This traditional tune from the southern American states is full of teaching opportunities. The simple but compelling two-chord progression (I and IV only), the fun echo-singing, and the syncopated rhythms can be enjoyed by students at any stage of their musical development.
Alabama Bound can also be used as a catalyst for discussing the history of American music and as a vehicle for exploring social studies topics like race, civil rights, and economics. The role of trains, for example, in American history is one discussion topic that links all of these subjects together. Be creative and use music to illuminate other areas of study.
ALABAMA BOUND : TEACHING NOTES
Singing with good tone and breath support
Playing melodies by ear
Strumming with steady rhythm
Have students clap the rhythm of the words as they sing. Have fun with the syncopated rhythms (e.g. "Al-la-ba-ma bound")
Note: the transcription in this lesson is slightly different than the Leadbelly version in the video. The transcribed version has downbeat rests in measures 9 and 11. Have students clap or stomp in these rests.
Have students try both on-beat and off-beat accompaniment strums. Which do they prefer? Why?
There's lots to do with this deceptively simple piece:
pick the melody
strum the chords
pick and sing
sing and strum
sing a capella
create harmony part
pick Uke I and sing Uke II (or visa versa)
create new lyrics
improvise a melody (see below for details)
create an arrangement
create a medley with other train-themed songs
Additional Suggestions and Comments:
Alabama Bound is a great way for your students to get started with improvisation. Echo-pick short rhythmic figures using only the tonic note ("c" in C6 tuning, "d" in D6 tuning). Then have volunteers improvise rhythm solos using only the tonic note while you and the rest of the students lightly strum the chords.
Progressively add to the number of notes the students can use in their improvisations as follows:
C6 tuning: high c, b, g, f, e, low cD6 tuning: high d, c, a, g, f, low d
These notes are the notes of the "blues scale". Remember: a good solo doesn't have to have many notes but it must have solid rhythm.
If you like the material in this free lesson you might also like Ukulele in the Classroom, a series of ukulele method books by James Hill and J. Chalmers Doane. Click here for free samples and additional information.