Blues musician playing saxophone

True Blues – Idea File

Students research the history of the blues, characteristics of a blues song, and specific types of blues. Then they present their findings to the class in creative and imaginative ways.
Grades: 6-12

“Light Rain Blues” performed by Taj Mahal

Teaching Concepts:

  • The blues evolved out of African-American spirituals, work songs, and field chants.
  • A set of basic chords, formats, and instruments typifies the blues.
  • Nearly every form of 20th-century American music—including jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock ’n’ roll—traces its roots back to the blues.

Academic Content

  • Music: purposes of music, periods and styles (blues)
  • Music and Social Studies: African-American culture
  • Elements of music: rhythm, melody, tempo

Lesson Idea
Open: Ask what it means to get “the blues.” Have students give examples of songs they know that could be categorized as blues music.

View: The Taj Mahal performance of “Light Rain Blues.”

Research: Have students research the beginnings of the blues and the instruments, chords, rhythms, melodies, and tempos involved in a traditional blues song.

Activity: In small groups, students research different types of blues—for example, African blues, Chicago blues, New Orleans blues, Memphis blues, swamp blues, etc. Have each group pick a specific type of blues music to research and present to the class. The presentations should be creative and imaginative, using visuals as well as music. Instruct the students to include information about what is distinctive about the type of blues they’re researching as well as its origins, practitioners, and representative songs.

Perform: Is there someone in the class who plays an instrument and can demonstrate blues chords and the basic 12-bar blues? Or seek out a blues musician in the community who would be willing to come in to demonstrate and perform.

Extend: Explore how jazz, rhythm and blues, rock ’n’ roll, and other forms of 20th-century music can trace their roots back to the blues. Ask students to identify popular songs that have their roots in the blues.

Author: Sara O’Keefe

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K-12The Arts