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3-5: Call and Response Singing

by Melody Moore, Learn NC

This lesson is a study of call and response singing, especially as it relates to African-American spirituals.

A lesson plan for Grades 4–5 Music Education

Learning outcomes

The students will demonstrate their knowledge of call and response singing through class discussion and by their written answers on the listening guide.

Time required for lesson: 45.00 minutes


Printed listening guide – see attachments


Lyrics to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and/or

“All Night, All Day” or any call and response style Spiritual

Technology resources

CD (or cassette tape) – Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman – Spirituals in Concert – (Conducted by James Levine, Deutsche Grammophon, 1991) or equivalent recording

CD (or tape) player

computer with Internet access (optional)


Discussion of African song styles, instrumentation, rhythmic orientation, songs appropriate for various occasions, religious beliefs, and the reason why most Africans arrived in America.


1. Begin by reviewing reasons that Africans arrived in America and the religious beliefs that Africans brought with them.

2. Explain how the owners of slaves encouraged them to convert to Christianity, many times placing great emphasis on the subject of servanthood often taught in the gospels and the epistles. The slaves, however, found hope for freedom in the Bible, particularly in the stories of Moses and stories of a better life to come. Therefore, they began writing a type of song called “spirituals” (songs with a religious text, often sung a capella, but using African song styles). The call and response song style was often used in African music and in African-American spirituals.

3. Explain that in the call and response style, the “call” is usually sung by a soloist and tells a story. The response is usually sung by a group and is a response (usually the same lyrics again and again) to whatever the soloist has sung.

4. Distribute lyric sheets and sing a well-known call and response style spiritual. (See suggestions under materials needed.) Teach at least the response to the students by echo singing. Initially the instructor will sing the calls. You could vary this activity by dividing the class and having one section sing the call and the other the response, or perhaps use a student soloist on the call.

5. Now that the students are more familiar with the call and response style, pass out the listening worksheets (see attachment). Read and follow the directions in the introductory paragraph. (You may want to write in a few answers for your class to help them keep up with the fast pace of the recording. It may also be helpful to write all of the answer choices on the dry erase or blackboard.) During answer checks, stop the recording and allow the class to discuss their answers thus far. This is not a test, but a learning activity, so students should feel free to correct answers during the answer checks.


1. Completion of the listening guide by the students is the basic goal of this lesson. Other lessons for the week would include:

  • How the lyrics of spirituals were sometimes used by the “underground railroad.”
  • Singing and instrumental experiences with additional spirituals.
  • A study of how the Fisk Jubilee Singers acquainted all of America with African-American spirituals.

2. At the end of the unit, a written test would be given to assess student retention.

3. Another possible assessment would be to present a musical program with performing groups and narration which would tie together all of the information students have learned about African-American spirituals.

Related websites

African American Music: Spirituals and Gospel Music


I used this lesson in conjunction with a nine week general music course I taught entitled, “Echoes of Africa.” The goal of the course was to acquaint students with the ways that the music of Africa has influenced American musical trends. The students studied traditional African songs and drum rhythms, spirituals, ragtime, the blues, jazz, swing, early rock and roll, doo wop, Motown, current R&B performers, and Rap. I was very pleased with the class discussions and general interest in slavery and the origins of the spiritual. I was also pleasantly surprised with the students’ appreciation for the vocal abilities of Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman. In addition to the study of spirituals, these recordings would be a great introduction to operatic singers. The songs are in English and are sung with such feeling that students cannot help but be drawn to the music.

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