A healthy portion of my reasoning for starting this blog was to disseminate my graduate work. Good idea, Emily! For my DIS (Directed Independent Study) as a graduate student at FSU, I came up with a website (at my general adviser's suggestion) that turned into a wiki (at my friend's suggestion) and begot a paper (which is in dire need of editing but oh well) that discussed popular music in the secondary music classroom.
Moreover, it discusses using popular songs as teaching points and/or reinforcements to musical concepts. Having a hard time teaching your kids about changing meter? Play them Michael Jackson's "Burn This Disco Out". Need your theory class to recognize the difference between Dorian and Aeolian mode? Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk" might help you out there. Want to reinforce the historical idea of the tritone as the Devil's interval, while taking a break from species counterpoint? The opening to Black Sabbath's "Black Sabbath" might connect with students.
Either way, it was my goal to find up to 200 songs that helped explain specific musical concepts. For example, during a stretching warm-up that my chorus kids do, I realize that they do not count to seven in subsequent measures as smoothly as they count to four, six, or eight. I might help them by playing Broken Social Scene's "Shoreline (7/4)". (And I'd get really overly excited.)
In the future on this particular blog, you'll find individual entries of songs that I covered in my DIS -- and some that I didn't, such as "Uptown Funk", which was not released when I was completing my project -- with a brief write-up in this general format. I might write a short paragraph or two about the song and about teachable moments (and how my kids have reacted to certain songs), followed by descriptions of the songs as they appeared on my wiki.
At the top of each entry, you'll find a YouTube video of the song. For a blog format, I thought this might work best and give readers a reference point. Some of the songs I refer to are well known by music lovers, and others might not be. Remember, we're coming up with songs for the purpose of connecting with kids, so sometimes you've got to dig deep into current pop.
The Intro will contain some facts about the song or the artist and why that song or artist are culturally pertinent. (Many of these artists are extremely culturally pertinent; it wasn't hard to find hard facts on Janet Jackson. Neutral Milk Hotel, on the other hand...well, let's just say that "all of my friends love them" is not an academic argument as to their cultural pertinence.)
The Analysis section will always be very brief. It will not contain a huge, theoretical mini-paper on each song. In my initial research for this project, I started reading too many doctoral level theory papers on Radiohead containing insane diagrams and then I was done. The analysis portion of each entry contains a brief analysis, or rather notes on where to listen for the musical device (changing meter, modulation, etc.) in the song.
Considerations for Teaching on each entry are important, and here's why. As I was beginning to research my project, I found a page on the vastly underutilized website OverthinkingIt.com that listed the supposed greatest all time modulations in pop music. The first section of the article dealt with the monster modulation in Sisqo's "Thong Song". That essay remains my favorite piece of pop culture writing I've ever found on the Internet, and the discussions that took place on the website (including input from some music theory doctors) were pretty incredible, too.
But no responsible teacher is going to blare "Thong Song" in their classroom. Sure, it wafted from many a DJ booth at high school dances circa 2000, but it's not appropriate for inclusion in classroom curriculum. (I'm not THAT much of a rebel.) Music teachers get in enough trouble as it is for the music that they program. For teachers reading this, the Considerations for Teaching should almost not be abbreviated as CfT but CYA. If you find yourself in hot water because of a song that you played in your classroom, don't say I didn't warn you. Additionally, Steely Dan might seem innocuous enough (sort of), but the origins of the band's name are not. If a student brings that to your attention the day after you play "Aja" in class, like I said, don't say I didn't warn you.
As time goes by, I'll add links to my Spotify playlists that helped me get through the project. At best, these songs & the entries I post about them can help your students connect sometimes difficult concepts found in the music in your classroom or performance repertoire to music they already connect to. At worst, they'll provide lots of lesson plan inspiration for days when things are, for whatever reason, out of whack in your ensemble classes (testing days, alternate schedules, early dismissals, late starts, post-concert days where your admins are coming to observe, etc.). And then one day when a former student of yours is on a nationally televised quiz show and asked a question about musical meter, they can have a Slumdog Millionaire moment based on you playing that one Tears for Fears or Dionne Warwick song that one day in class.
General music teachers, you're welcome.
Enjoy, and carry on.