Music in a Wartime Culture: Comparing the Music of WWI and the Current War on Terrorism

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
between two and five days, depending on the depth of study. Given a brief introduction, and assigning the task of locating modern music dealing with war in some aspect, the actual time on task in the classroom could be reduced to one or two class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will identify several underlying themes of war inspired music and analyze the effect the author is trying to create.

This project can be adapted for individual or group learning.  It can be done in conjunction with a music class, a technology class, an English class, or in the social studies curriculum. 

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

This will give students a better understanding of the role music plays in American culture.  It will also introduce them to wartime music, both pro and anti war songs. 

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Identify several underlying themes of war inspired music.
  • Analyze the effect the author is trying to initialize
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met


2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

KANSAS STANDARDS (High School-US History)

Benchmark 1: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the emergence of the modern United States (1890-1930).

6. (A) analyzes the reasons for and impact of the United States’ entrance into World War I.

7. (A) analyzes how the home front was influenced by United States involvement in World War I (e.g., Food Administration, Espionage Act, Red Scare, influenza, Creel Committee).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
Song analysis worksheet
Worksheet II


Song titles
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

Music from the Great War, using such sources as the UMKC online library.  Students will be expected to bring in their own samples from modern music to analyze.  The instructor can choose to give them a list to choose from, but students should still be responsible for finding a copy on their own. 

Technology Required

Internet, compact disc player, record player, 8-track, or cassette player, as needed.  Teachers will need to find copies of the music online in advance, and have it ready to use if it will be used in a classroom.  If students are responsible for doing the worksheets at home, they will need access to the internet, and a computer with a sound system.  Most of the modern music can be accessed via the internet, via sources such as http//  

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

As a part of WWI studies, students will take time to look at the music of the period.  The instructor may introduce the lesson by asking about anti war sentiment in the current culture.  Why is it happening, and did it happen in other wars, or is this one different.  Segue into a discussion of music as a reflection of a culture.  

The instructor will play a few pieces of music from the period of 1910-1913, pointing out highlights such as the simplicity of the message, the nature of the rhythm, the brevity, as well as the clean nature of the lyrics, comparatively.  Ask students what kind of music they think would be playing during WWI, before American entry.  Answers will vary.  Ask for a show of hands of how many believe there would be anti war music, especially before the war begins. 

Each student should be given several copies of the song analysis worksheet.  As a class, read over the questions on the “Song Analysis Worksheet I”.  Then, play a song from the Great War period, assisting students in answering questions.  Point out to them the lack of diversity they will find in music during this period (no rock, no rap/R&B, no Country) and briefly discuss why that would be; if that is a positive or a negative can be discussed as a class later.  When students feel competent with the worksheet, allow them to work in small groups to listen to the music from the Great War.  Have them complete three to four “Analysis” sheets in class.  For homework, have them find a current song that has themes that touch on war in some way, even vaguely.  It is best if this song is 2001 or later, but can still apply if it finds radio play once in a while.  The instructor can provide a list of songs for the students, give recommendations, or set the students loose to find their own.  Have them complete an analysis on the new songs as well. 

When the students have completed their analysis, give them “Song Analysis Worksheet II”, where in they will answer questions based on their decisions on question number 16 of the part one.  They will answer these on notebook paper, and be prepared to defend their answers to the class.  Each group will then share with the whole their discoveries.  Other groups not actively reporting will critique the decisions of the reporting group, to build some consensus on what makes a war song.  This can be an extremely productive discussion if students are allowed to choose their own musical choices.    

As a wrap up, students will do an individual review, comparing and contrasting the Great War music to their modern music.  Hopefully, they will walk away with the belief that their music is not as far removed from the Great War’s as they assume.  Also, it is hoped that they will think more critically about the music they hear on the radio. 

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

To be turned in to the instructor:

  1. Song Analysis Worksheet I results.
  2. Song Analysis Worksheet II results.
  3. Compare/contrast essay wrap up.

Assessments by instructor during discussion:

  1. Point system for participation in presentation.
  2. Point system for questions asked during presentations.
  3. Peer grading based on any group participation.

Students will turn in copies of their “Song Analysis- Parts I and II” and a final comparison paper.  Students will also be graded on participation in roundtable discussions, based on how well they contributed to their group’s presentation as well as questions for others during presentations.  Finally, their grade will be determined by their time within the group, and how well they worked toward the final goal. 

Online Collection