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Lesson 1: Learning “Mo Li Hua”

Aim: How are melodies and movements used in Chinese Traditional music?
Summary: Students learn the song “Mo Li Hua” with its accompanying movements, and create pentatonic melodies and hand gestures of their own.
Materials: Musical Explorers digital resources, Musical Explorers Student Guide, classroom instruments
Standards: National 2, 6, 10
Vocabulary: gesture, pentatonic scale, pipa

Qian Yi Teaches “Mo Li Hua”

“Mo Li Hua” Demonstration

Chinese Traditional artist Qian Yi teaches “Mo Li Hua.”

Sing “Mo Li Hua”

  • Listen to “Mo Li Hua,” Track 44.
  • Learn the words to “Mo Li Hua” with Track 45.
  • Sing the chorus to “Mo Li Hua” with Track 46.

“Mo Li Hua”


Hao yi duo mei li de mo li hua,
Hao yi duo mei li de mo li hua,
Feng-fang mei li man zhi ya,
You xiang you bai re ren kua.

Wo you xin cai yi duo dai,
You pa ren xiao wo sha,
Mo li hua ya mo li hua.



What a beautiful jasmine flower,
What a beautiful jasmine flower,
Fragrant, beautiful, full branches,
Fragrant and white, everyone praises you.

I want to pick you to wear,
But am afraid people will laugh and think I’m silly,
Jasmine flower, oh, jasmine flower.

Explore Hand Gestures in “Mo Li Hua”

  • The song “Mo Li Hua” is about a jasmine flower. In Chinese opera, the performers use formal hand gestures to enhance their performance. Qian Yi drew on this tradition to create gestures for “Mo Li Hua” that allude to a jasmine flower opening and closing.
  • Learn the gestures for “Mo Li Hua” as you listen to the song, Track 44. Try singing along as you do the movements. Use the teaching video above for a demonstration of the hand gestures.
  • Compile photos of flowers in various scenarios to provide for your students (e.g., a budding tulip, a fully bloomed rose, or a sunflower that has been rained on). You also can use unusual flowers, like a cactus or Venus flytrap.
  • As a class, use photos of the flowers as visual aids to give your students the inspiration to create gestures to mimic the flowers. Encourage them to give these gestures movements, as in “Mo Li Hua.”
  • For an added challenge, your students can add simple lyrics describing the flower to accompany the movements they have created.

Discover Pentatonic Melodies in “Mo Li Hua”

  • “Mo Li Hua” uses a pentatonic scale, which is made up of five notes. The pentatonic scale is often found in Chinese Traditional music, making up the signature sound heard in this repertoire.
  • Introduce the D-major pentatonic scale to the class with Track 47. Use the body scale activity in Core Activities to demonstrate the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale corresponds to scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6.
  • Compare and contrast with the seven-note major scale, which has the additional scale degrees 4 and 7.
    • How do these scales sound different? What is missing?
  • Refer back to the list of flowers for which you and your students created gestures. Using classroom instruments or the body scale, have your students create short melodic phrases using the five pitches of the pentatonic scale that can illustrate those flowers.
    • How would you like this flower to sound?
    • Should the notes move quickly or slowly?
    • Should there be many notes or just a few?
  • For an added challenge, students can add the hand gestures that they created to their new melodies.

Explore the Pipa

  • The pipa is one of the most popular traditional Chinese instruments and has been played in China for almost 2,000 years. Sometimes called the Chinese lute, it has a pear-shaped wooden body and four strings. The strings used to be made of soft silk and plucked with the fingernails; today, the strings are steel, so pipa players attach fake fingernails to their fingertips. Pipa players also make percussive sounds by striking the instrument’s body or twisting its strings to make a cymbal-like sound.
  • Listen to pipa demonstration, Track 48, and refer to Explore the Pipa (PDF) for your students.
  • Listen again to “Mo Li Hua,” Track 44. Note how the pipa plays the melody in unison with the singer.
    • How is Qian Yi working with the pipa?
    • Describe the different sounds you hear the pipa making.

Musical Word Wall

Add the words gesture, pentatonic scale, and pipa to the Musical Word Wall.

Don't Forget

Image Credits

“Jasmine” by Carolyn Jewel is licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0.

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