Epic Improvisation


ELA and Music

  • 30-45 Minutes


  • Copies of the Odyssey
  • Oral Forumlaic Composition Information
  • Rap Battles Video
  • Computer, audio, LCD Projector
  • Louis Armstrong piece

Lesson Overview:

Provide students with a current topic of events. Use the Improvisation Frame technique with the caveat that each student can only state one sentence and accompany themselves with one instrument in relationship to the current topic assigned. Each student must build upon or branch off of previous student answers.

Allow students to watch “rap battles” and discuss elements of improvisation. Look for the use of active listening/silence and response. Discuss the possibilities of whether it is spontaneous production or framed ahead of time.


Step 1:  Engage students in a discussion about the oral tradition of storytelling and poets.

Step 2: Discuss the history of Epic Poems and their correlations to songwriting (poets were singing “songs” to keep the audience’s attention, moments of improvisation, etc).

Step 3: Look at the structure of the rap battle from earlier and a jazz piece from Louis Armstrong and dissect each as if it were an epic poem: identify the theme, who is the “hero”, what act are they engaged in, etc. The hero in a piece of instrumental music could be the main instrumental line. What travels does this instrumental line go on and what does it run into along the way? How does this music represent something significant to a culture?


Epic Rap Battle

After reading the passage from the Odyssey, facilitate a discussion about the meaning of the passage, any injustices perceived, and solutions to the issue. Host a “rap battle” about the Odyssey where two students share their thoughts about the story and its implication in 4-6 sentence lyrics. Once a student has spoken and the other responded, two new students will take their place.