A Tuba to Cuba Film Lesson Plan – Preservation Hall Lessons

Keep Your Head Up

GRADE: 9-12
SUBJECT: History, Culture
TOPIC: Percussion, Song
DISCIPLINE: Traditional and Emerging Ensembles


In this lesson, students will learn the history and culture of jazz music in New Orleans and Cuba from the perspective of the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band from the award winning feature film A Tuba to Cuba. Students will gain an understanding of the ancestry and roots tied to jazz music’s lineage. They will also gain an appreciation for how this history influences musical culture from generation to generation. Then students will have the choice to sing “Keep Your Head Up” as an ensemble and present an artifact that represents a family tradition, or make homemade percussion instruments to play along with a live audience, audio creation, or video presentation.



  • Describe the history of jazz music in New Orleans and its connection to Cuban roots.
  • Identify the differences in cultural influences of jazz music and the implications for cultural identity.
  • Describe the traditions connected to generational values of music.
  • Sing “Keep Your Head Up” as an ensemble or make homemade percussion instruments to play along with a live audience, audio creation, or video presentation.



National Core Arts Standards

MU:Pr6.1.E.Ia Demonstrate attention to technical accuracy and expressive qualities in prepared and improvised performances of a varied repertoire of music representing diverse cultures and styles.
MA:Re8.1.I Analyze the intent, meanings, and reception of a variety of media artworks, focusing on personal and cultural contexts. 

Common Core State Standards

ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.



Teachers should review the media resources in the lesson, including watching the film A Tuba To Cuba prior to teaching. Disclaimer: A Tuba to Cuba is a music documentary rated PG-13. To learn more about film ratings, please read more here





  1. Display slide 3 of the presentation A Tuba to Cuba: “Keep Your Head Up” for icebreaker/in order to build background knowledge. Ask students to analyze the photographs. Ask: What genre of music might this band be playing? How can you infer that? Call on select students to share their thoughts. Gauge student understanding. Ask students: What do you know about jazz music? Where do you think jazz music originated from or with whom may it be a popular genre of music? Have students share their answers. 


  1. Tell students the photographs are from the documentary film A Tuba to Cuba, featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans on a trip to Cuba, where they visited to learn more about the roots of Jazz in Cuba. Describe to students the importance of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band visiting Cuba, as it offered more insight into the roots of jazz history and culture, passed down from generation to generation, tracing back to African ancestry and the civil rights era. The Cuban community celebrates their own unique style of jazz, specific to their heritage and African ancestry. 


  1. Explain to students that jazz is a type of music that has been passed down from generation to generation, honoring tradition and family and cultural values, and is a very important part of musical culture in New Orleans and Cuban communities. 


  1. Watch the film A Tuba to Cuba in its entirety. As they watch, ask students to familiarize themselves with key instruments, rhythms, members of Preservation Hall Jazz Band and musicians of Cuba. 



  1. Have students reflect on the film and ask: What is the importance and influence of this documentary, and from which perspective is it being told? Explain to students that the documentary is being told from the perspective of Ben Jaffe from Preservation Hall Jazz Band. He describes the importance of New Orleans as a “magical and mystical” place with rich history, and the importance of understanding Cuba and the impact its culture and history has had on the music of New Orleans, where jazz was born. 


  1. Play the clip from the film at [6:20-8:00] when Jaffe describes jazz music as “the bridge that connected everyone”. Show the quote on slide 4 and have students reflect on the statement as it relates to the civil rights movement era.


  1. Divide students into groups and provide each with writing tools and a poster board, chart paper, or large construction paper. Explain that students will engage in a collaborative discussion about the historical and contemporary ways that jazz connects people in New Orleans and Cuba. Have groups collaborate and show an understanding of how music connects people in that area by creating a web, drawing, notes, collage, advertisement, etc. Students may focus on spirituality, celebration, tradition, and community values in their visual representation. When small groups are finished, have each small group share its product with the whole group.


  1. Describe to students the great importance of cultural continuity and tradition in both Cuban jazz music and New Orleans Jazz music. Emphasize how musical traditions are passed down to today’s musicians by their cultural ancestors. Show the clip from the film from [26:55-33:00] to discuss how music is a tradition and passed down from generation to generation, and to see a performance featuring Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Piquete Tipico. Ask students to share what they notice in the way that the two bands share their different music styles with one another as they play together.


  1. Play the clip from the film at [52:20-54:30] that discusses the role of respect for elders, tradition, and community values that jazz music plays in Cuba, as well as how the Cuban community in Santiago describes the enslaved African ancestry and uses the Tumba Francesca dance to represent this history. Discuss the implications of how the tradition of music and dancing in Cuba has been passed down from their African enslaved ancestry, and the ways in which they honor and represent this ancestry in their own culture through dance and music.



  1. Have students re-listen to the song “Keep Your Head Up” Official Music Video by Preservation Hall Jazz Band or “Keep Your Head Up” Audio Version by Preservation Hall Band from the film. Ask students: What have we learned about the way art, music, and dance connect us culturally and intergenerationally? How do the lyrics, rhythm, and dances relate to the joys of life, family, and the passing of traditions?


  1. Choose from one of the following options:

Option 1: Music, Theater, Chorus, Band, General Classroom

Have students watch and learn the song “Keep Your Head Up” Official Music Video” by Preservation Hall Jazz Band or “Keep Your Head Up” Audio Version by Preservation Hall Band. Distribute Lyrics: “Keep Your Head Up”. Then have students perform the song as an ensemble. During the performance, students can optionally bring a picture, special item, or sign to honor a member of their family who has passed a tradition to the next generation (song, food, textile, celebration, object, activity). 

Option 2: English & Literature, History, or General Classroom

Divide students into small groups. Have students learn the first verse and chorus of Lyrics: “Keep Your Head Up” by Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Using ordinary classroom objects or body percussion (pencil tapping desk, clicking tongue, snapping fingers, drumming book bin), have students create an audio, video, or live performance singing the song and playing. Then have each group perform or present their work to the class.


  1. Conclude the lesson with a Reflection. Ask students to reflect and answer the following question in writing: Describe the importance of musical roots as it relates to jazz, New Orleans, and Cuba. How did jazz bring different cultures and generations together?



Herrington, T.G. (Director), Clinch, D. (Director). (2018). A Tuba to Cuba [Film]. Nom De Guerre Films; Setlife Films.



Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.

© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

Amanda Stewart, Digital Curriculum Developer
JoDee Scissors, Content Producer



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