Folk songs have lots of advantages for music classroom use. They connect music to history and culture, they’re popular with children, they exist in most cultures, and they’re often in the public domain.
These lesson plans from the MENC lesson plan library (My Music Class) use American folk songs:
‘Cross the Wide Missouri (elementary/middle school)
Students identify the two melodies in this medley, discuss vocal techniques to enhance phrasing, discuss and learn the harmony, and learn where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers intersect and their significance dating from early U.S. history.
This Land is Your Land (elementary/middle school)
Students learn how historical events impact music and about folk music and its composers. In addition to defining notation symbols for pitch, rhythm, dynamics, tempo, articulation, and expression, students learn to improvise simple harmonic accompaniments, create movements to enhance the folk song, and create and perform parodies.
America Goes West (Medley) (elementary/middle school)
Students learn American folk songs; accompany the songs on rhythm instruments, autoharp, and guitar; identify key and meter signatures; apply solfège; and discover American history.
Strategies for Teaching High School General Music Standard 8C Students analyze songs of the Civil War era and describe how beliefs and feelings are revealed through lyrics and musical content. Extension activities ask students to find examples of how other arts reflect the Civil War era (paintings, poems, literature, theatre, and folk arts), and examine music (and other arts) of other wars. Strategies for Teaching General Music Standard 1C (high school)
Students sing Stephen Foster’s “Gentle Annie” in four parts and describe its musical elements. Students discuss the value of songs like “Gentle Annie” to society and the importance of emotional literacy to human development.
Ulili E: The Sandpiper (elementary school)
In studying Hawaiian folk music, students identify chord structures and create an arrangement for barred instruments based on the chord structures and invented rhythms.
Strategies for Teaching General Music Standard 1 (high school)
Students sing a Navajo song, identifying its music characteristics and describing its cultural significance, as well as learning a traditional two-step dance.
MENC’s Get America Singing … Again
Peter Yarrow’s favorite folk songs for download
Public Domain Folk Songs (computer instrumental music files)
Sing Out! Folk Song Index
See Patricia Shehan Campbell’s article in Folkways magazine, Songs By and For Children: A Legacy of Children’s Music.
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