Thanksgiving Music Lesson Plans

Thanksgiving holiday songs and music lesson plans to celebrate the giving season

By Barbara Moseley

Thanksgiving Music Lesson

Usually when we think about Thanksgiving we visualize a bountiful feast, family, pumpkins, and eclectic fall colors found in nature. One thing that is often missing is Thanksgiving music.  Students might sing Halloween songs, and winter holiday songs, leaving a blatant gap during the month of November.  Perhaps the songs that follow did not start out as Thanksgiving songs, but in the spirit of thanks, let these songs touch a chord in your heart. The holiday has morphed and evolved. So with that in mind let me introduce, my Thanksgiving list of songs that I hope will fill your cup.

One of my favorite songs that I consider a Thanksgiving song is "Simple Gifts".  This is a traditional folk song written by Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848.  This song depicts the Shakers pious life style with grace and, of course, simplicity.  The lyrics are:


'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Click this link to listen to Barbara Moseley's version of "Simple Gifts". 

Another piece that was not necessarily written for the holiday, but is a welcome addition, is "Pachelbel's Canon" by Johann Pachelbel.  It is an elegant and regal piece which inspires visions of the baroque period, lavish gowns, and inspired artists. George Winston's "Thanksgiving" is a lovely piano piece that would inspire anyone to want to learn to play piano. Jonny Cash sings the "Thanksgiving Prayer" straight from his heart with his edgy, and all encompassing voice.  

Let us not forget that this holiday was a tradition shared with Native Americans. I would love to be able to watch a video of a traditional song and dance from the original Thanksgiving celebrations. Seeing that we can only fantasize, the "Cherokee Morning Song" is thankful and speaks of appreciation for our mother earth.  There are many choral pieces that give thanks; in fact it is difficult to choose.  Renaissance choral music by Willaert and Mundy is nice to set a peaceful tone for heartfelt thanks. "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Theme" by Vince Guaraldi is by far the most uplifting, and is just plain fun. This jazzy music is great for all kids and adults regardless of background.  And for younger children, preschool through second grade, try singing "Turkey in the Straw" and "Over the River and Through the Woods". 

Try listening to all these pieces during the holidays, and ask your students when they think they were written, and by what type of artist. You can then ask students to describe how the tone and the emotion evoked. The music discussions can be used as a way to talk about how the holiday has been viewed though the years.  

Thanksgiving Music Lesson Plans: 

A Cornucopia of Food:  First grade students discuss the food grown and eaten during Thanksgiving, and the importance of eating healthy.

Hey Good Looking, What You Got Cooking? First grade students will sing "Five Fat Turkeys" and perform a skit.

Kindergarten Music Lesson:  Students will sing "turkey" songs learning theme, and improvisation.

Holiday Poetry and Music:  Students will create poetry and perform with hand crafted instruments.

The Wampanoag Indians:  Students will ask, "From whose point of view do we usually hear the Thanksgiving story?"






Music Guide

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Barbara Moseley