Tag Archives: Blues

The Blues … and Ukes!


This is one of my favorite units because it’s such a great mix of history, theory, and performing – and the kids love it!  I do this unit with 8th graders but it would work down to upper elementary.  The combo of learning to play the blues as you learn about the blues makes it all come together.  Of course, you could also do this unit without the ukes and just stick to to blues styles.

I use this unit to introduce ukulele playing.  You’ll see that by the end of the first day with the ukes they are playing the ukesblues (well…most of it.)  My approach is to teach them what they need as we go.  This gets them playing and making music immediately – which is what they (and we!) really want to do!  It also makes it easier to introduce new concepts.  “You want to play your favorite song? Great – you just need to learn one more chord.”  “Oh ok, show me.”  Voila!  As my mentor, Dr. Timothy Gerber, likes to say, “Create a need to know.”

One more thought on using ukuleles in the classroom:  I like for my students to use their ukuleles as a tool for learning.  Of course, I have to teach them to play.  But we’re always learning something else in the process – like the blues.  This allows me to embed all kinds of other musical knowledge while they work on their playing skills.

I’ve included everything that I use for this unit for download except the extra choice songs.  These really depend on what your students like – try to find songs they love so they will be motivated to learn them!  Some tried and true songs my kids always love are The Sponge Bob Fun Song and Lean On Me.  Look for anything with three chords (C, F, G).  For students who are ready to do a little more you can add Am and you’ll have many more options.

As always, take what you need and add what makes it work for you!  And please share any thoughts, additional ideas, and experiences!

Blues Unit

Student Objectives

  • I can explain and aurally identify the 12 bar blues chord progression and lyric form in written and musical examples.
  • I can aurally identify various blues styles (country, classic, city) and explain the identifying characteristics
    • 7.1CE, 7.2CE, 7.3CE, 8.1CE, 8.2CE, 8.3CE
  • I can finger the C, F, and G, chords to play the 12 bar blues chord progression on the ukulele (4/4 time, quarter note strum pattern) using correct posture and technique. 8.1PR, 8.2PR
  • I can compose my own blues lyrics using the AAB lyric form. 8.3PR, 7.1CE
  • I can play at least one song of another style that uses the 12 bar blues progression. 8.1CE, 8.2CE

Link to Ohio Music Standards

Day 1

  • Start with class discussion on music that expresses emotions. Brainstorm songs that express a particular emotion. Lead into Blues songs lyrics – for the first hearing of Buddy Guy, identify the emotion it seems to express. What happens in the music that helps express this?
  • Listen to Buddy Guy’s “There is Something on your mind”
  • Dictate lyrics, ID pattern (AAB) – Blues Lyrics Worksheet
  • Create own blues lyrics following AAB pattern (once this is completed, save it for later!)

Day 2

  • Using the same Buddy Guy song…
    • Play root on keyboard or tone chimes
    • ID chord roots
      • Lead students in singing the roots on do, fa, and sol then transfer to C, F, G/I, IV, V
    • Map 12 bar blues progression – Blues Grid

Day 3

  • UKES! – Uke Playing Intro
    • Playing position, frets
    • C chord – Practice strumming 4 beat patterns and other variations
    • Play 12 bar blues recording and play C chord at appropriate times
    • Assessment: C exit chord

The following days are split between learning the history of the blues and practicing Ukes.

Day 4

  • Blues History
    • Blues Styles Powerpoint
      • Country Blues
      • Ukes
        • Review C
        • Add F – explain how to read a chord chart
        • Play 12 bar blues adding F
        • Isolate shift
        • F exit, shift exit

Day 5

  • Blues History
    • Classic Blues (Powerpoint)
      • Analyze examples: AAB pattern? 12 bar blues?
  • Ukes
    • Review C, F, add G7
    • Isolate shifts
    • Play 12 bar blues; Divide chords among students or shift when ready

Day 6

  • Blues History
    • City Blues
      • Analyze examples: AAB pattern? 12 bar blues?
  • Ukes
    • Individual practice playing 12 bar blues patterns
      • Master smooth shifting between chords

Day 7

  • Blues History
    • Review styles key identifying characteristics
    • Compare/contrast styles
  • Ukes
    • Individual/pairs practice

Day 8-10

Day 11

Day 12-14

  • Practice choice songs
  • Optional: Accompany blues lyrics composition from day 1
  • Teacher assessment of choice songs (uke assessment)
  • Make-up/Completion of 12 bar blues playing assessment, brochure, and/or styles assessment

Materials For Download

Blues Unit Outline

Blues Lyrics Worksheet

Blues Grid

Uke Playing Intro

Blues Styles Powerpoint

Blues Styles Pamphlet

Blues Styles Pamphlet grading

12 bar blues assess

uke assessmentblues styles quiz