat
Water from the ocean can sail a boat

VJ Day was bacchanal
The whole island played Carnival
People were jumping to and fro
To the rhythm of a red-hot calypso
Hear them singing:


Port of Spain was really a scene
And pandemonium reigned supreme
The red-letter day we can’t forget
Young and old, black and white was in the fête
Hear them singing:


Whole island was on parade
That was a royal masquerade
Pharaoh, the Bat, Dragon, and Clown
And the Indian with their Hosay coming down
Hear them singing:


Create an Engine Room with Found Percussion

  • The engine room is the group of non-pitched percussion instruments that comprises the rhythm section of the calypso band. Originally, it consisted of found objects—like bottles hit with spoons or graters scratched with metal combs (the “scratch”)—and evolved to include a full range of percussion instruments, like congas and tambourines. While the steel pan is playing the melody and the harmony, the engine room is responsible for keeping the rhythm. It is what makes the band keep going—just like the engine room of a ship!
  • Ask the students to each bring in an object from home (e.g., pots, pans, a cup of dry beans, etc.) or find objects in the classroom that can be used to produce percussive sounds—what we call “found percussion.” Try out the different objects as a class and observe the different tone colors produced. You can also refer back to the “Discover Music in Everyday Objects” activity in Core Activities.
  • Decide on ways to categorize the instruments—for example, material type (e.g., metal or wood), pitch type (e.g. low-, medium-, or high-pitched instruments), or how they are played (e.g. strike, scrape, or shake)—and divide the classroom into sections based on the categories.
  • First, have the entire class play a steady beat (1-2-3-4) in unison on their instruments.
  • The students can then learn any or all of the following characteristic engine room rhythms, using Engine room rhythms, Track 60.
  • While one section holds the steady beat, the others can play a calypso rhythm. If your students are comfortable with one rhythm, layer two or three together.
  • Using these rhythms, the engine room can play along with “Mary Ann,” Track 58.
Creative Extension

Explore the Steel Pan

  • Steel bands formed in Trinidad in response to a law passed in 1884 by the British colonial government that banned the playing of drums in Carnival parades. Instead, musicians began to use found objects, such as pots and pans, garbage cans, and bottles with spoons. Out of this tradition, the steel pan was created from industrial oil drums. The steel band brings steel pans of different sizes and ranges together with an engine room of non-pitched percussion. Musicians who play steel pans are called “panners.”
  • Listen to Steel pan demonstration, Track 61, and refer to Explore the Steel Pan (PDF) for your students.
  • Listen again to “Mary Ann,” Track 58, asking your students to signal when they hear the steel pan.
    • What kind of sounds do you hear the steel pan making?
    • How would you move to these sounds?

Found Sounds... Beyond Your Desk

Found Sounds... Beyond Your Desk

Music educator Margaret Jenks teaches how music can be made almost anywhere you look in this lesson for students in grades 3–5.

Musical Word Wall

Add the words engine room, steel band, and steel pan to the Musical Word Wall.

Don't Forget

Image Credits

“Morne Rouge Bay 5” by Tony Hisgett is licensed by CC BY 2.0.

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