Blues Music lesson plans
1. Introduce students to the blues with a visit to the Delta region via the River of Song website. Summarize or have students read Southern Fusion, the website's introduction to the musical traditions of the Delta. Then listen to samples of the blues performed by three musicians mentioned in this article. (You must have the RealPlayer software installed on your computer to listen to these audio files. RealPlayer is available free of charge through a link on the River of Song website.)
2. Help students recognize the basic 12-bar blues structure shared by these very different sounding performances. Explain that the blues is usually built on a unit of 12 measures which is divided into three sections of four measures each, with each measure having four beats. The first section has one chord associated with it, the second section has two chords, and the third section has three chords, with the chord changes arranged to make up this sound pattern:1 1 1 1 | 1 1 1 1 | 1 1 1 1 | 1 1 1 1
2 2 2 2 | 2 2 2 2 | 1 1 1 1 | 1 1 1 1
3 3 3 3 | 2 2 2 2 | 1 1 1 1 | 1 1 1 1
This basic 12-bar unit is called a "blues chorus, " and as they tap, clap, or hum along with the samples listed above, your students will discover that each is approximately one chorus long. To reinforce this understanding of blues structure, have students listen to Robert Lockwood, Jr.'s performance of a chorus from "Take a Little Walk with Me" as they follow along with the score. This classic example of the Delta blues can be found among the Extension Activities in the Teacher's Guide area of the River of Song website. (To play this sample you must have Quicktime software installed on your computer. Quicktime is available free of charge through a link on the River of Song website.)
3. Complete this introduction to the sound of the blues by having students listen to several full-length performances accessible through the River of Song website. Encourage students to tap, clap, or hum along as they listen to these blues tunes, in order to become familiar with the rhythms and harmonics of this remarkably versatile musical form. Afterwards, ask students where else they have heard this beat and three-step chord progression to help them recognize how the blues has influenced rock, country, hip-hop, and jazz.