guitars and banjos

Traditional Instruments – Idea File

Students identify and research the origins of traditional folk instruments and present their research to the class in a creative way.
Grades: 4-8

Teaching Concepts:

  • Traditional musicians perform using a variety of instruments that help give traditional music a distinctive sound.
  • Researching the origins of traditional folk instruments can help students better understand and appreciate various cultures.

Academic Content

  • Music: elements/structures of music (timbre, instrument families)
  • Music: purposes of music (ceremonial, recreational, artistic expression)
  • Music and Social Studies: Appalachian and African-American cultures

Lesson Idea
Additional Resources: “Shady Grove” by Jean Ritchie, “Bushy Tail” by Malcolm Dalglish, “Gospel Train” by Rhonda and Sparky Rucker, “Foo Boo Woo Boo John” by Mike Seeger, “Spoons” by Malcolm Dalglish, and “The Hound Dog Song” by the Gray Eagle Band

View: Performances of any of the songs listed above. While they watch, have students list the traditional instruments used by the musicians.

Research: Have the class research the history of each instrument. Where did it originate? Who where the first people to play it? Has the instrument changed? What were the purposes of the songs in which it was featured? Which instrument family does it belong to?

Create: Have students come up with a creative way to present their research (examples: posters, PowerPoint® presentations, instrument demonstrations, performances, etc.).

Expand: In some of the programs, the artists talk about the instruments they play and how to play them. Ask whether any students in your class have instruments they could bring in and demonstrate. Invite local traditional musicians to come into your class to introduce the instruments they play and how they play them.

Author: Sara O’Keefe

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K-12The Arts