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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

What We Play: An Exploration of Appalachian Music

Virtually as long as human beings have walked the earth, music has been an integral part of the human experience. This set was created for middle school history or music teachers in preparation for class visits to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, VA. It should be used to introduce students to traditional Appalachian music, the cultures that influenced it, and the instruments associated with it. The set should be shared with students one to two days before the museum visit and is best utilized through showing via projector. Some slides provide questions to enable discussion. During the museum visit, museum staff will further facilitate this discussion by explaining the effects of this region’s geography on the evolution of traditional Appalachian music, including the country and bluegrass genres, how European, African, and Native American cultures influenced the formation of Appalachian music, and the history of recording and marketing it. Students will also have the opportunity to view historical Appalachian instruments and get hands on experience with instruments that are used today. A strongly recommended follow-up activity is encouraging students to bring items from home to create their own musical instruments in class.

The following two YouTube videos can be shown to demonstrate Scots/Irish and Bluegrass music to students. They should be encouraged to identify aural similarities and differences between the two:

Three traditional Scottish jigs

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver: Blue Train

Because the museum sits on the border of Tennessee and Virginia, curriculum goals and standards from each state have been incorporated, including:

Tennessee Fine Arts

8.0 Students will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines.

9.0 Students will understand music in relation to history and culture.

Virginia Fine Arts

6.7 / 7.7 / 8.7 The student will explore historical and cultural aspects of music.

6.8 / 7.8 / 8.8 The student will analyze and interpret music by explaining the importance of cultural influences and historical context for the interpretation of works of music.


Learning Goals:

I.                    Identify influences on Appalachian music

II.                  Identify instruments popular in Appalachian music

III.                Explore how and why Appalachian musical instruments have evolved.

Created By

Scotty Almany


History/Social Studies, The Arts

Grade Level