East Texas Rag

Grade Level
1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, C/U

Selection: East Texas Rag
Recorded: Clemens State Farm, Brazoria, Texas, April 1939 
Performers: Smith Casey

Activity 1: (Grades 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, C/U)

  1. Play the recording multiple times, focusing student attention with a new question or challenge prior to each repeated listening experience. Note that the listening may run 01”-35”, and that this splice can be repeated many times as students attend to each question (and later, when they begin to participate in the music-making).
    • What instrument is playing? [Guitar]
    • How is the guitar played? [There are three techniques: “um-chuck” bass-note and chord, melodic picking (with a plastic pick), and a slide]
    • How is the slide produced on the guitar? [By sliding a metal or glass object across the strings of the guitar]
    • What is the source of the percussive beat-keeping? [Toe-tapping]
    • Describe the tempo of the music: [Moderate]
    • Describe the rhythm of the guitar: [A steady-smooth walking rhythm against a syncopated-ragged set of melodic phrases]
    • Describe the harmony of the song [Mostly one tonic or home-base I-chord, although there is a quick two-second chord-shift to the IV-chord at 21”-22”]
  2. While listening, step the steady pulse of the guitar. When the steady pulse is established, clap the syncopated rhythm that sounds in the melodic phrases. Put the clapping and stepping together with the recording, and without the recording, so to feel the steady-smooth walking rhythm against the syncopated-ragged rhythm.
  3. The melodic phrases in the treble range are heard in the higher octave and then in the octave below, and they vary slightly in pitch. Below are just two examples of these four-beat melodic phrases.  Listen for them, sing along with them (on a neutral syllable such as “loo”), use gestures to show the pitches of these phrases as they move higher, or lower, or stay the same.image-20230828103630-2 image-20230828103630-3
  4. Explore a sampling of the melodic phrases on guitar or other available instrument.  (Dial to auto-tune the recording to fit the key and pitches that students can play.)
  5. Add a harmonizing guitar to provide the steady “um-chuck” bass-note and chord of the guitar, and feature guitar and other available instruments in playing some of the four-beat melodic phrases featured on the recording.  Then, improvise new four-beat pitch melodies.
  6. Add the stamp-clap pattern [see above, #2] while singing and playing (and swinging) the song at a slow-tempo, both without and with the recording.

Activity 2: (Grades 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, C/U)

  1. Locate a map of the U.S., find Texas, and then look to the area just east of Dallas. East Texas spreads across piney woods near the Louisiana border, south to Houston, Beaumont, and the Gulf of Mexico, and north through the flat prairie lands all the way to Arkansas. This subtropical region is usually warm and humid, with considerable rainfall, and is often in the wake of hurricanes, especially in the coastal south from August through October. With cotton fields, and a substantial African American population that had historically provided labor in the fields, East Texas is often considered the western edge of the American South. Explore the music of many East Texans, including country, gospel, bluegrass, blues, and Cajun (in the coastal southern section).  Listen to the music of artists with East Texas roots, including Lightnin’ Hopkins, Johnny Horton, George Jones, Texas Ritter, and Johnny Winters.
  2. ”Rag” is a term associated with ragtime, although “rag” previously implied a social underclass that had been applied to dances, parties, and festivals in which people donned shabby clothing to satirize the socially elite events and gatherings. Musically, “rag” refers to composed instrumental music typified by a syncopated melody against a regular rhythmic bass (or chords). While ragtime piano was popularized by Scott Joplin in the first two decades of the 20th century, rags were also played by small groups of instruments or on guitar or banjo. African Americans often clog-danced in a “ragging” way, too, hand-clapping and foot-stomping to the sound of ragtime. Listen to music of Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Blind Blake, some of the top ragtime musicians in the heyday of the genre.
  3. While there are multiple guitar-playing techniques, from finger-picking to flat-picking to strumming, the glissando effects of slide guitar require a unique twist. A hard object, often a metal or glass tube (such as a bottleneck), is slid over the strings to change the pitch.  This technique is heard frequently in blues music, and may have derived from African stringed instruments.  Notable among slide guitar players are Muddy Waters, Duane Allman, and the Rolling Stones. Experiment with playing slide-guitar, choosing a device to place lightly on a single string (lightly enough to avoid hitting against the frets).  Slide up and down the string in approaching the pitches of melodies like “Row Your Boat” or “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”.
  4. Smith Casey, the guitarist on the recording, was raised in the African American community of Huntsville, Texas. He was a notable musician already in his teens, singing church songs and blues, and playing “a mean guitar” with dynamic rhythms that compelled people to dance. He sang and played the blues, often joining with other guitarists and an occasional fiddler. He was convicted of killing a man and was sent to the Texas state penitentiary, and he was later transferred to the Clemens State Farm where he worked on the plantation.  It was there, in 1939, that he was recorded by John and Alan Lomax.

Lesson plan by Patricia Shehan Campbell