ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Musical Harlem

How jazz music is reflective of the Harlem Renaissance


Key Staff

Classroom teacher with opportunities for collaboration with the visual and performing arts teachers

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Applying Vocabulary
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture, Connecting with Other Arts


Students will learn to identify musical styles and musicians associated with Harlem, focusing on jazz. They will learn about the special role of music in Harlem as a unifier of a community and of a culture. Students can listen to audio samples and analyze elements of jazz and its musicians, participate in a group dance activity, and partake in language arts and visual arts extensions to reinforce key concepts learned.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Gain historical background of the Harlem Renaissance as a flowering of art by African Americans, including how the Harlem Renaissance relates to the evolution of jazz.
  • Distinguish and compare different types of jazz and jazz musicians.
  • Identify jazz terminology and concepts.
  • Identify and analyze different musical sounds and instruments to understand how music may be used to express ideas and emotions.
  • Create original artwork incorporating color, line, and shape as visual representations of the technique and/or emotions found in jazz.

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discussion
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Multimedia Instruction

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
  • Internet Access
  • Speakers
Required Plugins
Technology Notes

  • You also need a CD Player if using a CD.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should have a basic understanding of jazz music and the Harlem Renaissance. Familiarity with Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington would also be helpful. See the Background Information for helpful links and Web sites.

Prior Student Knowledge

  • Familiarity with the Harlem Renaissance (the era, the people involved, the influences)
  • Familiarity with different styles of music (especially jazz).
  • Familiarity with instruments and their sounds

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


  • Test internet connection.
  • Procure music listed below on CD or MP3.
  • Test CD player or iPod.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


History of Jazz

1. Play for the students Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasie" from the ENGAGE slide in the Resource Carousel above.

2. Have the students describe what they heard. Was the music fast, upbeat, fun, and/or melodic? Tell students to share how the music made them feel. Ask the students to call out these observations, and write them on a chart. When they've finished calling out, explain that this type of music is known as jazz, and write the word JAZZ on the top of the chart.

3. Tell the students that jazz is a type of music that largely originated with African Americans and was a way for them to express themselves. This need for self-expression stemmed from their African musical heritage. In African societies, music was very important in maintaining and continuing the culture. As a result, Africans brought with them to America the tradition of using music to accompany and define the activities of their lives. There was music for working, for playing, for festivals, for marriages, births, deaths, and wars.

4. Ask students about times when music played a major role in their own lives, and share some of your experiences with them, e.g., wedding day or favorite trip. Talk about how that music affected them, how it made them feel.

Build Knowledge

1. Explain to the students that in the early 1920s, many African American artists, writers, musicians, and performers lived in a neighborhood in New York City called Harlem and were part of a cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Add the words Harlem Renaissance to the chart. Continue the discussion by explaining that a huge migration to the North from the South after World War I brought African Americans of all ages and walks of life to that thriving New York City neighborhood called Harlem.

2. View the map of Harlem available in the Resource Carousel above.

3. Tell the students that jazz was a relatively new type of music in the 1920s and 1930s but was becoming very popular in Harlem, which was home to many musicians. Explain that a number of American cities, such as New Orleans and Chicago, also had rich jazz scenes, but that in this lesson you're focusing on the artists who were famous in Harlem.

4. Ask the students where they think people used to go to hear this type of music. (Jazz clubs, music clubs, concert halls) Explain that there were many popular places where jazz was played. Then show students the gallery of nightclubs in the Resource Carousel above. Some important landmarks to view include the Apollo Theater, The Cotton Club, Lennox Lounge and the Savoy Ballroom.

Getting to Know Jazz

5. Explain that now you are going to talk about the instruments used in jazz bands.

6. Have the students listen to Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasie" again. Ask the students to name the instruments they hear (trumpet, piano, saxophone, drums). Write their answers on chart paper.

7. Explain that there are many instruments used in jazz bands, and each instrument has its own important role in communicating mood, lending to the tempo (beat), supplying melody, etc.

