Essential Question

How can music help tell the story of your hometown?


Inspired by the award-winning HBO series Sonic Highways, TeachRock’s Hometown Documentaries project offers teachers and students the opportunity to embark upon a large scale research project that explores the musical history of, and breathes life into the area many students find the most boring — their hometown.  

With guidance from TeachRock, teams will research the musical history of their areas in libraries and archives, conduct interviews with parents, family members, local musicians, venue owners, historians, and fans. They’ll compile their research into a film and create a portrait of their town’s musical history – A town they thought they knew before, but now seen quite differently.

The TeachRock Hometown Documentaries are a dynamic, hands-on way for students to explore local history through music, problem solve, work on creating long form narratives, and engage in basic filmmaking. Completed films shine in students’ portfolios, demonstrating their ability to work in groups, organize and finish a major project, and apply scholarly concepts to real-world tasks. It is a truly interdisciplinary learning experience.

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Assembling a Team:

  • Teachers can work alone with their student groups or collaborate with another teacher (i.e. – a visual arts, social studies/history, music, theatre, or film studies teacher, etc.). 
  • Student groups should be no larger than ten.
  • Teachers should consult with the school’s media arts teacher or visual and performing department who may have cameras, tripods, or advice.


  • Cast a wide net, investigating anything that seems to have been interesting in your town. Encourage students to pursue any lead that emerges from an interview (see sample interview questions below). The final film likely won’t use everything, but anything students uncover will provide context about the music and the special character of their town.
  • Analyze the personal, social, cultural, and historical context of the music selected.
  • Investigate the various forums, informal and formal, where music happened including theaters, performing arts centers, clubs, street festivals, homes, churches, on the radio, etc…
  • Explore the history of former music spaces using all available resources. The students will look first to the internet, but the local libraries, historical societies, city clerk’s offices, and other local entities often have information, as well as staff that is happy to help students with a documentary project.
  • Gather and organize archival materials, from newspaper clippings to maps and video clips, still photographs, and anything that helps convey the story. This is material that can, adhering to intellectual and copyright considerations, be filmed and edited into the final product.
  • Encourage students to pursue a “master narrative” while researching, asking questions such as, “taken together, what does all this research say about our town in 1982?” This will help students refine their data as they move toward editing the film.


  • We suggest that students conduct “pre-interviews” with family members, guardians, extended family, or neighbors and other known adults who lived in the area. These do not need to be on camera. The purpose of pre-interviews is to get a sense for who might be good for a further, on-camera interview.
  • Note – A good interview candidate does not have to be a musician or even know one. Anyone with stories to tell about the town is an interview candidate.  

Sample Interview Questions:

  • How long have you lived in ___________?
  • What music did you listen to when you were young/when you were first living in _________?
  • Was there a local radio station you listened to? What kind of music did they play? Was there a DJ you liked in particular?
  • Did you ever go out dancing? If so, where? Can you describe the place and the music played?
  • Did you go out to listen to music? Where? Can you describe some of what you saw when you went to see music?
  • What did your parents and teachers think about the music you liked?
  • What music were you listening to when you first fell in love? Can you remember particular songs when you think of that person?
  • What do you know about the history of this place? What’s important about it?
  • If you had to explain to a stranger what makes this place special, what would you say?
  • How would you describe your neighborhood? How has it changed?
  • NOTE: If you know about any historical venues or events in your town, they are a great way to jog the memory of an interview subject. For example, ask, “Did you go to the Buck Owens Festival?”  Or, “Do you remember seeing any great bands at the Eagle Rock Music Festival?”


  • At the conclusion of pre-interviews, have the group discuss “casting” – picking subjects who had strong, emotional responses to the questions. The pre-interviews and research phase should also help students identify interview subjects with strong ties to the music of their community – People who knew the venues and went to them, went to the music stores, knew the radio personalities, and the musicians themselves.
  • Once subjects for the documentary have been identified, ask them for any photographs or other archival materials that might help support the story they are telling and request their permission.
    • For example, if an adult is talking about their youth, gaining permission and using a photograph of them as a young person will be an asset.


  • Brainstorming: before actual filming begins, students should brainstorm ideas to help “script” their film. Below are three questions to help generate ideas
    • What histories are the most compelling?
    • What are the major themes?
    • Who are the major voices?
  • Open exploration: though the script is essential to serve as a blueprint for the project, students should be prepared to augment with unexpected stories that are discovered along the way.
  • Have students watch professional documentaries in preparation of filming.
    • What makes a documentary compelling?
    • How do the scenes change in a documentary to keep the viewer engaged?
    • What makes for a good interview?


