I’ve Got the Blues

Online Lesson Plan I’ve Got the Blues!

lrMelissaLesson Plan by , Coordinator of Music Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Dr. Berke received both her Bachelor of Music Education and Master of Music Education degrees from Drake University, and her PhD from The University of Arizona. She taught elementary and middle school vocal/general music in Iowa, Arizona, and Nebraska. In addition to teaching in public schools, she has been teaching music at the preschool level for six years in various settings. She has been a clinician at numerous national and regional conferences. Her current research interests include early childhood music education, music education for students with special needs, the Orff-Schulwerk approach to music education, and the integration of music and the arts within the general curriculum.

Subject Area:
Music & Social Studies
Suggested Grade Level:
Grades 6-8
Learning Modality:
Auditory & Kinesthetic
Multiple Intelligence:
Bloom’s Taxonomy:
What are these educational concepts?What are these educational concepts?



In this lesson, students will:

  • identify the musical form of the 12-bar blues;
  • identify a problem from the “Farming in the 1940’s” section and compose a 12-bar blues song;
  • make comparisons between problems of the 1940’s and today.



Begin the lesson with questions like these. “Have you ever had one of those days? Let me tell you about the day I’ve had. My alarm clock didn’t work this morning and I overslept, so I was late for work. THEN when I got here, I noticed I have a hole in my shoe.

“What kinds of problems have you had? (Didn’t get my homework done; my locker wouldn’t open; my little sister is bothering me, etc.)

“Today we’re going to be exploring some music that is written exactly for these times when we’re having a bad day and not feeling so great. This music is called the blues.”


The Resources

jukeboxSmLinks from within the Wessels Living History Farm site.
[Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.] Direct the students to these pages.


The Process

  1. The most popular style of music during the 1940s was jazz. Blues is a form of jazz music. It is a form that is used to express sadness or anger. Modern blues singer B.B. King calls the blues “an expression of anger against shame and humiliation.” (This quote was found under “blues” at dictionary.com.)
  2. We’re going to listen to “The Pearl Harbor Blues” which was recorded in 1942. We’re going to listen to this piece several times, so this first time – just listen.
  3. Listening #2. As you listen this time, can you identify how many verses this song has? (Five.)
  4. Listening #3: As you listen, identify the five problems/issues that the singer is expressing and write them down. Share your list with a partner.
  5. Listening #4: As you listen, are any words/phrases repeated?
    • “December the seventh, nineteen hundred and forty one”
    • “This Japanese is so ungrateful, just like a stray dog on the street”
    • “Some say the Japanese is hard fighters, but any dummy ought to know”
    • “I turned on my radio and I heard Mister Roosevelt say”
    • “We sold the Japanese brass and scrap iron, and it makes my blood boil in the vein”
  6. Listening #5: Do you notice anything about the last word of each verse? (The last word rhymes with the end of phrase one and two.)
  7. This song is a special type of blues known as the 12-bar blues, meaning it lasts for 12 bars or 12 measures. It is made up of three, four-measure phrases. The first and second phrases are the same and state a problem or issue. The third phrase states an outcome, consequence or solution.
  8. Now that you’ve learned how the 12-bar blues is structured, I’m going to write a blues song about the hole in my shoe.
    • Line 1: My sneaker’s got a hole and my feet are killing me (Problem)
    • Line 2: My sneaker’s got a hole and my feet are killing me (Restated problem)
    • Line 3. I’m gonna get these sneakers fixed, just you wait and see (Solution)
  9. Today we’re going to write a 12-bar blues song about some issue/problem we find in the 1940’s section of Wessels Living History Farm Web site. You will identify a problem/issue and and solution/outcome/consequence and then write it so that it follows the blues form. Remember that the last word of your problem and last word of the solution must rhyme.
  10. Following the composition process, have students share their work.

Learning Advice

This activity will work with small groups as well as individuals.

Students can improvise singing or utilize the melody used by the performer of “The Pearl Harbor Blues.”

If you’re not comfortable with singing, you could also chant. (Speak to a beat.)

Some possible extensions: Listen to a modern-day blues recording.

Questions for discussion:

  • How are the problems of the 1940’s similar to problems of today?
  • How are they different?
  • What would be the topic of blues written in this decade?


Conclusion of the Lesson

Because there are always problems and issues, the blues remain a popular form of music, even today.


Assessment Activity

As individuals or groups perform, the teacher or other students can assess how well the student/group adhere to the formal structure of the blues. Things to look for –

  • first and second phrases are the same;
  • last word of solution rhymes;
  • lyrics rhythmically fit within 4 measures.

General Notes

To go one step further, Jamey Aebersold has created a number of jazz training CDs that are designed to teach jazz improvisation for all styles, including blues. Many high school instrumental teachers may have this resource. The CD provides the background rhythm and harmony (sort of like Karaoke) and students could improvise the melody with the lyrics.


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