"Barbara Allen": The Evolution of Folk Songs

Students will listen to several performances of the ballad “Barbara Allen” and compare the transcripts, which they will analyze for insights into the ballad as a part of oral tradition. 

Standards & Objectives

Learning objectives: 

The learner will

  • Understand the characteristics of the folk song and the ballad
  • Understand that ballads were passed down within a culture as part of an oral tradition (memorization, etc), and how a song can change and evolve during that process
  • Understand that folk songs and ballads were the popular music/entertainment of their time
Essential and guiding questions: 

How does a folk song evolve over time?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

Another characteristic of ballads is that they were often based on real events, or believed to have been based on real events, even once it was no longer remembered when or where the event happened. Have each group pick a current or recent event and write a short ballad (three or four stanzas) about it. If possible, have each group also pick a tune and sing their ballad for the class. 

Helpful Hints


  • Lyrics Comparison Handout
  • Barbara Allen Worksheet