James BaldwinWhether it is the birth date of a composer, Music in Our Schools Month, a patriotic holiday, or just needing to mix things up, music can fit a need. It may be sharing the history of a song. It might be highlighting the compositions of a composer. It might be sharing a less familiar piece of music.

Searching and planning are required. Here is an example of how to speed your planning along with and four sites helpful American music sites to help you unlock history.

Check out teacher resources. PBS provides a wealth of teacher resources. Many speed my planning. Series such as American Roots offer discussion questions and lyric downloads. Adapt the lesson materials to fit your clients.

Lesson one is around the folk song “Barbara Allen”.


Some older adults may have sung this song in their school days.

  • It can be include in a stories in song series.
  • Discuss some of the performers who have recorded this song including the Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton, Art Garfunkel, Joan Baez, Burl Ives and The King’s Singers.
  • You can share the history of the song.

Lesson two is on the blues.

  • Share some famous blues artist and songs.
  • Have an them play a simple blues progression using an instrument of choice.
  • Write an original set of blues lyrics or use an existing song as a guide.

Lesson three is on Gospel music. In my community, there are some much-loved Gospel songs. Sharing history around the song along with recording artists can give more to the conversation.

(add a list of gospel tunes)

Lesson four is on Native American music. This music is mostly unknown by seniors where I live. Yet, as many are of Vogel-German descent the discussion the appropriateness of singing and speaking in a native language. It also opens the conversation to discussing cultures of others in our community.

Three more resources

Steven Foster Songs highlights other songs from the era as well as those he wrote. There are also images of his sheet music and from his life that can further enrich your shares.

American Civil War Music contains songs written and sung during the war. (Be sure and check out these civil war ideas.)

Classic FM has an article on 20 American classical music composers. You can share the article and the information about the composer along with a representative piece of theirs. Discuss world events at the time the composer lived and wrote.

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