Essential Question

How did Bob Dylan’s early experiences with Folk and Rock and Roll music influence his songwriting?


Artists from the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen have cited Bob Dylan as one of the most important influences on their music making and songwriting, noting that Dylan helped them see the possibilities of a different kind of lyric writing that was more intimate, personal, and autobiographical than what they found in early Rock and Roll songs.

Much of what Dylan was doing stemmed from his early experiences with the Folk music scene in New York City and as a self-styled disciple of the legendary Folk singer Woody Guthrie. But it is often forgotten that Dylan’s first forays into popular music came as a member of several Rock and Roll bands in high school in Minnesota, where his yearbook picture noted that his dream was “to join Little Richard.” If Dylan is known as an artist who injected lyrical complexity and seriousness of purpose into mainstream Rock and Roll, his early career also reflects the injection of a Rock and Roll sensibility into the Folk idiom.

In this lesson, students explore how Dylan’s early musical experiences reflect an artist with an uncanny ability to create something new out of what had come before, and how he sowed the seeds of a Folk/Rock and Roll hybrid that would have enormous influence on American popular music.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • A basic definition of Folk music
    • Dylan’s early experiences as a Folk musician and his emulation of Woody Guthrie
    • Dylan’s early experiences with Rock and Roll as a musician in high school
  2. Be able to (skills):
    • Extrapolate meaning from a timeline
    • Interpret original quotes and archival interviews
    • Compare and contrast songs for style and meaning
    • Compare and contrast traditional Folk and Rock and Roll music