Lesson Plan

Ragtime and Blues

Students will learn where, when and how Ragtime started. Students will learn what blue notes and harmonies are and how to construct a blues scale. Students will also write their own blues.
Adam W.
Classroom teacher
Cornell Senior High School
Coraopolis, PA
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My Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
My Subjects Arts

Students will be able to...

Identify where Ragtime music began.

Identify historical/cultural factors that led to the advent of Ragtime music.

Identify notable Ragtime musicians/composers.

Identify unconventional playing techniques that developed with Ragtime music.

Construct a blues scale and identify the "blue" notes within that scale.

Write lyrics for their own blues song.

Create a sound file of 12 bar blues to accompany their blues lyrics.


Grades 7 - 12
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Hook

Activity: Other — Collins Type 1 Writing Prompt

The teacher will play the "Street Cries" recording that accompanies the book "Jazz Styles: History and Analysis" by Mark C. Gridley.  This is a very early recording of a street vendor singing to get the attention of people walking down the street.  His singing incorporates "blue" notes and is indicitive of the African tradtions that are incorporated into Ragtime music. 

The teacher will play the recording once for students.  Students will begin writing what they think they are hearing.  The teacher will play the recording again.  When students are finished writing, the teacher will ask for volunteers to read what they wrote.  Typically, students do not identify what the person in the recording is really doing.  After a discussion on what the recording is, students listen again.  This has always worked well for me as an introduction to Ragtime and Blues.

Student Instructions

Students will listen once to the "Street Cries" recording.  They will complete a Collins Type 1 writing prompt describing what they hear.  The directions to the prompt give students ideas to get them started, such as: Can you make out any words?, What do you think this man is doing?  Students must write a specified number of complete lines to be awarded points.  The writing must also be on topic.  When students are finished, they are asked to share their thoughts.

2 Direct Instruction

Free, Paid

The teacher will use a predesigned Prezi presentation to show where, when and how Ragtime music started.  The Prezi will also contain information about unconventional playing techniques such as "wah-wah", "growling", and "mutes".  The benefit of using Prezi is to have YouTube videos that demonstrate these playing techniques embedded into your presentation for seemless teaching.  If you have access to real instrument, you could also demonstrate the playing techniques yourself. 


3 Guided Practice

Free, Paid

I always make sure to have my students observe the process first, then attempt it on their own.  This is much easier with a projector for all to see.  Take students through the process of setting up an account, then have them create their own account.  After they have an account, I demonstrate how to use Noteflight.  Noteflight is a great free program, but it can be tricky to get the hang of.  The teacher should guide the students through the process of creating a score, changing instruments (if desired), changing the time signature and changing the key signature.  If students do not already know how to construct a major scale, the teacher should guide students through this process using the method they believe is best.  After students have constructed and notated a major scale with Noteflight, they will then learn how to alter the scale to create a blues scale.  Again, teachers should use the method of constructing scales that they believe is best.  I prefer to have both the major and blues scale back to back on Noteflight, so students can play them and hear the differences between them.  It also gives them another way of visualizing the scale. 

Student Instructions

Students will observe the process for creating an account on Noteflight.com if they do not already have one.  They will also observe the process of notation using Noteflight before attempting it on their own. 

4 Independent Practice

The teacher will have students familiarize themselves with GarageBand on iPads.  Using the SmartGuitar feature, students will create their own 12 bar blues.  Students will already be able to identify the proper chords to use and will choose the key for their 12 bar blues.  If possible, students should use headphones so they don't distract others while they're working.  Students will create their own strum pattern to play when they record their 12 bar blues.  Once students have their chords and strum pattern figured out, they will record their 12 bar blues pattern.  When all students are finished, they will then write their own blues lyrics to accompany their 12 bar blues.  I like to use "Everyday I Have the Blues", by B.B. King as a standard example of how to write the blues.  The general pattern for blues is:

Statement 1

Repeat Statement 1

Statement 2

Statement 3 (rhymes with statement 1)

Students will then speak (or sing if they desire) their lyrics along with their 12 bar blues.

Student Instructions

Students will familiarize themselves with using GarageBand on iPads. 

5 Wrap-Up

Student will complete a wrap-up by reviewing all of the information they have learned.  They will review basic background information about Ragtime and Blues.  They will also review the music theory portion of the lesson and answer questions about building major and blues scales.  Using Kahoot!, the teacher will be able to assess the areas that need to be reviewed.