Going Electric


  • Going Electric: How Electricity Helped Bring The Guitar to the Forefront of Popular Music | Lesson Plan | Soundbreaking

    Charlie Christian Playing Guitar with the Harlan Leonard Band, Lincoln Hall, Kansas City Missouri 1940

    Students investigate how the guitar became a key factor to the emergence of a sound that came to define Rock and Roll and, to a large extent, mid-20th century American popular culture. This lesson features content from the PBS Soundbreaking episode, “Going Electric,” which includes the guitar playing of luminaries Charlie Christian, Pete Townsend, Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix. It also examines the spirit of curiosity, adaptation and invention that characterized the early 1950s and in the 1960s.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • The Music of Machines: The Synthesizer, Sound Waves, and Finding the Future | Lesson Plan | Soundbreaking

    Malcolm Cecil

    Students can learn about early synthesizers, how electricity was used to modify the sound created by acoustic instruments, and the soundwave—the component on which all of sound syntheses is formed.  Students will study what a sound wave is, how it travels and how our bodies convert it into intelligible sound. Using the Soundbreaking Sound Wave TechTool, students learn to recognize four basic waveform shapes by sound and sight. This lesson also explores the role the synthesizer played in relation to people’s perceptions of technology and culture in the 1970s, 80s and beyond.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Blues Musicians Migrate to Chicago | Soundbreaking

    David "HoneyBoy" Edwards and B.B. King explain how rare electric guitars were in the farm communities of the rural south, in this clip from Soundbreaking, due to their expense and the fact that many people did not have electricity. As rural musicians migrated north to Chicago, a shift in focus occurred from the acoustic to the electric guitar in the Blues.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Charlie Christian and the Introduction of the Electric Guitar | Soundbreaking

    This Soundbreaking clip highlights the importance of electric guitarist Charlie Christian's role in the history of the instrument. George Benson and Gary Giddens explain that John Hammond's role in connecting Christian with renowned band leader Benny Goodman changed the way band leaders thought of the guitar, as its role went from a strumming background instrument to a lead/solo instrument.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Devo and the Synthesized Future | Soundbreaking

    Musician Mark Mothersbaugh discusses his band Devo's political motivations in creating their songs as a backlash to the political apathy heard in many all-male rock bands from the 1970s in this clip from Soundbreaking.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Robert Moog and the Modular Synthesizer | Soundbreaking

    Producer Bob Margouleff discusses the profound influence of Robert Moog's invention of the portable synthesizer in this clip from Soundbreaking. Once so huge they could only be used in a recording studio, Moog's synthesizers enabled musicians to bring their instruments to the stage.

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Development of the Fuzz Tone | Soundbreaking

    Musicians discuss the importance of the fuzz tone pedal in the sound of the electric guitar, in this clip from Soundbreaking.

    Grades: 9-12

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