To fully appreciate Rock and Roll as a genre of music, music students should know about the pioneering rock and roll musicians that revolutionized and paved the way for the various other forms of music that have followed. The roots of rock and roll music date back to the 1940s, and since then, it has undergone various significant changes that have made it what it is today. For middle school music teachers, understanding rock and roll musicians’ history and their significant contributions to music can be a great series of lessons to engage your students. Read on to discover the rock and roll musicians that changed the face of music history and discover some music appreciation lessons aimed at the middle school music and general music classroom for studying rock and roll musicians.
Before starting the study of rock and roll musicians, it is important to know what are the essential parts of rock music history that every music student should know. These are:
- The roots of rock and roll, including African American musical traditions like blues, jazz, and gospel music, and key figures like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino.
- The historical and social context that gave rise to rock and roll music in the 1950s, including the impact of radio and television, the rise of the teenage demographic, and cultural and racial tensions of the time.
- The evolution of rock music into different sub-genres, such as psychedelic rock, heavy metal, punk rock, and grunge, and the musical and stylistic characteristics of these sub-genres.
- The impact of rock music on society and culture, including its influence on broader social and cultural movements such as the civil rights movement, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the rise of feminism
- The enduring legacy of rock music, including its influence on other musical genres and its continuing relevance as a form of artistic expression and cultural identity.
Rock and Roll – Where did it start?
Before rock and roll, there was the blues. Introducing your music students to the musical traditions that influenced the development of rock and roll is important for their understanding of this music genre. By teaching them about the origins of the blues and the key rock and roll musicians who helped to shape the genre, your music students will be able to recognize musical patterns in the music that they will study later with other key rock and roll musicians.
When you are studying The Blues in your music classroom, make sure to include lessons for listening to recordings by blues artists like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King. While listening to these recordings, encourage your music students to identify the musical and stylistic characteristics that later influenced the development of rock and roll such as structure, instrumentation, and rhythmic features.
It is also important when studying The Blues, that you introduce your students to playing the 12 Bar Blues on the instruments you have available in your classroom. There are lots of YouTube videos to play along with that will make this easier for both you and your students. But, if you are looking for some resources for the Guitar and Ukulele, try the 12 bar Blues Bundles that are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
The Development of Rock and Roll
Once your students have a basic understanding of the blues, you can start to introduce them to the development of rock and roll. Teach them about the social and cultural context that gave rise to rock and roll music in the 1950s and briefly introduce them to key rock and roll musicians who helped to shape the genre. Have your students listen to recordings by these artists and encourage them to identify the musical and stylistic characteristics that define rock and roll.
Rock and Roll Musician – Fats Domino
Fats Domino was a pioneering rock and roll musician who helped to bridge the gap between Rhythm and Blues and rock and roll in the 1950s. Introduce your students to the music of Fats Domino’s music by playing recordings of his most famous songs, such as “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Blueberry Hill,” and encourage them to identify the musical and stylistic characteristics that define his unique sound.
While studying Fats Domino, it is a good time to start discussions about racial segregation in the era, and how the music of Fats Domino was recorded by other artists and he didn’t receive any financial compensation as the song writer.
Your students will also enjoy playing some of his songs on instruments. Some songs to try include – Ain’t That a Shame (try playing it in G) and Blueberry Hill (try playing it in C).
Rock and Roll Musician – Bill Haley and the Comets
Bill Haley and the Comets were one of the first rock and roll bands to achieve widespread success in the 1950s. Introduce your students to their music by playing recordings of their most famous songs, such as “Rock Around the Clock,” and encourage them to identify the musical and stylistic characteristics that define their sound.
Most of your students will recognize the music from these pioneering rock and roll musicians, and they will certainly enjoy playing some of their famous songs! Try playing Flip, Flop and Fly (in the key of A) and See You Later Alligator (in the key of D).
Rock and Roll Musician – Buddy Holly
The next rock and roll musician to study is Buddy Holly. Buddy Holly was a pivotal rock and roll musician who made significant contributions to the genre. As a singer-songwriter and guitarist, he helped shape the sound of rock and roll with his innovative use of double-tracked vocals and the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. Holly’s catchy melodies and relatable lyrics set him apart from his peers and earned him a devoted fan base. He was also known for his energetic live performances and his willingness to experiment with different genres, such as country and western.
Buddy Holly’s influence on rock and roll continues to be felt today, with many artists citing him as an inspiration and incorporating his musical ideas into their own work. One of Buddy Holly’s main contribution as a rock and roll musician was his use of what we know as a standard “rock line up” today. Together with his band – the Crickets, they had 2 electric guitars, a bass and a drum kit, plus the band members sang either the lead vocals or as a backing vocalist.
Try using the study of Buddy Holly as a research lesson for other rock bands that use the same lineup! This could be a competition to see who could get the longest list.
You and your students could also compare cover versions of Buddy Holly songs to the original. Try comparing Rave One by Buddy Holly and John Mellencamp – you could have your students debate which is the better recording!
Rock and Roll Musician – Elvis Presley
A study of pioneering rock and roll musicians would not be complete without Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley is widely regarded as one of the most influential rock and roll musicians of all time. His distinctive voice, charismatic stage presence, and fusion of different musical styles helped to popularize rock and roll in the 1950s and beyond.
Presley’s energetic live performances and provocative dance moves electrified audiences and made him an instant sensation. He also helped to break down racial barriers in music by bringing elements of African American rhythm and blues to a wider, predominantly white audience. Presley’s impact on rock and roll is immeasurable, and his influence can still be heard in countless artists across a variety of genres today. He is truly a legend in the history of music.
After listening to a wide variety of the music from Elvis Presley, there are a few rock standards that your music students will enjoy playing. Try A Little Less Conversation (in the key of E), All Shook Up (in the key of A) and Blue Suede Shoes (in the key of A).
Just like with Buddy Holly, many other artists have recorded an Elvis Presley song. Try getting your music students to compare 2 versions of an Elvis Presley song as an assignment. For some more listening assignment ideas, read this blog post – 7 Creative Research of Music Assessment Ideas for your Music Class. The link to the blog post is here.
Teaching about rock and roll musicians should be a compulsory topic for all middle school music students. This unit of work is an engaging and informative experience for middle school music students. These 6 music appreciation lessons provide an excellent starting point for learning about the where rock music started, the blues, its development, and the key rock and roll musicians who contributed to this style of music.
With these lesson plans, you will be able to easily introduce your students to the rich history and evolution of rock and roll music. By doing so, you can help your students to cultivate a love and appreciation of the genre while also introducing them to new music they may not have heard before.
Until next time
Julia from Jooya