Expand/Collapse The Human Instrument

Explore lesson plans and video to accompany the PBS series, Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music.

TeachRock has partnered with PBS, Higher Ground and Show of Force to create these lesson plans for the eight-part Soundbreaking series. These lessons are tailored for students in social studies, language arts, geography, science, and general music classes. Each lesson includes clips from the Soundbreaking series, archival photography, period advertising and journalism, and activities for students to experience the music-making firsthand.

The TeachRock project is an online educational resource from the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation. See, where these materials and more are available free-of-charge to students and teachers everywhere.

  • Microphones and Modern Life: A Listening Revolution | Lesson Plan | Soundbreaking

    Bing Crosby Publicity Photo

    This lesson explores the invention of the microphone and its aftermath, from different perspectives. Students will learn about inventors Thomas Edison, David Edward Hughes, their methods, and how sound waves are converted into analog and electrical signals. This lesson follows the improvement of the earliest microphone technologies, analyzing the methods to capture sounds and how vocalists employed the new capabilities of these microphones to sing to large audiences with an intimacy that was previously inconceivable. Students will also learn about the ways in which a heightened sense of personal connection with vocalists enabled the rise of a new kind of pop star.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • At the Heart of the Production: Recording the Voice | Lesson Plan | Soundbreaking

    Bob Dylan

    Students can learn about the different ways in which music technology can enhance a singer’s performance. This lesson also explores the listener’s interest in hearing the authenticity of a vocal performance. Either way, the heart of most popular music is the same, important center: the human voice.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Annie Lennox on Vulnerability | Soundbreaking

    Annie Lennox describes how singers feel vulnerable because "you're your own instrument." Lennox explains, in this Soundbreaking clip, that by expressing oneself despite that vulnerability, singers perform authentically. Amy Winehouse is described by Ben Harper as such a singer.
    Grades: 9-12
  • Auto-Tune | Soundbreaking

    Musicians explain how auto-tune software often works beyond its original intent as a pitch-correction tool in this clip from Soundbreaking. Auto-tune performs as a digital talkbox, a vocal effects mechanism popular in the 1980s. A clip from the animated TV show South Park demonstrates how it is used.
    Grades: 9-12
  • Bonnie Raitt on Recording | Soundbreaking

    Bonnie Raitt explains how personal recording is for singers, and how important it is to allow yourself to be vulnerable in this clip from Soundbreaking.
    Grades: 9-12
  • Frank Sinatra Lifelike Lyrics and the Magic of Audio Capture | Soundbreaking

    Writers and scholars describe Frank Sinatra's unique use of the microphone as a tool for musical and lyrical expression in this clip from Soundbreaking.
    Grades: 9-12
  • Pre-Microphone Recording The Microphone and the Rise of the Crooner | Soundbreaking

    The microphone's function as a tool for singers to create a sense of intimacy with her or his audience is the focus of this clip from Soundbreaking. Bing Crosby's use of the microphone was particularly compelling in this way. Before the microphone, amplification tools like horns and loudspeakers prevented singers from truly expressing a full range of emotions.
    Grades: 9-12
  • Vega, Massenburg and Robinson on Vocal Editing | Soundbreaking

    Suzanne Vega discusses splicing together several takes to make the perfect recording. While George Massenburg and Smokey Robinson discuss another method of vocal recording, "concert in the studio," wherein the musicians perform all together in the same room so as to feed off each other. This Soundbreaking clip compares both recording methods.
    Grades: 9-12