Jay-Z’s Fife and Drum


Social Studies and Music

  • 30-45 Minutes


  • CD player
  • Various fife and drum music from the Civil War (Gettysburg Soundtrack is great!)
  • Recording of Jay Z’s Empire State of Mind
  • Civil War era costumes
  • Drums


Step 1: Students listen to fife and drum music from the 1800’s. Discuss with students the practical reasons for this music during the Civil War: to speed up the time it took to travel by keeping a beat, as a way to uplift the soldier’s spirits and because other instruments were too heavy. Explain this music was often performed by boys as young as 8 and up to 18.

Step 2: Look at the words that were later added to these songs: many had political and moral opinions.

Step 3: Then, have students listen to Jay Z’s Empire State of Mind. Listen for the same qualities: beat, uplift spirits, historical context clues to today. What is similar and what is different?

Step 4: Have students create new words that describe elements of the causes of the Civil War, important people during the time period, and a sequence of events from the War set to Jay Z’s rap “Empire State of Mind”

Step 5: Perform the new rap together as a class!


Dramatic Battle

Have students recreate the march to an important battle from the Civil War using their new rap. Include costumes, and instruments and do the march throughout the school. Have them use their acting skills to stay in character. Have students from around the school ask them what they are doing and why they are using music. Assess student knowledge and connections between the two musical genres and the historical time period based on their answers.