Students explore various styles of fiddle playing and their connections to different parts of the United States and the world.
- Length: 1-2 class sessions
- Grades: 5-8
- Students will understand Kentucky fiddle styles and the roles played by the fiddle in American culture and other cultures.
“Let the Fiddle Do the Singing”
From: Program 3 of the KET series World of Our Own: Kentucky Folkways
bow licks, clogging, fiddle, slurred notes, square dancing, traditional music
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Watch the Video
Introduce the video by telling students that Kentucky is one of the cultural centers in which diverse fiddle-playing styles have developed over the years. Tell them to think about the following questions as they watch the video:
- How has fiddle playing been spotlighted or shared in Kentucky culture?
- What were some influences on the fiddle styles?
Show the video. Then, as a class, discuss Kentuckys contribution to fiddle playing and the dance events and fiddle contests that showcased it. One of the main reasons for the popularity of old-time fiddle styles and tunes is that they were used to accompany many forms of folk dancing. In Kentucky, Appalachia, and much of the southern United States, fiddle music rang out at barn dances, square dances, clogging festivals, fiddle contests, revivals, and other community events. Ask whether anyone in the class knows how to clog. If so, perhaps the student will give a demonstration and tell how cloggers relate to the music they dance to.
Discuss the mountain style of fiddling and its use in southcentral Kentucky. According to the video, fiddlers were entertainers on riverboats, and many tunes were copied from the calliope music played on the boats. Where else might fiddlers have entertained?
Research Fiddle Styles in Other Cultures
Ask students to think of fiddle-playing styles popular in other parts of America or in other countries. Explain that other parts of the United States and other parts of the world also have rich traditions of fiddle styles and music.
Assign students, individually or in groups, to research fiddle styles from around the world, such as Cajun, Celtic, Shetland, Sligo, and others. They may use books or web sites (some are listed in the Resources section of this lesson plan). Obtain a world map. Have the students or student groups pinpoint the places associated with their fiddle styles using a small identification flag. Each group also will create a chart or poster that describes its fiddle style, tells why the style is associated with a specific place, tells what roles the style fulfills in its location (such as dances, social functions, etc.), and identifies musicians who play in the style. Use this activity to spark a discussion about the use and popularity of the fiddle among cultures worldwide. Display the map and accompanying posters in the classroom or school media center. Students also may bring in recorded examples of the fiddle styles.
If you can, invite a local musician or university professor to talk about and/or demonstrate fiddle styles. The school orchestra director or student musicians could also assist with this activity. Ask to borrow a fiddle and a bow, or ask the orchestra director or a musician to come into the classroom to identify the parts of the instrument and to explain the difference between calling the instrument a fiddle and calling it a violin.
Applications Across the Curriculum
- Have students look for stories, poems, and other literature set in Appalachia or the southern United States in which music plays a role in the story.
- Have students write stories and poems in which fiddle music plays a role.
- Have students identify the parts of a fiddle and explore how the instrument makes sound. Consider the roles that certain types of woods and varnishes play in the instruments sound quality.
- Have students research the great makers of string instruments in Italy during the Renaissance. What were the three famous families of instrument makers? Why are some of these string instruments so valuable today?
- Many string instruments are still hand-made today. Have students research contemporary instrument makers and how they work.
- Invite a local fiddle maker to visit the class.
Open Response Assessment
Fiddle styles are evident in many cultures throughout the world, but the instrument has always been associated very closely with Kentucky and the Appalachian area.
Kentucky has been called the center of fiddle music and fiddle culture in the United States. Do you think this is appropriate? Explain why or why not.
Open Response Scoring Guide
|Student demonstrates extensive knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of fiddle styles and applies this knowledge consistently and effectively. Student communicates effectively, with insightful use of examples and/or details.||Student demonstrates broad knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of fiddle styles and applies this knowledge effectively. Student communicates effectively, using examples and/or details.||Student demonstrates broad knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of fiddle styles and makes some correct application of this knowledge. Student communicates effectively, using a few examples and/or details.||Student demonstrates minimal knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of fiddle styles, but makes inappropriate or underdeveloped application of this knowledge. Student communicates ineffectively, with few or no supporting examples and/or details.||Blank or irrelevant response.|
Fiddle music often accompanies folk and square dancing.
Using the fiddle music from the KET video or other sources, have students create the steps for a group folk dance or square dance to be performed to a fiddle tune. Depending upon available time, you may have student write out the directions for the dance, draw diagrams, or perform the dance. For ideas or assistance, students might refer to the fiddle tune definitions and dances listed on the Fiddle Web site listed under Resources.
Using the music from the KET video or other fiddle music, create the steps for a group folk dance performed to a fiddle tune.
Performance Scoring Guide
|Student completes assignment effectively, demonstrating extensive critical thinking skills and creativity.||Student completes assignment effectively, demonstrating broad critical thinking skills and creativity.||Student completes assignment adequately, demonstrating basic critical thinking skills and some effort at creativity.||Student works on assignment, demonstrating minimal critical thinking skills and creativity.||Student shows little or no effort to complete the assignment.|