Leveraging a Current Hit Song to Teach the 12-Bar Blues

Featuring: Harold Stephan, producer, songwriter, Lincoln Center Scholar, and Amp Up NYC music educator

This two part lesson includes an exclusive video tutorial series featuring Harold Stephan's presentation at the 2016 City Music Summit as he demonstrates how to leverage the power of a current hit song to teach the 12-bar blues.

In this first lesson, "Leveraging a Current Hit Song to Teach the 12-Bar Blues", students will compose a 12-bar blues in conjunction with a rhythmic scaffold derived from the chorus of Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”.



View Harold Stephan's presentation from the 2016 City Music Summit, here, to learn how you and your students can remix a current hit song using Logic Pro X, Noteflight, and Youtube.


Students will be able to compose an original 12-bar blues using the G major blues scale in conjunction with a rhythmic scaffold derived from the chorus of Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”.

Materials and Resources:


  • Informal – during share (call on students to debrief creative process)
  • Formal – Blues Composition Worksheet and Listening Rubric to guide student evaluation of compositions


Warm-Up (5 Minutes): Introduction to G Major Blues Scale

1. Teacher projects the G Major Scale on the screen at the front of the room (Study Room > Melody Level 1 > Explore The Major Scales).

2. Teacher reviews G Major Scale and G Pentatonic Scale.

3. Teacher reviews sharps, flats and natural signs (Study Room > Melody Level 1 > Name That Note > Accidentals).

4. Teacher demonstrates how to create the G Major Blues Scale from the G pentatonic scale (i.e. by adding a flatted 3rd scale degree, or “blue note”).

5. Students notate the blues scale on their manuscript paper.

Mini-Lesson (10-15 Minutes): Blues Remix of Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)

1. Teacher plays the video (above) of Blues Remix of Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”.

2. Teacher asks, “What is the same about this remix of “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” and the what is new or different than the original?”

3. Students turn-and-talk (Expected student responses: SAME - The melody is the same, the tempo is the same. DIFFERENT - The chords are different, the rhythm is different.)

4. Teacher plays a short video clip which demonstrates how the rhythm of “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” has been extrapolated into a 12-bar blues form to generate the “City Music” worksheet”.

Work-Time (30 Minutes): 12-Bar Blues Composition “The City Music Blues”

1. Teacher will distribute the Blues Composition worksheets. Each table will receive one example of a successfully composed 12-bar blues worksheet.

2. Teacher will circulate the room and provide support to students needing help completing assignment.

3. Teacher will perform 5 or 6 successfully completed compositions on the keyboard using the audio from the Blues Remix movie as a backing track.

4. Students will listen and use their assessment rubrics to evaluate the final compositions.

Sharing (5-10 Minutes) 

1. Teacher will call on students to debrief the lesson asking questions like:

    • “What makes a melody memorable?”
    • “What makes a melody easy to sing?”
    • “What could you do differently next time to improve your melody?”

(Expected responses from students will be “repeating phrases & patterns, stepwise motion and that they can use combinations of the above to improve their melody writing.”)

2. Teacher will call on one student to reiterate the learning target for the lesson, which is “I can compose an original 12-bar blues in G by combining a G Major Blues Scale scale with the chorus rhythm from Silento’s song “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)”.

View Harold Stephan's second lesson, "Cultural and Technological Factors of the Blues", here

Download the lesson material here, which includes Core Arts Standards, NY State Arts Standards, and National Standards.