For Music

Lesson Plan:

Middle School General Music Class; could be adapted for use in Music Theory or Music in Our Lives (a high school-level general music class)


Students will demonstrate comprehension of the basic vocal/instrumental forms by identifying them in the context of traditional songs and tunes.


Verse/Refrain songs: “Gilgarrah Mountain”; “Jolly Roving Tar”; “Once More A-Lumbering Go”;  Ballads: “The Boy Who Lived Here”; “Montcalm and Wolfe”; “Wild Mustard River”;  Fiddle tunes, standard form (AABB): “Crooked Stovepipe”; “Farmer’s Wife”; “Gary Owen”;  Fiddle tunes, unusual forms: “Glise A Sherbrooke” (AABBA); “Portland Fancy” (AABBCC); “Rochester Schottische” (AABBC)

Amount of time required:

1-2 class periods

Preparatory Set:

Students will have sung other traditional and non-traditional songs in verse/refrain and ballad forms and will have identified those structures. They also understand that the words refrain and chorus are often used interchangeably.


1. Warm up with a known song in verse/refrain form. Identify the form.

2. Introduce “Gilgarrah Mountain” (or another verse/refrain song from the Materials  section above). Look at the printed music from this website – is there anything  familiar in the way it is structured? [verse/refrain form]

3. Listen to the recording or to the teacher’s performance of the song completely through.

4. Teach the tune of the verse, and sing the first verse through. Repeat with the tune of the refrain. (This may be done phrase by phrase for longer songs or via whole song for shorter ones.)

5. Sing through the entire song. Correct any problem spots (misheard melodic turns; text pronunciations) and sing it again.

6. Introduce “Wild Mustard River” (or another ballad from the “Materials” section above). Examine the sheet music. What is notably different between this song and “Gilgarrah Mountain”? [It has no refrain.]

7. Read through the text and discuss it. Note that it tells a definite story, with a logical sequence of events. It may be desirable to outline the events of the story as a means of helping the students learn it.

8. Listen to the recording or the teacher’s performance of the ballad. Since the tune repeats more or less exactly throughout the ballad, students should be encouraged to sing along with it as the tune becomes familiar. Note any places where variations in the rhythm of the text create problems for the students. Isolate those places and fix them.

9. Discuss with the students the primary differences between a ballad and verse/refrain song, noting both their structures and text styles.

10. Conclude the class with another known song, preferably a ballad. Identify it as such.

Lesson Plan Extensions:

Ext 1. Using the tune of a known ballad, have the students make up a ballad of their own, focusing on some aspect of their school life or a recent event in the community. This can be likened to the broadside ballads of the seventeenth  and eighteenth  centuries in England and colonial America.

Ext 2. Do a similar lesson using fiddle tunes having both common and uncommon forms. Use verse/refrain songs as a point of reference. For example, a fiddle tune in AABB form is roughly comparable to a verse/refrain song (A = verse, B = refrain). Compare to standard forms used in classical music (Bach preludes – AABB; Mozart/Haydn minuets and trios – AABBCCDDAB).

New York State Learning Standards – The NYS  Learning Standard (quoted from state publications) is presented in italics.


Learning Standards for the Arts: Music

This website can be a springboard for musical activities which potentially satisfy each of the four broad standards for the Arts: Music. We’ll take a look at each in turn and suggest some avenues that might be pursued in music classes on various levels. The purpose here is to suggest ways in which students can become actively engaged with these songs and tunes to help them develop an understanding of the important role this music played in the lives of the people who created and perpetuated it.

Standard 1: Creating, Performing and Participating in the Arts.

Students will actively engage in the processes that constitute creation and performance in the arts and participate in various roles in the arts.

All manner of personally engaging musical activities can be pursued while satisfying Standard 1. Students can learn songs from the site, share them with others (1 on 1 or in class), perform them in a variety of venues (school concerts, community events, church-related programs), and even create new songs of local color based on patterns and themes gleaned from the study of the traditional ballads and songs.

Consider some of these activities.

  • Learning songs from older family members and teaching them to the class or to friends.
  • Using an existing tune, create a ballad around some school/community event or activity (a famous soccer loss; a local mishap). [This can easily be tied in with an ELA or Local History project as well.]
  • Perform a set of songs as ‘lumbermen’ in a costumed skit for a variety show [This can be tied in with a project relating to the Standards for the Arts: Theatre as well.]

Standard 2
: Knowing and Using Arts Materials and Resources

Students will be knowledgeable about and make use of the materials and resources available for participation in the Arts in various roles.

The very fact that students have access to this website (and hundreds of others dealing with similar topics) opens new realms of possibilities for satisfying this standard. Students can learn songs directly from this site. [Click here to find suggestions as to how to accomplish this using Scorch.] Related topics can be identified and researched by following various links throughout the website. Search engines can be used to research key words, names or song titles found here and elsewhere. These materials can then be used in any  number of ways to create research projects for Music in our Lives, Music Appreciation, and Music Theory classes. They can also be used as music class extensions of Social Studies or ELA curricula, or grade-level programs based on a traditional music topic.

Standard 3
: Responding to and Analyzing Works of Art

Students will respond critically to a variety of works in the arts, connecting the individual work to other works and to other aspects of human endeavor and thought.

This standard throws the door wide open to students doing work in comparative studies and poetic/musical analysis. An Adirondack ballad could be analyzed and examined as it relates to traditional ballads from other locales. Songs of French-Canadian origin could be compared to songs of English or Celtic origin. An examination of work-related songs and ballads could be used to study how songs were used in work situations in the nineteenth  century, or how they related to the day-to-day activities of the people who lived in this area. Structural or motive analyses of fiddle tunes can be related to similar structures used in classical music.


Standard 4: Understanding the Cultural Dimensions and Contributions of the Arts

Students will develop an understanding of the personal and cultural forces that shape artistic communication and how the arts in turn shape the diverse cultures of past and present society.

The entire socio-cultural milieu which existed in the lumber camps, social activities and family life in the Adirondack region of nineteenth and early twentieth centuries can be discerned from the songs and tunes shared in these circumstances. In studying historical documentation of the activities of everyday people, students can draw inferences about the ethnic make-up of the region, their values, occupations, and entertainments. They can pick up on the life and times of an individual lumberman and trace his vocational and social comings and goings as seen through the songs in his repertoire, both those he learned from family and co-workers, and those he made up himself.

For a thorough discussion of the issues and suggested techniques for using the songs from this website with young students, go to Singing Folk Songs in the Classroom – For the Musically Challenged Originally published as “Choosing and Using Folk songs  with Children: Keeping the Children in Mind”  InFolk song  in the Classroom, VII, 2 Winter 1987, Revised February, 2007