Ramwong Ostinato

Ramwong presents a great opportunity to introduce an exotic popular music to a young high school classroom and in doing so introduce and practise several important musical concepts.

Concepts: Pentatonic minor scale, ostinato, heterophony, Perfect 5 th , Minor 3 rd , drone.

Background: Use article on ramwong to provide historical background. Particularly emphasise that the formulation of ramwong was a Thai response to the perceived invasion (popularity) of Western dance music such as the foxtrot and tango.

Ask students which country has the strongest (in terms of translatable) culture in the world. If they don't know ask them where hip hop, Hollywood and hamburgers (not sure about the last one). Then ask them should other countries be afraid that their culture will be overtaken by American culture. Depending on the age group, this can then become a discussion on what real (authentic) Australian culture actually is (or change if in another country).


Listening: Back to ramwong, play examples ‘Ram toei' by Benjamin, ‘Nak jai' and ‘Damnoen ja' by Suraphon Sombatjaroen. Ask the students about features of the music. They should be able to identify that the instrumental riff is repetitive, that the songs use verse structure, the overall minor sound (perhaps pentatonic minor if they have already studied blues), thin texture (only two or three layers - if they have learnt about texture) and that the songs are boring (just joking about the last one - there'll always be some kid who pipes up with “this is boring”).


Performance: Teach the students to sing the three ostinatos. Emphasise learning and recognition of Perfect 5 th and Minor 3 rd intervals. Divide students into 3 groups and sing ostinatos one sequentially (one group after the other). Then sing the ostinatos concurrently (three groups at the same time). Explain that this is an example of heterophony (same melody with ornamentation and adaptation), a texture that is typical of Renaissance music. Other students can provide accompaniment via drone using notes D and A. Talented students can improvise around the ostinato.

 Composition: Students compose their own 2 or 4 bar ramwong ostinato using pentatonic minor scale (D minor is the ideal key). Explain they must use only the notes D, F, G A and C and the first beat of the bar should always be the tonic key (D, F or A). Make up fun lyrics about dancing (‘every boy grab a girl, something something twirl').