Blues In The Schools (“BITS”)


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An understanding of this truly original American music form allows students to appreciate this and other contributions of the diverse community of this country.  The study of the blues is the study of the culture that produced this music.  This cultural study is an investment in the human spirit. Studying the blues can give students deeper understanding of the rural and urban American culture.  With the exception of Native American music forms, the blues is the first pure American music form to have originated in this country.  Coming from the oral traditions of folk music, the blues is the foundation for all other popular music forms students listen to today. Just as important as understanding the evolution of the musical structure of the blues is understanding the ways blues music expressed individual emotions.  Students can be introduced to the concept of conveying historical, spiritual and social development through the lyrics of song.  Lacking an educational system, these early country blues men and women created beautiful poetry that responded to the conditions of their world. Sometimes the lyrics expressed the anger they could not speak.  Other times, they painted a vivid picture of the challenges of minority cultures struggling to find a voice that would be recognized.  At the same time, the music incorporated danceable rhythms and so called “blue notes.” Music reflects the feelings of the times. Through the blues, student listeners can feel what happened in those times and know to apply it to today. Research has provided evidence that the study of music promotes intellectual development.  The idea that studying music improves the intellect is not a new one, but at last there is incontrovertible evidence from a study conducted out of the University of Toronto.  The study examined the effect of extra-curricular activities (art, drama and music) on the intellectual and social development of children.  The participating children were given IQ tests before and after the lessons. The results of this study revealed that increases in IQ from pre- to post-test were larger in the music groups than in the two others. The most effective BLUES IN THE SCHOOLS (“BITS”) programs utilize a classroom curriculum that affects many students and disciplines.  A comprehensive curriculum of one week to a month in length can address the main educational issues of the next century, inter discipline and diversity.
Subjects like Music, Art, English, and Social Studies are natural fits, while creative teachers can individually figure ways to tie Math, Science and Tech Ed to a BITS unit.  Just a simple activity like designing a CD package enlists Art, English, and Music disciplines. When students plan out the touring itinerary for a band, they will utilize Math, Geography, and Language Arts skills in their planning of a month on the road. At the high school level, the in-depth study of the sharecropping system in the Mississippi Delta combines English, Social Studies, and Music to deliver a very crucial understanding of the relationship between these social and cultural factors in the birth of the blues.
In reality, there is no cohesive, nationally directed BITS initiative that is an established program for schools grades K-12.  It is more decentralized and individualized. The International Blues Foundation offers help in finding a BITS “educator” who is right for the educational discipline, you local school district and your intended age group. Organizations like the House of Blues, the Seattle Experience Music Project and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have designed curriculum units and lesson plans that are ready to be plugged into any grade or discipline. Lesson topics include the blues in history, using the blues to study geography, racial and gender issues in the blues, the blues as poetry, identifying the blues in literature, the blues beat, making blues music, and the impact of the blues. These lesson plans are designed to make the blues accessible to teachers regardless of their level of blues expertise.  The guide includes a compact disc comprising the seminal blues songs referenced in the lesson activities, essays on the history of the blues and blues musicology, and a blues bibliography, discography, and glossary. A BITS program might include any or all of the following activities and events: A one hour school assembly; an all day workshop that either moves from class to class or remains in the same classroom all day; an Artist in Residency programs that last from a week to a full month. These usually culminate in an evening performance or performance at a funding festival.
Remember how influential music is in the lives of children. At a time when there are budgetary cuts of arts programs across the country, Blues in the Schools can reach students in a way few other curriculum can.