Take Me to the River New Orleans Curriculum

Soundtrap for Education, in collaboration with Berklee PULSE Music Method and the Take Me to the River Education Initiative, proudly presents an inspiring curriculum ideal for teachers working with grades 9-12, inspired by “Take Me to the River New Orleans.” The Take Me To The River Education Initiative is a non-profit organization that brings people together to preserve musical traditions, inspire innovation, break down barriers, and elevate our collective souls.  We do this by sharing and teaching the story of where American music comes from. Designed to ignite a passion for music, celebrate diversity, delve into history, and foster inclusivity, this curriculum offers various engaging lesson types, including history, immersive listening experiences, hands-on musical activities, rhythmic exercises, and the creative potential of Soundtrap for Education.

Join us on a transformative educational journey through the roots of American music, celebrating its origins, diversity, and unifying power as we explore the vibrant melodies and stories that have shaped our cultural heritage.

Although we’ll outline the lessons here, you can visit Berklee PULSE’s “Take Me to the River” Curriculum to access the full curriculum, both in English and Spanish. You’ll need to create an account, but it’s FREE and EASY to do so. Get your school year started on the right foot with these lesson plans!

Unit 1 – Yes We Can: Arranging, Sampling, And Remixing

In this dynamic first unit, students embark on a musical journey inspired by Allen Toussaint. A Grammy-nominated Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Toussaint’s profound influence resonates not only in New Orleans music but across genres. From collaborations with New Orleans legends to iconic recordings with global music icons, his rich musical tapestry even extends into hip-hop, where artists have sampled his work.

What Students Will Learn:

In this unit, students explore the art of remixing, focusing on arrangements, samples, and remixes using Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” as their creative canvas. Using Soundtrap, they will master the process of crafting a remix within a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and gain insights into copyrights, discerning the boundaries between inspiration and appropriation. This unit encourages critical analysis of creative works and the development of students’ unique creative voices.

Aimed Outcomes:

The Art of Arranging: Students will grasp the concept of musical arrangement, gaining insight into how artists draw upon existing works to create or arrange their own pieces.

Exploring Sampling: Students will delve into the world of sampling, learning how artists use portions of recorded songs to craft new and innovative works.

Copyright Awareness: Students will develop an understanding of the ethical and legal considerations when utilizing other people’s creative work, distinguishing between inspiration and appropriation.

Differentiating Remixes from Arrangements: Students will differentiate between an arrangement and a remix, recognizing the unique qualities that set them apart.

Remix Creation: Through hands-on experience, students will create their own remix using Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” putting their newfound knowledge and creativity into practice.

Appreciation of Attribution: Students will understand the importance of giving credit and attributing creative work to its source.

Explore the lessons on Berklee PULSE: Unit 1 – Yes We Can: Arranging, Sampling, And Remixing

Unit 2: Congo Square and the Foundation of New Orleans Music

In this portion of the “Take Me to the River” curriculum, explore the heart of New Orleans music in Unit 2 as we journey to Congo Square. Steeped in history, this space was a hub of African musical traditions from the city’s inception in 1718 to the mid-1800s. Enslaved Africans gathered here every Sunday, sharing food, arts, and crafts, and by 1819, thousands joined these gatherings.

Congo Square preserved African music and dance practices on American soil, influencing diverse genres like Traditional New Orleans Jazz, Mardi Gras Indians, Second Lines, R&B, and more. The rhythms born here continue to PULSE through New Orleans’ musical veins, shaping Jazz, Brass Bands, Funk, and Bounce.

What Students Will Learn:

In Unit 2, students will delve into the historical importance of Congo Square, unraveling its role as a cultural epicenter. They will explore how the African rhythms cultivated in this space influenced the musical landscape of New Orleans and contributed to the development of various popular music genres today. Specifically, students will investigate the rhythms that underpin New Orleans music, exploring foundational rhythms like Bamboula, Tresillo, Habanera, Son Clave, and Cinquillo.

Aimed Outcomes:

Understanding the Significance of Congo Square: Students will grasp the historical and cultural importance of Congo Square in preserving African musical traditions.

Exploring Foundational Rhythms: Students will discover the foundational rhythms of New Orleans music and explore how they continue to shape the city’s musical landscape.

Polyrhythms in New Orleans Music: Students will learn about polyrhythms and their role in New Orleans music, enhancing their understanding of the complexity of these rhythms.

Explore the lesson: Unit 2: Congo Square and the Foundation of New Orleans Music

Unit 3: Exploring Traditional New Orleans Jazz

New Orleans, renowned as the birthplace of jazz, had a rich musical heritage even before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. A blend of masquerade balls, opera, ballet, and military bands converged to create jazz. Traditional New Orleans jazz features a distinctive ensemble, often including cornet or trumpet, clarinet, and trombone, engaging in rich polyphony with improvisation while preserving the melody. Supported by a rhythm section of piano, guitar or banjo, bass or tuba, and drums, New Orleans jazz’s stylistic features are ever-evolving.

