How To Blues
Students broaden their understanding of African American culture through a study of the history, philosophy, and performers of the blues, as well as participate in related musical activities. An emphasis is on the role of improvisation, an important factor in this unique African American music and poetry art form, first heard around the turn of the century.
This lesson examines both the content and form of lyrics in blues songs. In addition to highlighting the basic musical form of a blues song, it also addresses the use of floating verses in blues music, both within the context of the original era in which the songs were sung and also in relation to how this practice is perceived today.
A Snapshot of Delta Blues
What ultimately influences a musician's creations? Is it the time in which he/she lives, his/her personal experiences, the music of the time and previous times, or the image the artist hopes to convey? This lesson explores these questions by looking at the life and times of two early bluesmen: Skip James and Robert Johnson. Students consider what influenced both men, their unique musical contributions, their public personae, and their legacies.
Finding the Story in the Song
The lesson deals with the song "Barbara Allen," a folk song of European ancestry, widely sung and collected in the U.S. It can be used in Music, Social Studies or English classes. Students will be able to identify and discuss themes expressed in song lyrics; analyze the social use and historical meaning of a song; write a verse of a song drawing on contemporary events.
Songs of War
Popular culture can both glorify and be critical of war. In this activity, students will learn about some romanticized songs that were written about the battles of the U.S.-Mexican War. Focusing on the song "The Death of Ringgold," students will explore the reasons why such a song was written, analyze some of the components of the song, and then apply their knowledge by writing a new song about the same topic.
A Guide Through the Culture of the Blues
Today, many people have at least heard of the “Blues.” What teachers and students alike might not know is the history and development of the Blues in this country. The Blues is more than just moaning about how bad life is. Its style, humor and form have shaped and defined a prospective about life which is as American as “Drive Thru.” This unit outlines the beginnings of slavery and pre-middle passage musical song forms of West Africa. It also makes a link that traces modem “Rap” to “Big Band,” “Bee Bop,” “Rock and Roll,” “Gospel,” and “Folk Songs.” Singing the blues can be fun and educational for teachers and students alike.
Hearing Between the Lines
Students will listen to and read lyrics from popular songs that explore themes of self-esteem, body image, and eating disorders. The song interpretations will serve as a jumping-off point to deeper discussion on the issues, culminating in a writing exercise.
Learning the Blues
Students will become familiar with the characteristic form and sound of the blues; learn about the history and evolution of the blues in relationship to the African-American experience; examine the structure and language of blues lyrics; and compose blues lyrics that reflect present-day attitudes and concerns.