The Blues are an important American musical form. Here’s a classroom lesson plan that works on poetry as well as listening skills.
- Listen to some blues:
- Ask whether the examples sound sad or happy, what they seem to be about, and other questions to encourage students to think about the sound of the music.
- Explain that the blues originated in the Delta at the beginning of the 20th century, growing out of African-American musical traditions and the hard lives many people had at that time.
- Notice patterns in the tunes. In traditional 12-bar blues, you will notice that the tune of the first line repeats in the second line. The third line is a bit different, but then the last line will be about the same tune as the first.
- Notice variations on this pattern.
- Ask what instruments are used for the blues. Usually it will be a guitar or a harmonica, though you can find many other options, especially piano and drums.
- Listen closely to identify chord changes. Practice recognizing chord changes by having students lean their heads to the left at the beginning of the song and move their heads to the opposite side whenever they hear a chord change. Quite a bit of practice may be required for this step.
- Read blues lyrics (a possible source is the Blues for Peace lyrics page). Discuss the way the words follow the same pattern as the music, or patterns you’ve already noticed as you listened.
- Provide a pattern for the words to the blues. Here is a possible example:
“Woke up this morning with the blues all round my door.
Woke up this morning with the blues all round my door.
Never felt so worried
In my whole life before.”
- Discuss the example: is it sad or happy? Where are the rhymes? What line is repeated?
- Clap the rhythm while speaking or singing the verse.
- Have students change the third and fourth lines to make new verses. Then try making completely new verses.
- Choose the best verses and polish them up to create your own “Classroom Blues.” Chant them while clapping, or use a traditional blues tune like St. Louis Blues to sing them. The words to “St. Louis Blues” may not be appropriate for your classroom.