8. Use the "Instrument Spotter's Guide" in the Resource Carousel above to help students determine what these instruments look like. If you have access to the instruments from your school's band or orchestra program, have them available for students to handle and play. If any of your students study these instruments, invite them to come into the classroom and perform for the rest of the class.


Mood and Image

1. Play an audio clip of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo," but only play 30 seconds of the piece. This is available in the Apply slide in the Resource Carousel above. Brainstorm with students what they feel is the "mood" of the music. Introduce mood as an expression of feelings about a situation that can take many forms in art and music (i.e., happy, excited, sad, nervous, etc.). What is the mood of the music? How did it make you feel? Did you like the music? Why or why not?

2. Play "Minnie the Moocher" by Cab Calloway, available in the Apply slide. Ask students similar questions. How does it make you feel? Is it a happy or sad song? What is the mood of the music? Tell students they will be "drawing" the music.

3. Replay "Mood Indigo." Explain to the students that they will create artwork that reflects the mood of a jazz selection they've heard by selecting different types of materials and using them in different ways. Have the students use both realistic forms, such as the actual shape of an instrument they hear being played, as well as abstract forms, such as swirls, blocks of color, zig-zag lines, etc.

You can demonstrate by cutting out the shape of a guitar or trumpet from a piece of paper and gluing it onto another sheet of paper. Once applied, paint around the instrument with particular colors and lines or forms to reflect a particular mood.

Have the students present their artwork to the class and explain why they chose certain colors, lines, and/or shapes.


1. Display images of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Bessie Smith. Images and audio clips can be found in the Reflect slide of the Resource Carousel above. Identify them as three of the great jazz musicians of the Harlem Renaissance. 

2. Prepare chart paper with the heading "Mood and Instruments." Label it with the three musicians' names—Duke, Cab, and Bessie—down the left side of the page, and ask students to respond to the music. Repeat similar questions as explored earlier in the lesson:

  • What instruments do you hear?
  • What is the mood of the music?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • Did you like the music?
  • Why or why not?

3. Record individual student responses as a means to discuss similarities and differences between the musicians and their styles.

4. Once the chart is complete, have students listen to an audio clip for each of the three musicians (available in the Reflect tab above). Ask students who the artist is. Who is singing, Calloway (CLIP 1) or Smith (CLIP 2), or who is the composer, Ellington (CLIP 3)? This also serves as a means of understanding the differences between musicians and their styles.

5. Have the students complete the following writing prompt or lead a discussion around the following question: How is the Harlem Renaissance reflected through Jazz music?


Assess the student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.

Extending the Learning

Language Arts Extension: Interactive Word Wall

Divide students into groups and assign to each group terms to define from the following list: rhythm, drum, saxophone, mood, jazz, communication, melody, tempo, blues, jam session, improvisation, set, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington. The Word Wall is slowly built up as groups decide when their definitions are correctly defined and add them to the wall. This can be an ongoing activity, with other definitions added (from the 'Vocabulary' handout located within the Resource Carousel).


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade K-4 Music Standard 6: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music

Grade K-4 Music Standard 7: Evaluating music and music performances

Grade K-4 Music Standard 9: Understanding music in relation to history and culture

Visual Arts

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

Visual Arts

Grade K-4 Visual Arts Standard 6: Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines

National Standards in Other Subjects
Grades K-4 History

Grades K-4 History Standard 1: Understands family life now and in the past, and family life in various places long ago

Grades K-4 History Standard 2: Understands the history of a local community and how communities in North America varied long ago

Grades K-4 History Standard 4: Understands how democratic values came to be, and how they have been exemplified by people, events, and symbols

Grades K-4 History Standard 5: Understands the causes and nature of movements of large groups of people into and within the United States, now and long ago

Grades K-4 History Standard 6: Understands the folklore and other cultural contributions from various regions of the United States and how they helped to form a national heritage

Grades K-4 History Standard 8: Understands major discoveries in science and technology, some of their social and economic effects, and the major scientists and inventors responsible for them

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Language Arts Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Language Arts Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

Language Arts Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes



Daniella Garran
Original Writer

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