Introduction to Japanese Theatre


Students will understand the definition of codified and the differences between Western and Eastern music by practicing ballet, listening to different types of music, and watching Japanese Noh Theatre.



Materials Needed:

Ballet Barre Music:
Noh Video Clips: (Opening) (Final Scene)
Musical Scale Music Clips: (Pentatonic) (8 scale)


Hook (20 minutes):

After role is taken, have the opening Noh video clip ready to be viewed on the projector. Tell students we will be watching five minutes of the clip and they should pull out a pen and paper and write down their thoughts and specific things they notice from the clip.

After the clip is stopped, ask students for observations only, no interpretations or assumptions about the piece. What did they actually see? Write a list on the board.

Chances are, a significant number of students will use words like “weird”, “bizarre”, or “boring” to describe what they have seen. Once everyone has said what they have to say, stop for a minute and discuss with students that things that we may think are weird, are not actually weird, just different and foreign to us. Throughout the next few weeks as we further discuss Eastern Theatre, students should not use those words to describe what we are studying. Obviously there is an understanding that things are different in Western Theatre, but that does not make them any less valid. This conversation isn’t meant to make students feel bad for thinking that way, simply to open their minds to a new way of thinking.



Instruction (10 minutes):

Have students keep out their notebooks. One thing students might have found foreign in the first video clip was the music and singing of the play. Discuss the difference between Western and Japanese music theory.


–Western: uses a base 8 scale and the harmonies associated with the scale.
— Japanese music is general based on a pentatonic scale, so the intervals of notes is different.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Western
1 2 3 4 5 Japanese

— While in Western music, the first note is our base note, in Japanese music, the 3rd note is the base note bringing balance to the scale.
— Listen to the two different music clips of the 8 note and pentatonic scales. After students listen to them, discuss how our ear has been trained to only hear the notes on our scales. Anything in between those notes sounds “off”. But nothing is wrong with it—it’s just different.



Instruction (5 minutes):

One of the other unfamiliar aspects of the first clip is the movement of the actor. He hardly seems to be doing anything at all. Tell students Noh Theatre is a dance style that is considered “codified”.

Define Codified with the students. Write it on the board.
— arranging a systematic form or code.

What other things do we have in Western Society that are codified? Ballet!



Practice (30 minutes):

Ask a student who has several years ballet experience to come up and show the class a simple ballet combination. (If there is a second student in the class who can do ballet, have Student 1 do the combo while Student 2 closes their eyes. Then switch. Simply by hearing the same instructions, both students should be able to do the exact same movements.

Now everyone is going to learn some ballet.
Start with 20 jumping jacks and a jog around the room to get everyone’s blood pumping.

Teach students simple ballet moves: plies, tendus, degages, rond de jambe

When students have sufficiently mastered the skills, turn on the youtube clip and have them all practice to music.



Instruction: (15 minutes)

Have students get their chairs back and face the board. What was that experience like? Easy? Difficult? What differences did you notice between students who have and have not had ballet training?

Noh Theatre is codified. Watch the second video clip of Noh Theatre, and afterwards discuss again the observations of the students. Now that they understand music theory a little bit more, and know how much work it takes just to master simple movements, hopefully they can better understand and appreciate Japanese Theatre.