American Patchwork: Appalachian Journey

Grade Level
1-3, 4-6, 7-8, Secondary School

Alan Lomax, musicologist, writer, and producer, travels through the hills and hollers of the Southern Appalachians–Georgia and the Carolinas, investigating the songs, dance, and rituals of the descendents of the Scotch-Irish frontiers people who have make the mountains their home. Singers, storytellers, fiddlers, dancers, banjo- and guitar- players express the good times and the hard times of rural life. Five- to ten-minute slices of the musical life of Appalachia are featured here for listening and viewing, and extensions to discussion and musicking experiences for students of various ages and experience levels.

American Patchwork: Appalachian Journey
The film can be streamed at,128 or purchased at

Stanley and Ray Hicks; Ballad-singers from Northern Ireland
Level: Grades 4-6, 7-8, Secondary School
Focal-point questions:

Q: What is a ballad, and why do the Hicks brothers sing them?
A: A Song that tells a story. The Hicks brothers enjoy preserving and transmitting the story-songs of their elders.
Q: Find Boone, North Carolina, on the map. In what mountains is Boone located?
A: The Great Smokies.
Q: What is the sound of the catfish, according to the Stanley Hicks' tale?
A: "Cuckuck".
Q: "Tale tales by tall men": How tall is Ray Hicks?
A: Seven feet tall.
Q: What is a whamadiddle?
A: Two sticks rubbed together to sound a beat.

Activity #1: 

Sing a ballad ("Geordie", "The Two Sisters", "Barbry Allen").
Create your own ballad: 
1. Discuss the development of the storyline and the main character(s) of that the ballad as well as the relationship between the melody and the storyline.
2. Brainstorm to determine a topic of interest in your school or community that would make a suitable storyline for a ballad.
3. Work as a group to create your own class ballad using four-line verses that tell the story. 
4. Set the story to a melody using what you know about pitches, scales, rhythm and meter. 

"Tom Dooley"; Frank Profitt, Jr., Singer-banjoist
* Cautionary for Teachers: The story of Tom Dooley involves infidelity and pregnancy.
Level: Secondary school, Adult
Focal-point questions:

A: What is the history of the song, "Tom Dooley"?
Q: Frank Profett, Sr., sang the song to the Warners in 1938, who sang it to Alan Lomax, who played and sang it on his radio show; it was recorded by the Kingston Trio.
Q: Who was Tom Dooley?
A: May 2, 1868, executed, Tom Dooley was a Civil War vet who had several girlfriends. He impregnated them, developed syphilis, passed it on, and brought their wrath on him.
Q: What does it mean to "play their misery out"?
A: To play their heart out, musically speaking, to express their sadness in music.
Q: How does Frank Profitt Jr play a dulcimer?
A: He uses both hands, picking with right hand, moving the left hand fingers up and down the fingerboard in playing two- and three-note chords.

Activity #2: 

Sing "Tom Dooley"" with guitar accompaniment
"Moonshine"; Tommy Jarrell, fiddler and singer
* Cautionary for Teachers: This song glorifies the making and consumption of alchohol.
Level: Secondary school, Adult
Focal-point questions:

Q: Who made moonshine?
A: Mountain men.
Q: Why?
A: By making whiskey, they made money.
Q: Was it legal?
A: No, and the law against moonshine-making during the prohibition years of the 1920s was sometimes harshly enforced.
Q: What instruments are sounding the moonshine music?
A: Fiddle, banjo, guitar–and voices, foot-stomping.

Activity #3: 

Find a moonshine song to sing and play, like "Little Brown Jug", using fiddle and guitar (and even banjo!)
Railroad; Migrant workers and their songs
Level: Secondary school
Focal-point questions:

Q: When Alan Lomax sings a railroad song, what is the meaning of his whispered "whap"?
A: It is the sound of a hammer pounding nails onto the railroad ties.
Q: How did an African-American folk song find its way into the repertoire of white Appalachian singers?
A: African-American railroad workers in the hills and hollers brought their songs with them, and they were then heard by the local mountain men.
Q: How is the banjo considered a percussive instrument?
A: Both hands play the string percussively, with the right hand plucking and the left hand fingering, sliding, pressing, bending, pulling.
Q: What is the function of the fifth string of the banjo?
A: To offer a high pinging drone; It was added by white musicians to the African-American banjo.

Activity #4: 

Invite a banjo player to perform and demonstrate the instrument. Sing "John Henry" and "900 Miles" with guitar accompaniment. Search the internet for other railroad songs.
Buckfoot dancing
Level: Grades 4-6, 7-8
Focal-point questions:

Q: What is buckfoot dancing?
A: An African American dance style that fueled the old minstrel shows; it is still alive today, full of shuffling, beat-keeping, and fancy footwork.
Q: What happens musically when more than one buckfoot dancer dances?
A: A kind of polyrhythm that is reminiscent of older African instrumental traditions.
Q:How is the white style of flat-foot dancing related to the African- American buckfoot dancing?
A: It is also syncopated, although it is danced with cleats on the shoes and a stiffer middle body position.

Activity #5:

Observe the dancing images and imitate a few of the steps. In partners and small groups, determine who will stomp or shuffle the the steady beat and who will provide the more sophisticated footwork. Combine, and change roles.)
Compose two different syncopated rhythm patterns that can be performed as ostinati (repeated patterns). Perform them simultaneously with a partner using stomp or shuffle steps to create your own dance.

John Doodles Thrower; Harmonica player
Level: Grades 1-3, 4-6
Focal-point questions:

Q: When was "Foggy Mountain Top" first recorded?
A: 1936, indicating the longevity of bluegrass music style.
Q: What is the role of the harmonica in the bluegrass band?
A: It plays the melody in between the sung melody sections, to the accompaniment of guitar, banjo, and fiddle.
Q: How does John Doodles Thrower describe music's importance to him? 
A: He says that it gets in his blood, that it makes him smile, that "money can't buy" that feeling.


Experiment with the harmonica by playing familiar melodies like "Frere Jacques" and "Row Your Boat"
Write a response to the following: 

a) Why is music important to you? 
b) What song or kind of music "gets in your blood and makes you smile?

Designed by Patricia Shehan Campbell