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: percussion instruments made from everyday objects, Musical Explorers online audio
SC: MGK-2.1, MGK-2.2, MGK-2.3, MGK-2.4, MGK-2.6, MGK-2.7, MGK-2.8, MGK-2.9
Vocabulary: Carnival, engine room, steel band, steel pan

> See Glossary

Sing “Mary Ann”

“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:


Creating 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 find an object at home (e.g., pots, pans, a cup of dry beans, etc.) 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.”

Carnival is a raucous festival that occurs just before the start of Lent. It is celebrated in Trinidad and other Caribbean countries with a street party, parade, music, and dancing. Many people wear elaborate, colorful costumes that depict traditional Carnival characters, including the Sailor, Dragon, Bat, Pierrot (or clown), Cow, Jab Molassie (or devil), and Moko Jumbie (or stilt walker).

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 and refer to SG22 for your students.

  • Listen again to “Mary Ann” 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?

Literacy Extension: The Drummer Boy of John John

In The Drummer Boy of John John by Mark Greenwood, steel drum pioneer Winston “Spree” Simon discovers as a boy that he can create tunes by banging on discarded cans.


Musical Word Wall

Add the words Carnival, engine room, steel band, and steel pan to the Musical Word Wall.
> See Glossary


PDF Downloads

SG22 ↓ Download File


Audio Tracks