The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Contributed by: Rebecca Harrington, Delhi Central School, Delhi, NY


Many adolescent boys are consumed by the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven.” The analysis of this song can be used to interest students in the music of the Renaissance minstrels. It will also serve as a means of making students aware of the many levels of interpretation inherent in textual art forms. Students will begin to learn how to draw meaning from lyrics applied to their own life experiences.


The student will be able to: 

  1. Describe common factors that make up madrigals.
  2. Explain how the guitar functions as a chordal support to the songs.
  3. Identify other songs of similar nature.
  4. Recognize strophic form.
  5. Describe word painting and identify its use.


Music History students, grades 9-12.

Time Frame

2-3 class periods, depending on whether the students find further discussion necessary.


CD player; music and lyrics for songs listed in “Selected Recordings.”


Students may need to listen to “Stairway to Heaven” while using the rock window or another analytic tool to really focus on the instrumentation. The lyrics should be read through at this point so that students will have some time to reflect on the words. It would also be helpful to discuss the background of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin in writing this song, specifically how Page was intrigued by mysticism and black magic and that the song was written at Boleskine in Scotland, a house lived in by Page but owned by Aleister Crowley.

Students will also need to know that during the Renaissance, it was felt that the lyrics took priority in a song and that music was not only the accompaniment but was also greatly influenced by the text.



  1. Students will listen to “Stairway to Heaven” and fill out a version of the Rock Window by Friedlander, focusing on the music and the lyrics.
  2. Students will share their observations with each other about what they heard in the song.
  3. Copies of the lyrics will be handed out (strophic form will be defined) and students will be asked to reflect on what is being said. They will then be asked to discuss their interpretations of the lyrics in small groups.
  4. The students will then be asked to listen to the song again to listen for ways that the text may have influenced the music that accompanies it (text painting). Students will share their findings with each other. Additional listening may be necessary.
  5. Students will then be given copies of the lyrics to “Lachrymae (Flow My Tears).” They will be asked to read the lyrics and form ideas about the meaning of the song.
  6. “Lachrymae (Flow My Tears)” will then be played; once again students will be asked to use the rock window as a guide to listening.
  7. A class discussion will be started to compare and contrast the two songs. Students will be asked to reflect on the idea that Page was aware of the songs of the minstrels and how he might have been influenced by them.
  8. Students will receive lyrics to additional madrigals “Hark All Ye Lovely Saints” and “The Silver Swan” and listen to these songs for further comparison.
  9. Students will work together in small groups to make lists of common factors among these songs. These lists would then be used as a tool in identifying other madrigals.


Students will be asked to find another example of a modern madrigal to share in class. They must be able to explain to their peers how the song fits the madrigal format.

Selected Recordings

“Stairway to Heaven” recorded by Led Zeppelin (Untitled, Atlantic, 1971); written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant; published by Superhype Publishing.

“Lachrymae (Flow My Tears)” recorded by Paul O’Dette (Dowland, Complete Lute Works, Harmonia Mundi USA, 1997); written by John Dowland.

“Hark All Ye Saints Above,” and “The Silver Swan” written by Thomas Weelkes and Orlando Gibbons.

Enrichment/Additional Resources

Friedlander, Paul. Rock and Roll, A Social History. Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1996.

George-Warren, Holly and Patricia Romanowski, editors. The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. New York: Fireside, 1995.

Randel, Don, ed. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

White, Timothy. Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1991.