Teaching the History of Rock and Roll? – What Should We leave out?

What facts Should you leave out when teaching about the History of Rock and Roll?

I ask this question, because here at the Fun Music Company, we were editing our newest project (which is a complete set of lesson materials for teaching about the History of Rock and Roll), and this question came up.

Just how much do you leave out?

Teaching about the History of Rock and Roll is pretty much a standard topic these days in most schools. It’s interesting, exciting and it’s music that students of about junior high school level can really relate to….. but the whole subject at times seems coated in trauma, controversy and sometimes tragedy!

So many of the rock and roll stars of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s ended their lives in tragedy. If it wasn’t drugs and alcohol that caused it, then it was plane crashes and other tragic events.

When we got to the lesson planning ideas for teaching about Buddy holly and co, at first we realized that most of our ideas focused solely on that fatal crash rather than the more positive story of the young performer Ritchie Valens getting so famous at such a young age.

I would love to know what bits that you leave out when teaching about the history of rock and roll.

Do you talk about topics such as Elvis’s drug overdose and use it as a learning opportunity to teach about the effects and tragedy that drugs and alcohol cause, or do you focus solely on the positives of his music?

Are there videos that you don’t show?

Please let me know, I’m looking forward to a great discussion on this one!

P.S. The History of Rock and Roll Lesson Plans are now available – so check them out and let me know what you think!


  • By Pam Norton Reply

    The way I teach about the artists is I want them to know or at least have an idea of when they lived and when they died. I focus on their music, also on the how’s and why’s, but I also teach how they lived their lives and why they died. I think it is important for my students to see that if you do the drugs and alcohol that it can adversly affect you lives. That it doesn’t matter if you are famous or not. But we need to remember also that the most important thing is the music.

    • By janice Reply

      Well put Pam and some very thoughtful advice to all here. Thanks for taking part on this issue.

  • By Simon Reply

    You know a lot of people have “human failings” but it’s like the red sports car analogy. You get what you look for…look for red you see red everywhere. Stick with the positive aspects.
    Many classical composers had “interesting” lives 😉 but what do you want to focus on their weaknesses or their inspired strengths. Simply point out to students what is possible when an unencumbered inspired thought is given free reign.

  • By Kris Reply

    I teach elementary and I will mention to my older kids that a person got into drugs and emphasize when i can that they realized to was bad for them and got off of them. But I cannot always do that. I am not specific in what drug they were on, I just say generic “drug”.
    I teach at an urban school and do a unit on the history of Rap after being told repeatedly by student that Tupac was the first rapper. And i do say if the people got involved in bad things and how it affected them. But I also make sure to have in there some rappers who are better role models too. My students have too many performers they look up to who are trashy people. Tupac had an interesting life but it was also very short because of choices he made.
    So long story short, I do mention it when i am talking about their lives because I am also trying to teach them about the choices they make in life.

  • By Kim Reply

    I use some of the History of Rock Music video series, but it does have to be edited (language and nudity).

    I try to share as much as possible, but try to keep the focus on the music. It is hard to decide which groups/artists to include, actually even harder to decide which to exclude. I don’t envy your task, but I’m anxiously waiting to see the final result. When can we expect it?

    • By janice Reply

      Hi Kim,
      We are anxiously waiting for it all to be finally finished! It’s taken a bit longer that we had first anticipated, but it should be about a month …tops we hope! We’ll let you all know as soon as it’s ready and look forward to hearing your feedback on the ideas.
      Kind Regards,

  • By Nancy Reply

    I focus on their contributions to the history of rock. I teach about the influences that shaped their music and how they influenced artists who came after them. (e.g. Buddy Holly influenced Beatles, Merseybeat, Hollies). I teach about their contributions to the advent of recording techniques, musical styles, unique qualities they contributed to their group/style. I also share how saddened I am that their lives were cut short so tragically. I think you can kind of skim over the tragic drug losses, but students know that death is a fact of life. They always ask if the artist is still alive, so I tell them. Most times in tragic ends, it was through no fault of the artist (e.g. plane crashes).

  • By mwswi17 Reply

    I’m very impressed! Please bear with me as I explain.

    You’ve already done what I was about to embark on. I’m employed at a local high school (9-12). Unfortunately, I’m in charge of “Detentions,” which we all know — and some have experienced first-hand — is not a whole lot of fun… for either supervisor or students.

    I’d really like to make the hours as meaningful as possible. Currently, students (and myself included), have to sit in agonizing “silence” as the minutes slowly tick-away (you can literally hear the big, black ‘n white classroom clock “tick”). Let’s face it, “Detentions” is where a select few’s “high school experience” goes to lay down and die.

    So both this Website, and your corresponding “Teaching the History of Rock and Roll,” is absolutely a major find for me. You already did most of the leg-work for me! How cool is that? I was ready, willing, and able to spend countless hours, days, weeks and months doing the same, but why should I? You’re essentially handing me the equivalent of two (2) years or more of subject matter. It simply offers the potential for a unique, dynamic, and lifelong “positive” learning experience. And as a historic rock group once sang, “And in the end…” In the same spirit, I just may be able to offer my kids the same magical experience that I’ve carried with me all throughout my lifetime.

    Simply stated, music triggers countless, meaningful memories for countless listeners. All lead to vivid memories of persons, places, and things which transcend most other elements in life.

    “Detentions” may never be the same. And hopefully, all-things-being-equal, I’m willing to take the risk 🙂

    Thanks again, Janice 🙂

    — mwswi17 —

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