Thinking about the Key Features of Blues Music



Cleeve School and Sixth Form Centre of Excellence

Grade and age

Year 8 (12-13 years old)




What has been done?

Students listened to Roy Brown’s ‘Hard Luck Blues’ and studied the lyrics. Using the ‘Questioning the Author ‘strategy, they were then each given a set of questions to work through and discuss.

This text contains many of the important features of Blues music lyrics the students have already looked at, such as a focus on negative events like breakups and death, as well as appeals to God and links to religion. It emphasises the hard work and despair that slaves went through during the slave trade and hence expressed through blues music.

The structure of the lyrics in verses 3 and 6 follow the typical blues “AAB” structure that students have learned about, and the audio of the song features a lot of the typical features of blues music including a slow tempo, typical instrumentation, improvisation and the 12-bar blues chord structure.

What kind of dl or sel skills did you cover?


  • Draw on prior subject specific knowledge to make meaningful links with the text to help build a fuller ‘mental model’ of it
  • Reading Comprehension (summarise a text’s main argument, recognising how the author has constructed that knowledge consistent with its discipline)


  • Self-Awareness (identifying one’s emotions)
  • Linking feelings, values, and thoughts

Which authentic text did you choose?

Title: Hard Luck Blues

Author: Roy Brown

Which results can you expect?

Students were beginning to use musical terminology in their answers which showed a developing confidence in using disciplinary literacy. They showed an increasing ability to examine the social emotional aspects of the text and were able to make links to their own feelings.

Using the text was an effective way to get the students to think about what they had learned about Blues music. I was also hoping that it would be quite hard-hitting when we had discussions afterwards about that fact that the majority of songs from the Blues period are based on real lived experiences.

What do teachers say?

‘This strategy was effective for pulling together the lyrical and musical elements of the text.’

‘This strategy has worked well for the intended outcomes as it has asked students to engage with the lyrics and music, and consider both DL and SEL aspects of the music. I want to add a question that asks students to consider everyone’s opinions of the song/piece of music so that they can actively engage with each other’s opinions. I think this will add a different element where they have to tread more carefully in terms of phrasing things more sensitively to not offend other people if they have differing opinions of the piece.’


  1. The lyrics to ‘Hard Luck Blues’
  2. Questionning the Author questions

Annex 1: The Lyrics to  ‘Hard Luck Blues’

Annex 2: ‘Question the Author’ questions

  1. What is the overall message of the song?
  2. How is the main character or singer feeling and why?
  3. How do the lyrics relate to the feel of the music?
  4. How has the author used an AAB structure with the lyrics?
  5. Why does this song fit into the “Blues” genre of music?
  6. What is your opinion of this song, its music and what it is about? (Use musical reasoning in your answer.)

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