  • A standard HD video camera is preferable for filming. However, not all schools will have one at its disposal and students are encouraged to use whatever technology is available.
  • A cell phone video will often suffice, if set up appropriately (tripod).
  • Questions for students to consider while filming –
    • Should the interviewer be off camera?
    • Should the interviewer be off camera but still be heard?
    • What’s a location that is quiet enough for interviews?
    • Will the interviewee be comfortable and look good in the location selected?
    • Is a tripod or another way to secure the camera available so that the shot is steady?
  • Be sure to have students test all equipment for sound and image before cutting footage for the film. Never wait until the day of the shoot to have a run-through with the equipment. And always charge batteries and have back-ups!
  • After filming, be sure to back up your content on a hard drive. Make copies of copies.


  • Teachers and/or students will need some understanding of how to get filmed content from your camera/phone to whatever computer will be used for editing.
  • Final cut, Adobe Premiere, and iMovie (included on most Apple computers) are standard programs for editing footage. iMovie is usually the easiest to use and intuitive for students, however students involved in a film studies course at school should use whichever program they use in class.
  • It is best practice to create “buckets” of footage
    • Before editing, organize segments by subject area in the folders and hard drives they live in
  • Be mindful of changes in audio levels. Different interviews, stock footage, etc. will often vary in volume. Students should create a consistent volume level throughout the film.


  • Throughout the process, students should be finding still images, historical clips, newspaper headlines, and so forth that supports the subjects being discussed.
  • Additionally, the team should capture “B-roll” of the places being discussed.
    • If a particular artist is the subject, film his/her house and neighborhood.
    • That content can be used in the section in which that artist is being discussed.
    • For B-roll, audio is not a primary concern. It is content meant to support a section of film.


  • Students will want to gather the music to support the stories being told.
  • Music selections should support the expressive intent of the footage. The emotions, thoughts, and ideas of the music should be purposeful and meaningful.
  • Some music will be celebrated and easily accessible songs. Other songs being discussed may be more difficult to obtain. Feel free to reach out to us for assistance.
  • It is best to create a “musical bed” behind much of the footage. Students should accumulate music (instrumental is often best, but not obligatory) that can be used to fill in any “gaps” in the film.
  • Provide notice on screen that certain musical selections are included under the fair use exemption of the U.S. Copyright Law and are restricted from further use.

Key Points for Constructing a Film:

  • The students are characters in the story being told! While they will lead as filmmakers in this project, what the students discover along the way is the essential narrative of the film. Their fingerprints should be omnipresent on the film — on camera conducting interviews, doing research, etc. and creating any voiceover work that needs to be done.
  • B-roll and behind the scenes photos and video should always be kept in “buckets” during the project, as they will come in handy when moving into the final editing phase.
  • Look for not only the obvious choices as interview subjects (i.e. musicians), but also family members, guardians, extended family, or neighbors and other known adults.
  • To ensure the best quality audio possible, make sure to conduct interviews in a quiet place and, especially if relying on the camera mic, position the camera close to your subject so it clearly picks up every word.
  • Keep the frame tight on your interview subject (and your interviewer if they’re in the shot). You’ll notice in many documentaries that the narrator is shot from the chest up so that their facial expressions/nonverbal cues are clearly seen.
  • Try to keep the questions and topics at hand central to the location — the music and the history of the students’ hometown.

Film Treatment:

All film treatments will be evaluated based on the rubric outlined below. Only the most well-rounded submissions will be given the green light for production as part of TeachRock’s Hometown Documentaries Program.

A film treatment makes a case for why this documentary, why now.

Submitted film treatments should include:

  • A logline -Two to three sentences providing a description of your films location and people/subjects to be covered in the film.
  • Preliminary list of interviewees.
  • Preliminary list of original interview questions.
  • List of musical acts from or associated with your area (this can include out-of-town musicians who performed in the area).
  • Brief paragraph describing what the group already knows about their hometown and what members hope to learn through this process.

In the treatment, please indicate the number of students planning to participate and whether or not your school has access to filming equipment.

Click here to submit all treatments and inquiries

We look forward to seeing your stories!


