May The 4th Lesson Plan: Alien Music in the Cantina

May The 4th Lesson Plan: Alien Music in the Cantina

One of the most iconic sounds and songs from the Star Wars franchise has to be the Cantina Band with their hypnotic alien swing music that just pierces through your head and sticks there for the whole day! Engage your students for May The 4th with this fun and intuitive lesson plan for all! 

Inspire:

  • Watch the first 45 seconds fo the Cantina Scene from Star Wars
  • What is it that makes this music sound like it could be from a Galaxy Far Far Away?
  • What would the culture be like for a species that plays this kind of music? 

Practice

  • The Cantina scene from Star Wars relies on standard musical conventions. The main theme is a four measure phrase built around the progression | Dm  |    |   C | F    |
  • The melody is essentially diatonic, outside of G# being used chromatic lower neighbors to A, over Dm, and a chromatic passing Gb between G and F, over C.
  • The music of the Cantina scene is heavily influenced by ragtime and kelzmer. Play "Black and White Rag" performed by Jo An Castle  and "Der Heyser Bulgar" performed by the Klezmer Conservatory Band  
  • Slight changes to familiar things can make them seem alien. What is is that suits these styles of music to the cantina scene? 
  • What styles of music would the students combine to create their own alien music?
  • Have students choose a song from the app to use as a backing track. Can they write new melody to try and make it sound like a new type of music?
  The song most people commonly refer to as the “Cantina Band Song,” or “Cantina Band 1,” actually has a very real, very Earthly name: “Mad About Me.” Then there’s “Cantina Band 2,” named because it’s the second song you hear during the Cantina Band scene in the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (yes, there are two songs), which is called “If I Only Could Let Go and Cry.

The song most people commonly refer to as the “Cantina Band Song,” or “Cantina Band 1,” actually has a very real, very Earthly name: “Mad About Me.” Then there’s “Cantina Band 2,” named because it’s the second song you hear during the Cantina Band scene in the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (yes, there are two songs), which is called “If I Only Could Let Go and Cry.

Record

Record the songs with new "alien" melodies over songs on the app.

Reflect

  • Listen back to the recordings 
  • Did the songs sound alien with the new melodies 
  • Is there anything that can make the song more alien?
  Both songs were composed by John Williams, who was given direction from George Lucas to make it echo swing music. "Can you imagine several creatures in a future century finding some 1930s Benny Goodman swing band music in a time capsule or under a rock someplace — and how they might attempt to interpret it?" Lucas reportedly told him. If you compare Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” to “Mad About Me,” the homage is perfectly clear.

Both songs were composed by John Williams, who was given direction from George Lucas to make it echo swing music. "Can you imagine several creatures in a future century finding some 1930s Benny Goodman swing band music in a time capsule or under a rock someplace — and how they might attempt to interpret it?" Lucas reportedly told him. If you compare Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” to “Mad About Me,” the homage is perfectly clear.

Take it further

Students can create a history of the culture that their music belongs to.

Materials Needed

IOS, Android, or Chromebook device

Differentiations:

With advanced classes you can use these ideas to explore how the concept of "alien" is dependent on the perceiver. 

  To perform the piece, Williams brought in nine jazz musicians, and included trumpet, saxophones, clarinet, a Fender Rhodes piano, a Caribbean steel drum, another drum, an ARP synthesizer for the bass and various other percussion. To give it that alien quality, the bottom end of the sound was minimized, with added reverb working to thin the instruments out even more.

To perform the piece, Williams brought in nine jazz musicians, and included trumpet, saxophones, clarinet, a Fender Rhodes piano, a Caribbean steel drum, another drum, an ARP synthesizer for the bass and various other percussion. To give it that alien quality, the bottom end of the sound was minimized, with added reverb working to thin the instruments out even more.

Suggested Assignments

Take the melody you wrote in class and now try and write a new backing track to it, using whatever sounds are available to you. 

Skills

MUSICAL: Ear Training / Expression / Recording

EXTRAMUSICAL: Creative Thinking / Critical Reflection / Emotional Empathy & Recognition / Effective Communication / Self Awareness & Confidence

 

 

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