Alexander's Ragtime Band

Irving Berlin/arr. Paul Jennings

This song gives us many opportunities to teach 20th century music history. First, there are lyrics that may sound strange to your students. Many won't know what a bugle is. Terms like "honey lamb" aren't very common and (unless you've covered it previously) most won't know what ragtime is. Play examples of bugle calls and ask, "How did Irving Berlin incorporate an actual bugle call into this song?" (The rhythm and melody at measure 13 are similar to a bugle call.) Secondly, there is a nod to "Old Folks At Home" ("Swanee River" – the state song of Florida) starting at measure 29. You may want to locate a recording of the song and have your students find the place in "Alexander's Ragtime Band" where there is a brief allusion to that melody.

This tune is also a chance to analyze basic form. While some may debate nuances of the form, and that's fine, the basic structure of this piece is ABACA, a rondo. You can break it down like this: Introduction, then A begins at measure 5, B begins at measure 13, A returns at measure 21, a short C section begins at measure 29 ("Swanee River"), then A returns at measure 33 (or "A prime" to be specific). You could have students represent each section with body percussion or rhythm instruments. A "walking bass" can be used for the A section (E-flat, D, C, B-flat) if you have instruments with those accidentals available.

Of course, one of the most standout things about this nifty song is Paul Jennings' masterful orchestration. It features a full orchestra with winds, strings, and an awesome rhythm section that includes a banjo.

This song includes a "Diving Deeper Into The Music" interactive learning assessment PDF.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.