I decided to put together a short lesson on writing blues songs. Silly me--I thought most 8th graders had something to complain about. I was wrong. Many of them are pretty content and often happy. The kids are alright...which is great news. But, I still wanted to make this lesson work.
I added a variation that has seemed to work better for eighth graders-- writing a blues song from the point of view of a character in the book they are reading. It's a fresh way to identify the main conflict of a book as well. If we are reading a class novel, I try to encourage them to use characters from another book that they've finished recently. (Now, if you want to read 100+ papers worth of "Old Major's Blues" from Animal Farm, be my guest. That book is full of working for the Man. Two legs bad!)
For a model, we use Jimi Hendrix's "Red House." We look at the format of the lyrics on a handout before we listen to the song. We talk about the line breaks, rhyme scheme and repetition. And, yes, you will need to point out that a blues song contains some sort of complaint. I know.
You will then need to play the song for them at least once and enjoy the beauty of Hendrix together. If you play the guitar, bring it! If you are like me, you will have to be content with helping the kids figure out the rhythm of the bass line by tapping it out the desk and hoping for the best. I usually let the song play through once without any teacher talk; I play it a second time through, so I can pick it apart a little for the kids to see inside.
Some writers get it right away. It's like they've been waiting their whole short lives to rock a juke joint with the band. Others just can't seem to hammer out the rhyme scheme. Ask permission to share some of the successful student samples with the class to help other songwriters craft their work.
There are lots of great blues songs out there; "Red House" just works for me. It is short and easy to pattern...and most kids have some knowledge of Hendrix. When you are teaching something new, it always helps for kids to have any trace of background knowledge on what's being taught.
If you want an intricate and lovely lesson plan regarding this topic, please see this PBS website.
If you want to relax on Sunday with a blues radio show, Johnny Horn starts broadcasting live at 9 A.M. in Seattle. That's noon here on my front porch. You can also listen to archived shows using the links on the website. I subscribe to some of the play lists via e-mail, so I don't have to run to the computer every time I hear a song I love. Go to kexp.org ,"Shows" and "Preaching The Blues."