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Six Ways to Teach 6 Musical Genres

Jan 20, 2023


Looking for free teaching resources that engage and excite your music students? Then look no further, as we’ve compiled six ways to teach 6 musical genres.

Building on our stunning student posters, which brought to attention iconic black American musicians in 6 musical genres – we’ve collaborated with Head of Music at Rednock School, Jason Andrews, again and compiled some introductory material for teaching those 6 musical types of blues, jazz, soul, R&B, rock & roll, and pop.

So, read on.

Old faulty polaroid image of Howlin' Wolf playing guitar, image copyright: Still The Oldie (Flickr)

Howlin’ Wolf

Blues

Evolving from African American oral tradition in Deep South America in the 19th century, blues music is characterised with 12-bar chord progressions, AAB lyric patterns, turnarounds, lyrical sadness, shuffle rhythm and walking basses.

However, for your students unfamiliar with the genre, a great starting point is a simple 12-bar blues in the key of C, here’s an example. The key of C makes the piece accessible for students at KS3, as it doesn’t include any flats or sharps.

Also, it’s a perfect time to emphasise the importance of the language, as your pupils may be unaware of the sensitive topics covered. Here, we recommend listening to the lyrics in ‘Thinking Blues’, by Bessie Smith and Robert Johnson’s ‘Walking Blues’.

Find the blues poster for your students here.

Photography of Etta James singing on a stage with a band, copyright: Marcos Casiano

Etta James

Jazz

Jazz emerged as a new style of music in the early twentieth century, with a long list of sub-genres usually improvised, rhythmically syncopated, with sliding pitch, pitch bends and including a range of vocal and instrumental ensembles.

Early jazz artists like Louis Armstrong used ‘blue’ notes extensively, where they learned to sing and play expressively. So, they initially pitch slightly below the note and slide upwards into it.

Because of that, you can centre a lesson introducing the 3rd, 4th and 7th notes (Eb, F# and Bb) alongside the blues scale in C major, here’s an example. Also, you could introduce the chords in the key to give your pupils a full overview of the scale.

Lastly, you could present a vocal practical element for students based on scat. Have a listen to the scat singing Louis Armstrong uses in ‘West End Blues’ or this brilliant recording by Ella Fitzgerald.

Another helpful link is here.

Find the jazz poster for your students here.

Photo of Prince performing with a guitar, copyright: Mark Milstein

Prince

Soul

Rising vocals, riveting large horn sections and a baked-in gospel call-and-response are the main traits of soul music. Emerging in the 1950s from rhythm and blues, African American musicians popularised this musical form and influenced a raft of later artists.

Because of that, ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder is a fantastic way to bring dominant sevenths into a class introducing soul, as is his other popular track ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’. Many of the harmonies used here add in additional notes to the triads we normally associate with major and minor chords, e.g. A7b9 providing additional colour and interest.

Plus, you can introduce the circle of fifths here too as Wonder’s imaginative use of the harmonic pattern is used throughout the song.

Lastly, the music sheet ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ is here.

Find the soul poster for your students here.

Photo of Stevie Wonder performing, copyright: Andre Ricardo

Stevie Wonder

Rhythm and Blues

Shortened to R&B or R’n’B, rhythm and blues came to prominence in the 1940s with Black American musicians. Drawing on blues as well as jazz, it combines those elements with a strong backbeat for a distinctive sound.

So, a fantastic song to introduce this style is ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King. Your students can use the popular bass line as a starting point for a scat or instrument arrangement.

Plus, here’s a keyboard stave sheet for the same song.

Find the rhythm and blues poster for your students here.

Photo of Chuck Berry performing on stage, copyright: Laurence Agron

Chuck Berry

Rock & Roll

Fusing blues with country music, jazz, R&B, and gospel, early rock and roll was hugely popular with teenagers of the day. Roughly named around the 1950’s, rock and roll was pioneered by Black American musicians packaged for a new listening audience.

One of the pioneers of this form was Chuck Berry, who used riffs and musicianship to dazzling effect.

And likely his most popular song is ‘Jonny B. Goode’, which was famously included in Back to the Future. The intro is a great way for your students to engage with elements from the early stages of rock & roll.

Click here for the tab.

Find the rock and roll poster for your students here.

Photo of Whitney Houston, copyright: Mark Morton

Whitney Houston

Pop

Pop, or popular, music includes a vast range of styles but emerged as a concept in the mid 20th century. Closely associated with rock and roll in the early days, pop eventually detached itself to associate with sugary-sweet, heavily commercialised and accessible catchy tunes.

It’s likely the genre your students will be most familiar with due to its heavy radio, film and commercial use. Full of outstanding singers, Whitney Houston is one of the standouts. Her high and powerful vocal range can be heard on iconic tunes like “I Will Always Love You”, “One Moment in Time” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”.

With a simple chord progression, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” is a fantastic way to introduce the importance of melody in the song. With the circle of fifths underpinning the notes in the chords of the F Major scale, it shows how a catchy tune comes into place.

Click here for more.

Find the pop poster for your students here.

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Want More?

There you go, six ways to teach 6 musical genres.

Also, with over 55 years organising youth and adult concert tours and learning from experienced music teachers, we feel this piece is a wonderful resource to combine with our student posters.

So, for those amazing student resources, click here.

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