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Underwritten by Carolyn and Bill Powers
lesson plan

The Blues and Jazz


1. National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA

2. MENC: The National Association for Music Education

3. Student handouts may be downloaded from the website, printed, and photocopied.

jazz images 1

B.B. King

jazz images 2

Bo Diddley

jazz images 3

Charley Patton

jazz images 4

Count Basie

jazz images 5

Howlin' Wolf

Jimmy Rushing with the Count Basie Band singing watch video I Left My Baby


The blues, perhaps more than any other music, is jazz's greatest influence. From the time when jazz evolved from the sounds of the Mississippi Delta a little over a century ago right up to the modern jazz of today, the blues has been a benchmark for jazz musicians. But just what is the blues – a feeling, a kind of musical scale, a type of song, a particular chord progression, a poetic form, an attitude, a shared history, a "flatted fifth?" From its humble three-chord beginnings to the sophisticated harmonic progressions of today's contemporary jazz musician, the blues is all of the above – and more!

The blues and its influence on jazz (and vice versa) from its inception to today cannot be explained by mere words alone; one has to hear their sounds to truly comprehend their meaning. As you read about the blues in this lesson, it is paramount that you listen to the recordings and watch the videos. We hope this will inspire you to build your own collection of blues recordings and videos so you can listen to and watch them in their entirety, gaining further knowledge about America's rich history through experiencing its indigenous art form. And, like jazz, nothing beats listening to the sound of the blues live in concert. To find an upcoming blues festival or blues club near you, click here.


  1. What is the Blues
  2. Evolution of Blues Styles, 1909 - Present
  3. Significant Artists and Essential Recordings
  4. Cultural Implications


National Standards for United States History (Grades 9-12)1

Historical Thinking

Students should be able to:

  1. draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources (Historical Comprehension Standard 2g)
  2. compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions (Historical Analysis and Interpretation Standard 3b)
  3. consider multiple perspectives (Historical Research Capabilities Standard 3d)
  4. hypothesize the influence of the past (Historical Analysis and Interpretation Standard 3j)
  5. obtain historical data (Historical Research Capabilities Standard 4b)

Historical Content

Students should understand contemporary American culture (Contemporary United States Standard 2d), able to:

  1. analyze how social change and ethnic diversity has affected artistic expression and popular culture
  2. explore the international influence of American culture


National Standards for Arts Education (Music Grades 9-12)2

Content Standard #9 - Understanding Music in Relation to History and Culture

Students should be able to:

  1. classify by genre or style and by historical period or culture unfamiliar but representative aural examples of music and explain the reasoning behind their classifications
  2. identify sources of American music genres, trace the evolution of those genres, and cite well-known musicians associated with them
  3. identify various roles that musicians perform, cite representative individuals who have functioned in each role, and describe their activities and achievements
  4. identify and explain the stylistic features of a given musical work that serve to define its aesthetic tradition and its historical or cultural context
  5. identify and describe music genres or styles that show the influence of two or more cultural traditions, identify the cultural source of each influence, and trace the historical conditions that produced the synthesis of influences


The student will:

  1. gain a basic understanding of why blues is included in the study of American history/social science
  2. listen to portions of blues recordings and watch videos on the web
  3. gain a fundamental understanding of what blues is, how, where, and by whom it originated, musics it has influenced (and been influenced by), and its universal appeal
  4. learn about the importance of Dockery Farms with regard to the birth and early evolution of the blues
  5. become acquainted with important blues musicians and essential recordings
  6. gain a deeper insight into blues in American culture
  7. gain a deeper understanding of the blues' influence on jazz


  1. CD player (if not using computer)
  2. chalkboard (with chalk and eraser)
  3. overhead projector (optional)
  4. computer logged onto www.thebluesandjazz.org (optional)


  1. The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues (highly recommended supplemental text) - for ordering info, click here
  2. Blues Story CD (optional) - for ordering info, click here
  3. Three Student Handouts3 (one per student): Dockery Farms and The Birth of the Blues, Blues in American Culture, and The Blues' Influence on Jazz (to download handouts, click on Student Handout above left)
  4. Overhead projector transparencies


The instructor will:

  1. distribute student handouts
  2. play blues recordings and discuss with the students what they heard
  3. discuss the basics of the blues and its relationship to American 20th century history and culture, giving the students a point of departure for further independent study
  4. have students read and discuss the student handouts, Dockery Farms and the Birth of the Blues and The Blues in American Culture
  5. examine biographical sketches of various blues artists
  6. have students read and discuss the student handout The Blues' Influence on Jazz


Test Bank

  1. Multiple Choice
  2. Fill in the Blank
  3. True-False

Video Clips

videospacer Jimmy Rushing - I Left My Baby
the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
home overview lesson plans jazz resources what's new jazz in america