Students listen to, research, and try out traditional styles of playing guitar.
- Length: 2 class periods or longer, at teacher’s discretion
- Grades: 5-8
- Students will understand and appreciate traditional guitar styles such as thumb-picking.
“A Full Sound”
From: Program 3 of the KET series World of Our Own: Kentucky Folkways
Vocabulary and Handouts
blues, bluegrass, country music, flat-picking, folk music, Hawaiian slack key, licks, strumming, thumb-picking, traditional music
- Multiple-Choice Questions
- Answer Key
Instructional Strategies and Activities
Watch the Video
Introduce the video excerpt by explaining that the guitar is one of the most versatile instruments in music because there are so many styles in which to play it. Just within the circles of traditional music, there are numerous ways of playing guitar, and this versatility makes it one of the most popular of stringed instruments.
Because many traditional musicians are self-taught, they learn to observe players and incorporate the techniques, ideas, and contexts they see and hear. They also learn from the masters of the instrument who have come before them. Tell students they are going to meet two traditional guitar players from Kentucky, Eddie Pennington and Jess Aldridge. Tell them to watch the video with these questions in mind:
- How would you describe what thumb-picking a guitar looks like?
- What earlier guitarists influenced Pennington and Aldridge?
Watch the excerpt and discuss these questions as a class.
Research Guitar Styles
Have students consult print sources and web sites to research the role of the guitar in country, traditional, old-time, and bluegrass music. Some possible sites are listed in the Resources section of this lesson plan; students will be able to find others easily. From their research, have students, in pairs or small groups, create posters or charts about various traditional styles of guitar playing. (Do not allow students to work with rock or classical styles, because these types of playing are within another realm of music.) The posters or charts should cover styles of playing and should include illustrations of the parts of an acoustic guitar in order to point out or describe how the individual styles are played. They should also include styles connected to specific geographic areas and names or photos of musicians and composers who work in traditional styles and have made them popular. Students might consider the following styles: strumming, flat-picking, thumb-picking, Carter Family style, traditional bluegrass style, folk styles, and blues styles such as slide and bottleneck. The charts can form a display and become a teaching tool; they could also be shared with other classes in the school.
Have students bring in recordings that illustrate these styles. They may find examples through local public radio stations, via Internet research, or at the library. Bring inor ask a student to research information onElizabeth Cotton for some truly unique guitar playing.
Ask students to describe how the guitar styles they have researched reflect the times, places, and belief systems in which they were developed. To conclude the lesson, discuss the overall importance of the guitar to all kinds of musical traditions.
Writing To Communicate
- Have students write pieces on how to recognize, understand, and appreciate traditional forms of guitar playing. Using these pieces, students may also design booklets that can be made available to the school media center.
- Have students write reviews of CDs or performances featuring traditional guitar playing.
Applications Across the Curriculum
- Have students examine and analyze the lyrics of traditional songs and discuss how they reflect historical and cultural influences.
- Have students write lyrics for a bluegrass, blues, folk, traditional, or country song.
- Have students interview musicians and write feature articles about guitar playing, or how-to articles on learning to play guitar.
- Study how a guitar is made and how it makes sound.
- Examine the role traditional music has played in American history, including events such as labor strikes.
Open Response Assessment
Traditional, country, and old-time music are often associated with the southern United States and with specific jobs such as mining and farming.
Explain why traditional music and its offshoots developed in the South and were popular with workers who were miners and farmers. Offer several reasons to support your explanation.
Open Response Scoring Guide
|Student offers several reasons why traditional music forms developed in the South and were popular with farmers and miners. Student demonstrates extensive knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of the art form. Student communicates effectively, with insightful use of supporting examples and/or details.||Student offers several reasons why traditional music forms developed in the South and were popular with farmers and miners. Student demonstrates broad knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of the art form. Student communicates effectively, using supporting examples and/or details.||Student offers at least two reasons why traditional music forms developed in the South and were popular with farmers and miners. Student demonstrates basic knowledge of concepts, vocabulary, and historical/cultural context of the art form. Student communicates using some supporting examples and/or details.||Student offers at least one reason why traditional music forms developed in the South and were popular with farmers and miners. Student communicates ineffectively, with few or no supporting examples and/or details.||Blank or irrelevant answer.|
You are going to perform some demonstration licks representative of traditional guitar styles.
Secure as many guitars as possible. Some students will have guitars or have friends who will lend them. There may be some musicians among parents who can help with the activity, or a local musician may be willing to come into the class to demonstrate different styles. A local music store may be willing to lend some guitars and/or send a representative who can demonstrate different styles. Have each student try to perform a few licks in the various styles they have discovered in their research. Perfect performances should not be expected, although students should demonstrate that they understand the concept of the guitar style or styles. This performance assessment is also an activity for students to try something new.
Try to perform a few licks in the guitar style you researched. A perfect performance is not expected, but you should demonstrate understanding of the guitar style or styles you are trying to play, along with a willingness to try something new.
Performance Scoring Guide
|Student thoughtfully and enthusiastically makes an effort to perform, exhibiting extensive understanding of the guitar style or styles he or she is trying to play.||Student somewhat thoughtfully and enthusiastically makes an effort to perform, exhibiting broad understanding of the guitar style or styles he or she is trying to play.||Student makes an effort to perform, exhibiting basic understanding of the guitar style or styles he or she is trying to perform.||Student makes an effort to perform, but exhibits minimal understanding of the guitar style or styles he or she is trying to perform.||Student does not participate.|
Support - Connections - Resources - Author
- The Guitar in Country Music (www.thanksforthemusic.com/history/guitar.html)
- Country Music Hall of Fame (www.halloffame.org) for music history and information about instruments and musical genres
- iBluegrass (www.ibluegrass.com) includes an archive of music.
- Flatpicking Guitar Magazine Online (www.flatpick.com)
- The Rough Guide to Music by Richie Unterberger (New York: Rough Guides Ltd., 1999) includes sections on all kinds of traditional music in the United States (see especially Chapter 3) and a listing of additional print sources and recordings.
- Soundtrack and/or video/DVD of O Brother, Where Art Thou?