National Core Arts Standards


  • Anchor Standard #4: Select, analyze, and interpret artist work for presentations.
  • Anchor Standard #5: Develop and refine artistic techniques and work for presentation.
  • Anchor Standard #6: Conveying meaning through presentation of artistic work


  • Anchor Standard #7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standards #8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard #10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standard #11: Relate artistic ideas and work with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 3: People, Place, and Environments

Career Technical Education Standards (California Model) – Arts, Media and Entertainment Pathway Standards

Design, Visual and Media Arts (A)

  • A1.0 Demonstrate ability to reorganize and integrate visual art elements across digital media and design applications.
    A1.1 View and respond to a variety of industry-related artistic products integrating industry appropriate vocabulary.
    A1.2 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and create projects and products across multiple industry applications. Entertainment |
    A2.0 Apply artistic skills and processes to solve a variety of industry-relevant problems in a variety of traditional and electronic media.
    A2.1 Demonstrate skill in the manipulation of digital imagery (either still or video) in an industry-relevant application.
    A2.2 Demonstrate personal style and advanced proficiency in communicating an idea, theme, or emotion in an industry-relevant artistic product.
    A2.4 Use visual metaphors in creating an artistic product.
    A2.9 Create a multimedia work of art that demonstrates knowledge of media and technology skills.
    A3.0 Analyze and assess the impact of history and culture on the development of professional arts and media products.
    A3.2 Describe how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence and are reflected in a variety of artistic products.
    A3.3 Identify contemporary styles and discuss the diverse social, economic, and political developments reflected in art work in an industry setting.
    A4.0 Analyze, assess, and identify effectiveness of artistic products based on elements of art, the principles of design, and professional industry standards.
    A4.2 Deconstruct how beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence commercial media (traditional and electronic).
    A4.4 Analyze the relationship between the artist, artistic product and audience in both an existing and self-generated project.
    A5.0 Identify essential industry competencies, explore commercial applications and develop a career specific personal plan.
    A5.3 Deconstruct works of art, identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images and their relationship to industry and society.
    A7.0 Demonstrate an understanding of the elements of discourse (e.g., purpose, speaker, audience, form) when completing narrative, expository, persuasive, or descriptive writing assignments.
    A7.1 Use point of view, characterization, style (e.g., use of irony), and related elements for specific rhetorical and aesthetic purposes.
    A7.2 Use language in natural, fresh, and vivid ways to establish a specific tone.
    A7.3 Enhance meaning by employing rhetorical devices, including extended use of parallel- ism, repetition, analogy; incorporation of visual aids (e.g., graphs, tables, pictures); and the issuance of a call for action.
    A7.5 Revise text to highlight the individual voice, improve sentence variety and style, and enhance subtlety of meaning and tone in ways that are consistent with the purpose, audience, and genre.
    A8.0 Understand the key technical and technological requirements applicable to various segments of the Media and Design Arts Pathway.
    A8.1 Understand the component steps and skills required to design, edit, and produce a production for audio, video, electronic, or printed presentation.
    A8.2 Use technology to create a variety of audio, visual, written, and electronic products and presentations.
    A8.3 Know the features and uses of current and emerging technology related to computing (e.g., optical character recognition, sound processing, cable TV, cellular phones).
    A8.4 Analyze the way in which technical design (e.g., color theory, lighting, graphics, typography, posters, sound, costumes, makeup) contributes to an artistic product, performance, or presentation.
    A8.5 Differentiate writing processes, formats, and conventions used for various media.
    A8.6 Analyze and assess technical support options related to various media and design arts.

Performing Arts (B)

  • B2.0 Read, listen to, deconstruct, and analyze peer and professional music using the elements and terminology of music.
    B2.2 Describe how the elements of music are used.
    B2.5 Analyze and describe significant musical events perceived and remembered in a given industry generated example.
    B2.6 Analyze and describe the use of musical elements in a given professional work that makes it unique, interesting, and expressive.
    B2.7 Demonstrate the different uses of form, both past and present, in a varied repertoire of music in commercial settings from diverse genres, styles, and professional applications.
    B7.0 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of multiple industry performance products from a discipline-specific perspective.
    B7.3 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of the musician in the professional setting.

Production and Managerial Arts (C)

  • C3.0 Analyze and differentiate the function of the various members of a production team.
    C3.1 Identify the skills and competencies of the various members of a production team including producer, production manager, director, assistant director, stage manager, production designer(s), post production, etc.
    C4.0 Demonstrate key skills and an understanding of the complexities of production planning.
    C4.1 Know the main elements and functional responsibilities involved in the production and presentation of the performing, visual, and media arts.
    C4.2 Know how artistic processes, organizational structure, and business principles, including funding and budgeting, are interrelated in both live and media production.
    C5.0 Apply knowledge of services, equipment capabilities, the workflow process, data acquisition, and technology to a timely completion of projects.
    C5.1 Identify essential qualifications and technological competencies for each team member, including artists, designers, performers, composers, writers, and technicians.
    C5.2 Plan the general coordination of various elements in a project or production.
    C6.0 Understand the key elements of developing and promoting a production from creation to distribution.
    C6.4 Create a promotional example using electronic media.

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