December 2018

Techniques: Country Music

The sparse poetry of classic country music is rooted in its folk-accented one forms, arrangements and instrumentation.

The sparse poetry of classic country music is rooted in its folk-accented one forms, arrangements and instrumentation.

National Standards: 1-3, 5-7, 9, 11

Prepare

Have the class read Techniques: Country Music (page 2 of the student edition). The article uses four examples (song form, arrangement, lead instruments, and instrumentals) to illustrate the central elements of this American genre.

Key points in the article:

    • Country music is derived from folk, gospel and blues from the early 20th century
    • From rural beginnings, the genre has evolved into one of the biggest forces in American music, even helping some artists cross over into pop
    • The 16-measure melody of “Can the Circle Be Unbroken?” is a I-IV-V (1-4-5) chord progression that many modern country songs are based on.
    • Country music’s most recognizable elements are its vocals and acoustic guitar, in addition to fiddle and electric and pedal steel guitars.
    • Another common aspect of country music are the intros, outros, and fills that come from a fiddle or guitar.
    • Branches of country music, bluegrass and western, traditionally cycle through chord progressions quickly, outlined by a melody.

Begin

Example 1

Play “Can the Circle Be Unbroken?” by the Carter family

  • Ask students to raise their hand when they hear a change in the chord progression

Now play “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash

  • Ask students to raise their hand when they hear a change in the chord progression
  • What similarities can you find between the two songs? What makes them sound similar?

Example 2

Play Hank Williams’ “Your Cold, Cold Heart”

  • While they listen, ask students to pay close attention to the bass line, as well as the acoustic guitar and when it strums.

Expand

Now play Example 3 and Example 4 on a piano (if available)

  • Ask students what characteristics of the melodies make them sound “country”

Close

After you’ve played it on the piano, play Tony Rice on “Blackberry Blossom,” asking students to listen for the quick chord changes.