styles of music

Musical Styles – Lesson Plan

Students explore and compare/contrast a variety of musical styles.

  • Length: two or three 20- to 30-minute class sessions
  • Grades: 4-5

Students will learn about music styles and compare/contrast music of differing styles.

Resource Used:
“Funky, Bluesy ABCs” by Taj Mahal
From: Old Music for New Ears Program 22

Vocabulary and Handouts

blues, dynamics, form, harmony, lullaby, melody, rap, rhythm, tempo, timbre


  • Multiple-Choice Questions
  • Answer Key

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Instructional Strategies and Activities

Introduce the Concept
Introduce the lesson by asking students to remember back to kindergarten and 1st and 2nd grades when they learned to sing the ABCs. Sing the “ABCs Song” with them.

Give students a list of the musical elements: tempo, rhythm, melody, harmony, form, timbre, dynamics. Discuss/review any of these as needed.

Play the video segment “Funky, Bluesy ABCs” from Program 22 of Old Music for New Ears.

Ask students to listen and make note of how any or all of the musical elements are used differently in the Taj Mahal version of the song than in the version the class sang. Discuss what makes the Taj Mahal version different from the typical “ABCs Song.”

Can students identify the style of music as blues? If not, identify it for them and explain that blues is a style of music that comes from the African-American heritage.

About Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal is the son of a West Indian jazz arranger and a South Carolina gospel singer. This award-winning and influential performer is a self-taught master of more than a dozen instruments, including guitar, piano, harmonica, banjo, and mandolin.
Mahal began performing professionally in 1965 and quickly rose to prominence as an interpreter of blues in the broadest sense, from funky to sophisticated. He composed the scores and served as music director for the feature films Sounder II and Brothers. He also created original music for The Ewoks, an animated television series for children, and for the album and video Br’er Rabbit in collaboration with Danny Glover.

Musical Styles Activity
Have students sing the familiar lullaby “Rock-a-Bye Baby.” They may pretend to rock a baby as if they are trying to get it to go to sleep as they sing.

As a class, discuss the following question:

What are some of the musical elements of a lullaby that might help a baby get to sleep? (Consider rhythm, melody, dynamics, harmony, timbre, form, tempo.)

Ask one or more students to volunteer to sing “Rock-a-Bye Baby” in rap style. Other students are to clap along. Discuss the following:

What made this version of “Rock-a-Bye Baby” different from the first the class sang? What things were the same about the two versions of the song? Would rapping a lullaby be the best way to put a child to sleep? Why or why not? If a rap artist performed in a lullaby style, would you want to listen? Why or why not?

Concluding Activity
Have groups of students choose familiar songs and perform them in styles different from the ones in which they are usually performed. (You may want to create a list of appropriate possibilities beforehand.) If students have trouble thinking of another style, suggest some styles from the Core Content, such as blues, spirituals, popular, rock, rap, country, game songs, folk, lullabies, marches, patriotic, and bluegrass.

After each group performs, the remainder of the class will try to name the style and give reasons why they chose to classify the performance as a particular style.

At the end of the session, have students recap all the styles used and identify them correctly. Discuss the differences in style and why these differences are important to a particular musical style.

Support • Connections • Resources

  • downloadable teacher’s guide for Old Music for New Ears at

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Extensions for Diverse Learners

  • Create a timeline of musical styles showing when new musical styles were introduced and where they originated.
  • Create a United States map of musical styles showing where various American musical styles originated.
  • Create an original song in a particular musical style.
  • Create a collage showing icons of various musical styles.

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Writing To Communicate

  • Write the lyrics to an original song (poetry).

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Applications Across the Curriculum

Language Arts

  • Read a biography of a famous musician or composer.
  • Write a report on a musician associated with a specific musical style.


  • Create a timeline of musical styles and research/discuss/include discoveries in science and technology that had an impact on musical styles.

Social Studies

  • Research and bring in examples of musical styles associated with specific nations or ethnic groups. Discuss how these styles reflect their cultures.
  • Research musical styles associated with specific periods in American history. As a class, create a “playlist” for a radio show called The Sound of America.


  • Find artworks that remind you of a specific musical style. Discuss why.
  • Discuss the connection of dance to musical style and list/perform dances associated with particular musical styles.
  • Watch part of a musical theater production on video. Discuss the musical styles used and how they contribute to the drama.

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Open Response Assessment

Pretend that you have just watched a concert featuring blues great Taj Mahal followed by a mother singing a lullaby.

Choose and name two musical elements from the list below. Tell how each one can be used in a similar way in both the blues and lullabies.

Choose two other musical elements and describe how they are used differently in the blues and lullaby.

Musical elements:

  • rhythm
  • melody
  • tempo
  • harmony
  • form
  • timbre
  • dynamics

Open Response Scoring Guide

4 3 2 1 0
Student demonstrates extensive knowledge of the elements of music and how they are used in different styles. Student uses insightful details/examples. Student demonstrates broad knowledge of the elements of music and how they are used in different styles. Student uses adequate details/examples. Student demonstrates basic knowledge of the elements of music and how they are used in different styles. Student uses limited details/examples. Student demonstrates minimal knowledge of the elements of music and how they are used in different styles. Student ineffectively uses examples/details or uses no supporting details/examples. Blank, no answer, or irrelevant response.

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K-12English Language Arts and LiteracyScienceThe Arts