Members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band wrote "Keep Your Head Up" inspired by their travels and musical collaborations in Cuba.

Keep Your Head Up

GRADE: 6-8, 9-12
TOPIC: Marching Band
DISCIPLINE: Harmonizing Instruments, Composition and Theory Strand


In this lesson, students will learn the lyrics, song form, and instrument techniques for the jazz song “Keep Your Head Up.” Students will illustrate their understanding of the song with a performance.



  • Gather facts about the song “Keep Your Head Up.”
  • Analyze song form.
  • Read music.
  • Apply instrument techniques and strategies for learning a song.
  • Play New Orleans jazz on an instrument.



Music – Harmonizing Instruments – Anchor Standard 1 Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
Music – Composition and Theory – Anchor Standard 3 Refine and complete artistic work.
Music – Composition and Theory – Anchor Standard 4 Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.



Students should have familiarity with reading music. Teachers should review the lesson resources, media, and websites prior to launching the lesson. 





  1. Display slide 3 of the presentation Keep Your Head Up to listen to the song “Keep Your Head Up” Preservation Hall Jazz Band ft. Pell. Ask students: What colors do you see? What mood does this song put you in? Does it make you want to dance, clap, or stomp your feet?


  1. Tell students “Keep Your Head Up” is by Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The song was written by band members Ben Jaffe, Charlie Gabriel, and Walter Harris and performed by Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “Keep Your Head Up” is a contemporary model composition that can be played at jazz funerals celebrating the lives of the dearly departed, parties, get togethers, and concerts. The song is featured in the documentary film A Tuba to Cuba. It was inspired by the band’s experience parading through the streets in Santiago (Eastern Cuba). There, they joined Tumba Francesca percussionists in accompanying dancers performing the quadrille (choreography introduced to the region by way of French/Haitian sugar plantations), fusing European and African cultural influences through music and movement. The band says, “It was a very moving moment to participate in creating a new song together with these brothers from another thread of the African diaspora that led to New Orleans Jazz by way of the Caribbean.”


  1. Engage students in a listening session with the song ”Keep Your Head Up.” Display slide 4 of the presentation to play the audio recordings.


  1. Have students discuss and compare each interpretation of the song. Ask: Which instrument is playing the lead/melody? Which instrument(s) are playing the chordal harmonies (banjo/guitar/piano/etc)? Which instruments are playing melodic harmonies? What is the time signature? Are there any notable differences when contrasting one recording against another? What emotions do you feel as a listener? What is driving the emotional change?



  1. Tell students they are going to learn the melody of the song “Keep Your Head Up.” Distribute the instrument-specific song guides below. Have students memorize the melody of the song. 

Clarinet/Tenor Guide: “Keep Your Head Up”
Drums Guide: “Keep Your Head Up”
Flute Guide: “Keep Your Head Up”
Piano Guide: “Keep Your Head Up’”
Sousaphone/Bass Guide: “Keep Your Head Up”
Trombone Guide: “Keep Your Head Up”
Trumpet Guide: “Keep Your Head Up”


  1. Distribute the lyrics “Keep Your Head Up” to students. Rehearse the verses and allow time for students to practice on their own.


  1. Have students reference the instrument-specific song guides to learn and memorize the chord progressions.


  1. Tell students that the song form for “Keep Your Head Up” is a riff-based improvised song that can vary (the sections are interchangeable).


  1. Introduce students to the instrument-specific techniques for “Keep Your Head Up.” Review the techniques with students and allow time to practice. 

Clarinet Techniques: “Keep Your Head Up”
Drum Techniques: “Keep Your Head Up”
Piano Techniques: “Keep Your Head Up”
Sousaphone/Bass Techniques: “Keep Your Head Up”
Trombone Techniques: “Keep Your Head Up”
Trumpet Techniques: “Keep Your Head Up”


  1. Encourage students to independently transcribe solos related to their instruments. They can study the works of traditional early New Orleans musicians to grow and refine their craft as soloists. Tell students they can incorporate early New Orleans musicians’ ideas with their own to discover their unique identities.


  1. Once students know the melody and techniques, have students play along with the recording “Keep Your Head Up” Audio Version by Preservation Hall Jazz Band on slide 5. To extend, play the melody and exercise embellishment, adding flavor or creating your own interpretation of the melody.



  1. Assess students’ knowledge of the song “Keep Your Head Up.” Have students perform the song and demonstrate the New Orleans functions and techniques for their instruments. Conclude the lesson with a written reflection. Ask: What factors influenced the historical and cultural tradition of the song “Keep Your Head Up?” “What instrument techniques are applied to the song “Keep Your Head Up?”



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.

Louis Ford, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
JoDee Scissors, Content Producer
Meghan Swartz, Music Artist Consultant
Mark Braud, Music Artist Consultant 



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