African American Spirituals & Songs

Spirituals

Other African American Songs

Lesson ideas

Spirituals are so great! They are often upbeat and their repetitive lyrics and (usually) pentatonic melodies make them easy to learn and useful as teaching tools for lots of things:

  • Recorders (there are lots of B-A-G patterns).
  • Melody lessons with pentatonic scale
  • Many of them lend themselves to using a bordun on xylophones (see Orff)
  • Steady beat – it’s easy to find the strong beats in most of these songs – so that lends itself to moving and playing to the beat
  • Rhythm – some of them work well to introduce half notes or whole notes
  • Adding sign language
  • Phrases / Melodic Contour – Many songs have four phrases where the first three phrases have the same lyrics (often with a slight melodic change in phrase two) and the last phrase is different. Discuss melodic contour (i.e. “What is different about the melody in the 2nd phrase? Does it go up or down at the end?”). Here are some of these songs:

The Meaning in the Spirituals

Some spirituals are rich with hidden meaning, such as:

In fact, the words, “heaven,” “Promised Land,” “Chariot,” etc. probably meant other hidden messages. (see link)

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