Examples of Experiential Education: Habanera and Tango

I recently had the opportunity to teach a music class to my mother’s students at Claymont Elementary School in Claymont, Delaware. What a wonderful welcoming group they were! I decided that I wanted to teach them the historical and musical practice of Tango and its development out of Habanera. It was suprising that I could not easily find any lesson plans or tips online for experientially teaching syncopation and rhythm. I began to ponder the best way to fit this into 40 minutes.

By the end of the lesson, I wanted the students to be able to demonstrate and understand Habanera and Tango rhythms:


Habanera Notation


Tango Notation

In order to demonstrate the subdivisions of Habanera and Tango and how they differ, I decided to ask the students to count the eighth notes to feel the groupings that make up Habanera

Habanera 3-1-2-2

Habanera Subdivision

I would then explain that Tango takes the middle groupings (3-1-2-2) and puts them together. The result is a grouping that is 3-3-2:

Tango 3-3-2 derived from Habanera 3-(1+2)-2

Tango Subdivision

The students told my mother that they wanted to drum with me on the African drums they had in class. My lesson was almost begging to write itself! When students are engaged in a preferred activity as part of the learning process, it makes classroom management and engagement even easier. The students could use the African drums to learn and perform the Tango and Habanera rhythms.


Teacher Takeaways: If I had more time, I would have made the lesson more relevant by talking about how artists from different parts of the world influence music in other countries. My last leading question to encourage thought would have been: Who are some of your favorite and influential (musically, culturally or any type of impact) popular artists are not American (Justin Bieber, Rhianna, PSY)?

If you’d like to hear Tango rather than read about how to teach it (or to use in the lesson below), my Tango/Milogna/Habanera Spotify Playlist is below for your listening pleasure:

Classroom Lesson on Tango and Habanera

Grade Level: 5th grade
Knowledge students already bring: some understanding of off-beat rhythms, music notation (understanding of quarter, eighth notes, etc)
Time: 40 minutes
Materials needed: percussion instruments for students, a Habanera and Tango song to perform or play to demonstrate the dance rhythms

1. Introduction

  • Habanera – History of the Cuban Contradonza and relation to other cultures and popularity in France

2. Experience

  • Divide students into two groups, group A and group B.
  • Have group A drum the Habanera rhythm (3-1-2-2). Have group B drum steady half notes (4-4).
  • Switch sides

Leading question: what are some elements that make up music? (melody, rhythm, harmony)

3. Demonstrate

  • Habanera from Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838 – 1975) transcribed for flute and piano
  • I asked the pianist to play the left hand of the score, which provides the rhythm of the habanera and asked them to listen for this throughout the performance

Leading Question: What do you all know about tango?

4. Introduction to Tango and development out of habanera and exposure to other cultures as result of colonization

Leading Question: does anyone know what the Creole Language is?

  • explain French/Spanish Creole influence

5. Experience

  • Group A drums Tango rhythm (3-3-2). Group B drums steady half notes (4-4)

Leading Question: what was different about drumming the Habanera and the Tango? (if needed, drum both dances again to allow comparison)

Students should be able to tell that, with Tango, there is a moment at which one group feels separated from the other but then joins them again.

6. Define

  • syncopation

7. Demonstrate

  • Tango Etude No. 2 by Astor Piazolla (1921 – 1992)


Thank you to Claymont Elementary Music Teacher Ms. Rash for allowing me to use her classroom and spend time with these wonderful, musical students!