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The Décima in Latin America

Designed by: Norman R. Storer Corrada
Harvard University Dumbarton Oaks Fellow

Learn about the décima song form as a common musical link throughout Puerto Rico, México, Cuba, Chile, and throughout Latin America. Students will learn about the poetic form and compose their own décima, listen to and analyze examples of the décima in different music traditions, and they will have a chance to perform one with their own music.

Suggested Grade Levels: 9-12, college
Country: Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, Chile
Region: Latin America
Genres: Música jíbara, son jarocho, huapango arribeño, calenteño, punto guajiro, canto a lo pueta
Instruments: Cuatro, tres, jarana, guitar
Language: Spanish, English
Co-Curricular Areas: Language Arts, Social Studies
National Standards:
Prerequisites: Some knowledge of Spanish and of any musical instrument is helpful but not required


  • Write poems following the metric rules and rhyme scheme of the décima espinela
  • Identify and describe differences and similarities in the performance of décima in Puerto Rico, México, Cuba, and Chile
  • Singing décima (including those they write)
  • Perform their own décima with accompaniment inspired by one of the discussed styles (optional)




  • Guitars, ukeleles, Puerto Rican cuatros, jaranas, Mexican vihuelas, or any musical instruments with which students are familiar
  • Maps and images embedded in lesson plan below

Lesson Segments:

  • “What is a décima?”
  • “Survey of décimas in Latin America”
  • “Perform your own décima

Lesson Segment #1: “What is a décima?”

Listening exercise:

  1. Listen to each of these selections. Try to focus on what they have in common:
    1. Diálogo” by Ecos de Borinquen
    2. El huapango resplandece (Huapango is Resplendent)” by Guillermo Velázquez y Los Leones de la Sierra de Xichú
    3. Punto Libre: Pinar del Río y el Tabaco” by Cuyaguateje
    4. Brindis por Violeta Parra (Toast to Violeta Parra)” by Hugo González
  2. A few similarities may first come to mind:
    1. Language: They are all in Spanish
    2. Geography: They are all from Latin America
    3. Instrumentation: There is a predominance of stringed instruments (chordophones)
  3. A similarity you may not have noticed:
    1. The textual or poetic structure:
    2. In all of those examples, no matter how stylistically different, décimas are the poetic basis of the text

Décima is a poetic form:It is a type of ten-line stanza that provides a structure within which to create poetry.

  1. This stanza provides the lyrical framework for most música jíbara (sort of like the country music of Puerto Rico), as well as numerous other musical traditions in Latin America.
    1. Consider that the sung text , rhythms, and melodies are a linguistic blend of French, English, and African

Assessment: Are students able to discuss the material in an age-appropriate manner? Are students able to clap and dance the “dig-a-dum” rhythm?

2. “Azouke Legba”

Click to view recording details

“Azouke Legba (Dans Kanari)”
from Smithsonian Folkways World Music Collection (1997) | SFW40471

  1. Find Haiti on the map, and its capital, Port-au-Prince.
    1. Look for New York City, the place in which the music is made by Haitian immigrants
  2. Listen to recording.
    1. Tap the fast wood-stick rhythm (two hands on right leg): “1”
    2. Pat the slower shaker rhythm (two hands on left leg): “2”
    3. Switch between the two responses on cue (cowbell or verbal “1”, “2”)
    4. Step fast and then slower rhythm
    5. Play drum on available surfaces: wall, desk, floor, lap, conga drum
    6. Sing “Azouke ba-ye, leg-ba-ye”.
    7. Share the meaning of the song, a critical commentary on the influence money has over people.

Assessment: Are students able to discuss the material in an age-appropriate manner? Are students able to play the various instrumental rhythms?

3. “Seis Chorreao”

Click to view recording details

“Seis Chorreao”
from Puerto Rico in Washington (1996) | SFW40460

  1. Ask who has performed salsa before (playing in a band, dancing in a club)?
    1. Discuss its pan-Latin embrace as dance and music, but with roots to communities of Puerto Ricans (at home and in New York) and Cuba
    2. Name outstanding performers such as Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Willie Colon, and Rueben Blades
  2. Turn to the early and continuing seis, dance music in Puerto Rico that recalls Spanish and Moorish traditions.
    1. Say “ seis chorreao” (says-cho-RAY-ow), a rural dance in Puerto Rico of instrumental virtuosity
  3. Listen to recording.
    1. “Air-play” the speedy opening passages of the lead guitar
    2. Clap the shaker’s beat-keeping pulse at the start, switching to the rhythm patterns it takes on later
    3. Tap the high speed of the drum
    4. Show the chordal changes, using index finger for “1”, then four fingers for “IV”, and the whole hand for “V”
    5. Count fast beats per chord: I (4), IV (4), V (8)
    6. Play the chordal progression on guitar
    7. Add shaker, conga drum, bass guitar/string bass
    8. Feature players: solos for lead guitar, bass, conga
  4. Locate Puerto Rico on a map.
    1. Calculate the distance from the island to New York City, where many Puerto Ricans now live

Assessment: Are students able to discuss the material in an age-appropriate manner? Are students able to play the different rhythms and instrumental parts? Are students able to identify the chord changes?

4. “Guajira Guantanamera”

Click to view recording details

“Guajira Gunatanamera”
from Cuba in Washington (1997) | SFW40461

  1. Find Cuba on a map.
    1. Generate discussion on music that Cubans listen to, from son to mambo, rumba, and salsa
  2. Say “Guajira Guantanamera” (gwa-hee-rah gwan-tan-a-meh-ah), the name of the familiar song.
    1. Know that the song is the international Cuban anthem, with its melody composed by Joseito Fernandez and poetic lyrics from “Verso Sencillos” by Jose Marti, the national poet and leader of Cuban independence
    2. The American folk-singer Pete Seeger learned from a Cuban music student at a camp in the Catskills, New York, Hector Angulo, and brought it into his repertoire of songs
  3. Listen to recording.
    1. Clap the slow beat with the audience
    2. Sing the chorus with the audience
    3. Listen for the audience calls and cheers
    4. Notice the chords of the guitar and bass, and show the I, IV, V changes as they happen
    5. Tap the fast beat pattern on the conga
    6. Learn the song and perform it live, using singers, guitar, bass, and conga players

Assessment: Are students able to discuss the material in an age-appropriate manner? Are students able to sing the chorus? Are students able to identify the chord changes?