Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Family Folk Song Celebration

Folk songs used to top the lists of school music classes. Now it’s rare to find a student who has even heard many of our country’s folk songs. Why not celebrate them in a recital?

This is my second article in a series of ideas from my sister Vicky Dresser, maker of magical music recitals.  And as I’ve shared hers, I’ve gotten a few of my own. You’ll probably think up even more as you read. I invite you to share them with MTH readers in the comments below.

Organize Songs by Type or Genre:

  • Old colonial Times
  • River songs and Sea Chanteys
  • Spirituals
  • Wartime songs
  • Novelty songs
  • Camp songs
  • Old time religion
  • Mountain music
  • The old west
  • Patriotic songs
  • Good old folk tunes (plain and fancy)
  • Hi-brow
  • Modern folk
  • Mining songs from the gold rush

This type of recital practically begs for variety.

All this Variety…

  • Homemade instruments.
  • Skiffle band. (Washtub bass, jaw harp, kazoo, limberjack, spoons, washboard…)
  • Audience sing-along. (Put the words in the program—“Oh, Suzanna” or other familiar tune.)
  • Rhythm instruments. (Or have students play rhythm cups; this review on Wendy Stevens’ materials is from Sara’s Music Studio.)
  • Special guests. (Band, group or duo of folk song artists—could they accompany one or more students?)
  • Local Suzuki violinists, invited to play a fiddle tune or two.
  • Bottle band. (I hear Snapple bottles filled with varied levels of water work well for accurate pitches. Cover them with brown paper and draw a trio of X’s on them to make them look like jugs.)
  • Family members join in. (Could Uncle Dan play his bass violin with someone? Does cousin Jason play banjo or accordion? Come on now, at least some of your music students must come from musical families!)


A painted cornfield might be in order. Or construct a barn set with hay bales, pitchfork and some wooden crates. Create visual interest using crates or other wood boxes. You might have students sit or stand at various heights in groups of twos or threes.


Colorful bandanas, bib overalls, blue jeans, straw or western hats and suspenders might be enough even without any backdrop. A student doing a corny novelty song might wear pigtails, large freckles and have some teeth blacked out.


What a great opportunity for a comedic student to learn Archie Campbell’s Rindercella. Or tell a string of jokes/groaners. Here are two:

Comment – “I see by the papers up in New York there’s a man gets hit by a car every 30 minutes.”
Reply – “Bet he’s gettin’ tired of that by now!”

“C, E flat and G walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve minors.”

Don’t forget to throw a rubber chicken at the teller of any bad joke!

Bring out the Hee Haw song “Where, oh where are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and thought I’d found true love. You met another and (blow a raspberry) you was gone.”

Hoe Down/Square Dance

Could you borrow a few students from your local dance studio? You could promise to advertise the studio in your program in return for help from the instructor teaching them a hoe down step or square dance.

Song List

Scarborough Fair/Annie Laurie/Londonderry Aire/The Water is Wide/Skye Boat Song/Wade in the Water/Amazing Grace/Give Me that Old Time Religion/Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier/Goober Peas/The Riddle Song/Puff, the Magic Dragon/The Billboard song/Turkey in the Straw/Skip to My Lou/Shave and a Haircut/Lil’ Liza Jane/Home On the Range/Cielito Lindo/Streets of Laredo/The Ash Grove/Clementine/Polly Wolly Doodle/Camptown Races/There’s a Hole in the Bucket/Dixie/Yankee Doodle/Appalachian Air and Dance/I Like Mountain Music/Dueling Banjos/This Old Man/Three Swinging Blind Mice/The Beverly Hillbillies theme/When the Saints Go Rockin’ In/Arkansas Traveler/Devil’s Dream…

With a Family Folk Song Celebration, the more ways you can find to involve students’ family members, the better. What a fun way to:

  • Teach music history.
  • Help students connect with musicians of our country’s past.
  • Give families a fun night out together.
  • Involve others in the community.
  • Promote your studio.


About the Author

Robin Steinweg has found music to be like the creamy filling of a sandwich cookie--sweet in the middle--especially making music with family.
A great joy is seeing her students excited to make music for themselves. From her studio in Sauk-Prairie, Wisconsin, she teaches ages 4-84 piano, guitar, voice, woodwinds, ukulele and recorder.
Musically, she composes, arranges, performs, directs, consults... [Read more]

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