Lyric Form of the Blues

Materials: handoutBackwater Blues lyrics

  1. Begin the class by playing “Backwater Blues.” At the conclusion, ask the students if they know what type of song that was. Ask them what type of situation the lyrics of the song described. How did the song make them feel? Explain that the song they listened to was a blues.
    Backwater Blues
  2. Using the provided information and your own research, introduce the concept of the blues, its history, and importance in American culture. As appropriate to your discussion, have the students read the introductory paragraph in the accompanying handbook. Also, where appropriate, include the historical profile of W.C. Handy, also on the handbook.
  3. Explain that, although each blues is unique, they all share the same basic twelve-bar form. Blues with lyrics typically follow a certain form that fits over top of the harmonic form. Although not all blues contain lyrics, the harmonic form remains consistent.
  4. When introducing the lyric form of the blues, be sure that students have an understanding of the importance that lyrics play in the music. Specifically, talk about how the lyrics helped tell a story, good or bad, about the experiences of people. Remember that the blues was a musical reaction to the experiences of African Americans at the time, so most Blues tended to talk about serious issues. Point out how “Backwater Blues”
  5. Explain that lyrics in Blues music typically follow a specific format:
  6. Continue by discussing how each section comprises four measures/bars and together, they make up the twelve-bar form of the blues discussed earlier. Using the diagram and lyrics on the accompanying handout, discuss the lyric form.
  7. After you have discussed the lyric form, go back and listen to “Backwater Blues.” Have students listen for the STATEMENT – RESTATEMENT – RESOLUTION format that you have been discussing. Have them listen to the lyrics and try and name the STATEMENT – RESTATEMENT – RESOLUTION of each verse. You can refer to the lyrics (Backwater Blues lyrics).


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