December 2016 "Mambo" from 'Westside Story', Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein remains a true American legend for his excellence in conducting, lecturing, and composition. Ask your late elementary or early middle school students to check out this excerpt from "Mambo". The energetic beat will peak their interest right away!  Use the listening questions below to introduce the basic elements of music to the students, and, after they listen to the music "as an event", challenge them to answer the questions.

Piece:  Mambo from ‘Westside Story’ by Bernstein

Composer: Leonard Bernstein

Website: Excerpts may be found at Once on the website, choose “Listen” from the top headings, click “Let’s Start”, and then scroll down to the assigned excerpt.

Listen to the entire selection with your eyes closed or in the dark. Keep focused on the energy of the music. Note the images or feelings the music creates in your mind and imagination.

Now, listen again and answer as many questions as you can. 

Basic Music Elements – Circle what you hear

Overall Dynamics/Volume:  loud     soft

Texture:   solo    orchestra    choir    band

Rhythm:  weak beat     strong beat

Can you easily tap a steady beat to this piece?


Tempo:  fast    slow

Era:   Baroque     Classical     Romantic    Modern (Your teacher may have to help you with this one!)   

Timbre/Instrumentation  --  What instrument family is playing at the following timed cues:

strings   percussion   woodwinds   brass

0:00 to 0:04   _____________________

0:04 to 0:09   _____________________

0:10 to 0:15   _____________________

0:15 to 0:20   _____________________

0:45 to 0:52   _____________________

Describe the energy of this piece? 

If you were to paint a design to go with this piece, what colors would you use?

What types of shapes?

Some pieces are lyrical and easily sung – their melodies are conjunct. Some pieces are rhythmic and dance-like – their melodies are disjunct. Which best describes this piece?

The percussion section in this piece uses a lot of Latin instruments. A mambo is a Latin dance. Check out this link to see a Latin percussion section: