According to African American Music, edited by Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maulstby, Africans and American Americans used music to accompany various aspects of community life. In African culture, music accompanied religious rituals, occupational, recreational, and leisure activities. For example, in 11 century in Ghana, when the king made public appearances he was accompanied with the beating of drums. African African slaves also used music to accompany recreational and occupational opportunities. Slave children often played song and dance games. Music allowed slaves to  freely express themselves under such captive conditions.  

Music performance in African culture often involves various amounts of instruments. Some of those instruments are horns, xylophones, lutes, and drums. Music performances also involved singing and dancing. 

Contrary to Africans, African American slaves performed music with little to none instruments. This is because African instruments, especially drums, were banned by slaveholders because of their association with rebellion. To accompany their singing, African American slaves often resorted to hand clapping and stopping as a way of making music. 

Timbre of African and African American Music

The sound quality of African and African American music is unfamiliar in European culture. Sounds such as ivory trumpets, whisper sing, and group sining(Ghana) are distinctly African. Theses styles incorporated more elements of music that are unfamiliar to Europeans. African and African Americans holds many similarities when it comes to timbre in music. One of those elements that were brought to the Americas is clapping and shouting along with the music. This is especially common when African Americans are using music for religious expression. The congregation would clap, stop, sing, or scream in response to who is leading the music.  In gospel music, this is known as call and response, which is not done in European culture. Improvisation is common is religious music as well as secular music. Early African American jazz artists would combine instrument to create contrasting sounds which is something Europeans did not do. African American instrumentalists even used instruments to imitate voice. Technique such as the bottleneck enabled to guitarist to imitate a singing voice by sliding metal from a bar across a guitar. All which in unfamiliar in European music. 



Syncopation is the accenting of the beat that falls into the regular beat of the song, also know as the off beat.  Syncopation has been used in African American music as early as slave hood. Syncopation is a result of the combination of creativity among African American musicians. The use of syncopation also reinforces black aesthetic principles.  

Polyrhythm is several different rhythms being payed or sung simultaneously. This type of rhythm enables a combination of rhythms to be played by many different instruments. Polyrhythm contributes to the complexity of different African American genres of music such as gospel, ragtime, funk, and jazz. 

BURNIM, MELLONEE, and PORTIA MAULTSBY. African American Music. 2nd ed., Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2006.

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