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Whether you’re a representative of a school body/ institution, an independent teacher, a parent or a student- find out more about the Marimba Jam Syllabus for the South African Diatonic Marimba!


The Marimba Jam Syllabus for the South African Diatonic Marimba aims to provide a practical music curriculum that is relevant to the context of the South African music student. 

With this syllabus, students are able to take the South African Diatonic Marimba as their practical musical instrument for Subject Music to matric.

The syllabus has been created to work alongside the CAPS syllabi for Western Art Music, Jazz or Indigenous African Music.

Following from the ancient xylophone traditions in Africa, this syllabus has been designed to facilitate learning through muscle and aural memory. The scores provided in the e-Books allow teachers to demonstrate the material to their learners and ensure a standardised level of performance for all candidates. The scores should be referred to by the learners, after having learnt the pieces through muscle and ear memory techniques, to analyse and discuss the music theory principles present in the music.

This syllabus was designed as a start to bridging the gaps between the teaching principals of Western-Classical Music, Jazz and Indigenous African Musics. The syllabus follows an 8-level system, similar to that of Trinity and ABRSM and explores both practical and theoretical concepts in music. 

The content of each level includes options for solo, duet and ensemble performances and improvisation, as well as solo technical exercises, scales and rhythm reading.

The musical knowledge covered in the syllabus is directly related to the practical elements and performance pieces provided for each level, and gives learners the opportunity to explore the cultural and historical significance of South African music.


Marimba Jam External Level Examinations

These exams are held annually and are open to all registered subject learners. For Levels 1-7 an external examiner adjudicates the performance aspect of each candidate’s exam-counting 70% of the overall mark. The remaining 30% comes from a written and oral musical knowledge test. This test is taken in a classroom setting and is adjudicated by a Marimba Jam representative.

The Level 8 External Examination

This exam is in the form of a recital performance by which an individual candidate/ or group of candidates showcase their accumulative skills from the senior levels. This performance is examined by a panel of adjudicators and is performed in front of a live audience.

Featured Video: The very first Level 8 Performance Examination

The Cape Town Eisteddfod:

This is the first music competition world-wide to have a category specifically for the performance of the solo, duet, trio and quartet entries on the diatonic marimba. 2019 saw the very first African Marimba Category in The Cape Town Eisteddfod


The Level 5 Candidate/ Standard Matric Level Student will have the following skills:

A broad understanding of the elements in African Music in comparison to that of Western music concepts such as metre, key, harmony, tuning and purpose.

Transferrable Percussive Skills

South African Marimba and Song Performance Repertoire

Marimba Ensemble and Solo Performance Skills

Improvisation Techniques

Specialisation in Bass, Tenor and Melodic Diatonic Marimbas

Aural skills with emphasis on aspects of South African music styles

The Level 8 Candidate will have the following skills:

A broad understanding of the elements in African Music in comparison to that of Western music concepts such as metre, key, harmony, tuning and purpose.

Transferrable Percussive Skills

South African Marimba and Song Performance Repertoire

Marimba Ensemble and Solo Performance Skills

Improvisation Techniques

Solo and Ensemble composition techniques

Solo and Ensemble arrangement techniques

Understanding of different notation systems

Specialisation in Bass, Tenor and Melodic Diatonic Marimbas

Basic skills in other African Marimba and other percussive Techniques e.g. amadinda, akadinda, djembe 

Aural skills with emphasis on aspects of South African music styles


Who teaches this syllabus?

Schools and independent teachers can register for an annual license to teach this syllabus and gain access to its content and additional support from Marimba Jam. All teachers who would like to teach this syllabus need to attend a once-off short training course that provides them with the skills specific to teaching this curriculum (Levels 1-3).

Teachers who would like to take the syllabus further into the senior levels may attend another short training course once they have experience teaching the junior levels of the curriculum.

Marimba Jam also provides practical subject marimba classes at their space in Montebello Design Centre, Newlands Road, Newlands, Cape Town. Students are able to take private practical classes with Marimba Jam and then complete their Theory and Harmony, Aural and GMK curriculum at school.

How do students practice?

Schools who teach this syllabus provide learners with access to a marimba/ marimba set for practicing during the week. Students can also purchase a marimba for home use from Marimba Jam or local manufacturer. 

If this is an African Music Syllabus, why impose Western teaching approaches and syllabus structure when African Music cultures have very different approaches to learning and acquiring skills?

This syllabus is not an indigenous African Music curriculum, but rather a practical syllabus that explores African Music concepts and ideas from a Western-standpoint. This is due to the reality that the majority of music teachers in our country have their training and musical understanding rooted in the systems set in place during the colonial era. Additionally, the learners entering this program would face similar issues, considering that the main wave of music exposure in the country is to that of Western harmony and tradition.

Importantly, this syllabus has also been designed with the requirements of CAPS in mind. This means that technical exercises and studies, scales, performance repertoire and sight-reading equivalent skills need to be available for assessment. Our syllabus aims to approach each of these sections with an understanding of African Music traditions. For example, the syllabus replaces sight-reading with improvisation as the student is able to demonstrate understanding of harmony and melodic development as well as develop a skill that is vital in the context of African music. Our pieces, technical exercises and scales are also taught through muscle and aural memory, with the sheet-music serving the purpose of analysis and discussion. Technical exercises and scales further serve the purpose of developing improvisation and transferrable percussive skills and techniques.

The majority of schools in South Africa that offer subject-music only cover either the Western Art Music or JAZZ music streams. This means that learners focus on Western notation, theory and harmony concepts. Thus, with this syllabus we aim to apply these understandings to the context of South African music, and, where applicable, are able to explore where and how Western music concepts do not accommodate the complexities of African musics.

We hope that this syllabus is a step towards more syllabi making African Musics more accessible and better understood by teachers and learners in our country.

Why is this syllabus for the "South African" rather than the "Southern African" diatonic Marimba, given that the instrument has a rich history coming from Zimbabwe?

The diatonic marimba ensemble, as seen in Southern Africa, is a fairly new African Instrument, having only been developed in the 1960s in Zimbabwe, and really only gaining popularity in South Africa from the 1980s. Other African xylophone traditions date back centuries, from which many xylophones around the world emerged. The Zimbabwean diatonic marimba, in turn, inherited traits from neighbouring xylophones, such as the Mozambican timbila and the Zambian silimba, as well as diatonic xylophones from Guatemala and Mexico.

This syllabus is focused in the context of the South African student and teacher, exploring mainly South African styles and grooves, songs and history. Whilst the South African diatonic marimba’s closest relative is that of the Zimbabwean marimba-sharing in both tuning and structure, the two instruments can be distinguished by the styles and sounds created by the musicians who play them. 

This syllabus has the potential to grow to include more styles of African xylophone traditions, some of which are already explored in the senior levels, however is currently designed to focus on the South African context. 

How does Marimba Jam implement the understanding of South African Music and the historical significance/ musical knowledge component amongst teachers who register?

We hope that any educator who registers for this syllabus shares in our passion to make music curricula more relevant to the context of the South African student. With this said, our Level e-books provide insights into the musical knowledge content (historical significance and musical concepts) that allow teachers and students to learn more about South African music together. Our training course for newly registered teachers also aims to provide teachers with the understanding of how to approach a South African centered music curriculum. Our additional support sessions provided throughout the year aim to aid teachers in aspects of the curriculum with which they would like assistance in their own professional development as educators in this space.