It’s crucial to use accurate terminology. “Traditional New Orleans jazz,” “traditional jazz,” or “early jazz” are preferred terms, while “Dixieland” should be avoided due to its racist origins.

What Students Will Learn:

In Unit 3 of the “Take Me to the River” curriculum, students will embark on a musical journey through the vibrant world of traditional New Orleans jazz, delving into melodies, harmonies, African rhythms, collective improvisation, and on-the-fly arranging. They will discover the essence of this genre and learn how to perform traditional New Orleans jazz songs by ear, embracing the authentic spirit of this musical tradition. Additionally, they will explore the concept of collective improvisation, a key feature of traditional New Orleans jazz.

Aimed Outcomes:

Learning Authentic Performance: Students will understand how to perform traditional New Orleans jazz songs authentically, relying on their ears rather than written notation.

Embracing Collective Improvisation: Students will explore collective improvisation, a fundamental aspect of traditional New Orleans jazz, and understand how it’s approached in this genre.

Arranging Traditional Jazz: Students will learn how new existing song arrangements are constructed in traditional New Orleans jazz and discover how unique arrangements can be created spontaneously.

Explore the lessons: Unit 3: Exploring Traditional New Orleans Jazz

Unit 4: Stompin’ Ground and 504 (Enjoy Yourself): New Orleans Brass Bands and Anthems

When envisioning the music and culture of New Orleans, it’s impossible to ignore the image of brass bands parading through the streets during second lines and jazz funerals. Brass bands have been an integral part of New Orleans’ musical traditions since the 19th century, initially parading alongside benevolent societies and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. As popular music evolved, so did brass band music, absorbing influences from R&B, funk, bebop, hip-hop, and more. The portability of brass ensembles enables them to extend beyond the streets into concert halls and festivals, uniting people in collective celebration.

What Students Will Learn:

Unit 4 provides students with insights into New Orleans brass bands, from their emergence to their evolution over time. Students will gain an understanding of how Hurricane Katrina helped shape the city’s music and culture. Moreover, students will explore the concept of anthems and actively engage in the creative process of writing their own anthems or songs.

Aimed Outcomes:

Understanding Brass Bands: Students will grasp the significance of brass bands and how they have become an integral part of New Orleans culture.

Evolution of Brass Band Music: Students will explore the evolution of brass band music, tracing its development over time.

Katrina’s Impact on Music and Culture: Students will comprehend the effects of Hurricane Katrina on musicians and their expressions of its impact through music.

Anthem Creation: Students will learn what anthems are and actively engage in crafting their own anthems or songs.

Explore the lessons: Unit 4: Stompin’ Ground and 504 (Enjoy Yourself): New Orleans Brass Bands and Anthems

Unit 5: Won’t Bow Down – The Traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians

Mardi Gras Indians, also called Black Masking Indians, embody a distinctive New Orleans tradition. African American individuals come together to form tribes in New Orleans, crafting elaborate hand-beaded and feathered suits inspired by Native American and African ceremonial attire.


Excluded from mainstream Carnival celebrations, Black New Orleanians forged their own traditions, including the Mardi Gras Indians, rooted in oral history. This tradition celebrates the encounters between New Orleans Indigenous and Black communities, acknowledging the Indigenous assistance to enslaved people seeking freedom. Mardi Gras Indians are known for their extravagant, handcrafted suits, created anew each year and revealed on Mardi Gras Day.

What Students Will Learn:

In this unit, students will explore the world of Mardi Gras Indians as a part of the “Take Me to the River” curriculum, delving into their identity and history. By studying the tradition of beadwork, students will gain insight into this unique art form, connecting it to their own culture and traditions. Furthermore, students will discover the musical contributions of Mardi Gras Indians and their lasting impact on New Orleans music.

Aimed Outcomes:

Understanding Mardi Gras Indians: Students will gain a comprehensive understanding of the Mardi Gras Indians, their origins, and cultural significance.

Exploring Beadwork: Students will study the art of beadwork and its evolution within the Mardi Gras Indian tradition.

Preserving Traditions: Students will delve into the importance of passing down traditions within families and communities.

Musical Influence: Students will recognize the influence of Mardi Gras Indians on mainstream culture through their music.

Explore the lessons: Unit 5 Won’t Bow Down – The Traditions Of The Mardi Gras Indians

Get Your Students Involved Today 

In collaboration with Soundtrap for Education,  the Berklee PULSE® Music Method, and the Take Me to the River Education Initiative, this curriculum celebrates the roots of American music, promotes inclusivity, and empowers students through the language of music. With diverse lessons that combine history, immersive listening, hands-on musical activities, and the creative tools of Soundtrap for Education and Berklee PULSE, this curriculum is designed to inspire educators and students alike.

Soundtrap for Education offers a dynamic platform for engaging students in creative musical exploration. Access the full curriculum on Berklee PULSE’s Take Me to the River page to unlock a journey that ignites students’ passion and leverages the power of music education. Explore the transformative potential of music with your students today!

Want to create your own curriculum with Soundtrap? Check out our Back-to-School Toolkit and make your lessons even more fun for your students.