Greetings everyone! This blog is about teaching popular music and its very specific value to your secondary classrooms. Continue reading to find out how/why.
The idea for this particular blog had been knocking around in my head for awhile, and then I also realized that I had some pretty cool things to share -- namely, my master's project that I began during my last year as a student at The Florida State University. I have always been interested in the intersection of academic study of Western classical music and Western popular music.* While my master's program did not include a thesis, per se, each of us had to complete a Directed Independent Study project. As I was about 2/3 of the way through my graduate degree, I realized what I wanted to do, and with the help of my main adviser, I realized how I wanted to do it.
My goal was to list popular songs that contained specific theory concepts that could then be used to reinforce concepts as they are taught in secondary music settings. That list turned into a website and then into a wiki. It was suggested that I start with 200 songs in the wiki (akin to the Billboard Top 200), and the wiki does contain 200 songs mentioned, but not 200 completed entries. (Even two years later, it's still a work in progress.**)
So I'm taking these individual wiki entries and making them into blog entries. Brilliant!
When I say specific music theory concepts, I'm talking things like cross-rhythms (teaching middle schoolers quarter note triplets sometimes is rough) as prominently found in Kansas's "Carry on My Wayward Son", changing meter, as prominently found in Neko Case's "Middle Cyclone", modulation and recognizing key changes, as found prominently in Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror".
Some of the songs you'll see written about are very well known. Sometimes playing these songs will make your students believe that you're become DJ for the day. Some of these songs are a little further into the great popular music canon. Almost all of them are available on Spotify, as I found this particular service to be invaluable to my digging, as well as to teaching in general. Sometimes you can fill a whole class period with these ideas (as if there's not enough other stuff to cover, always). Sometimes, you might be able to play XTC's "English Roundabout" at the end of class if your kids are having difficulty counting to five as they're working on a 5/4 piece. Sometimes you might feel compelled to play Lionel Ritchie's "Hello" if they don't understand that the last chord in a particular song is supposed to contain a Picardy Third. Sometimes these ideas might save you from writing a lesson plan. You're welcome.
If you'd like to access the wiki, it is located here: popclassroom.wikispaces.com -- the login is popguest and the password is fsumme14.***
Many people have told me that the wiki didn't exactly work correctly for them, so eventually, the idea of combining a blog (generally safe for work, and one that does not reveal identities except for my own) and publishing various entries from the wiki seemed like a no-brainer.
So that's what I'll post here. Bit by bit, you'll get a good number of songs (that you can play in your classroom! for the most part!) to reinforce music theory concepts in your secondary music classrooms.
I teach ensemble classes, so when I use a song here or there, I try to directly connect it to music that we're working on performing in class. Sometimes it goes over my sweet little middle schoolers' heads, but we try our best.
I hope you are able to find something useful here. In addition to the theory-laden pop song entries, I'll also occasionally post lesson plans, worksheets I created (i.e. good excuses for you to have your classes watch The Muppet Movie  and The Muppets  during testing weeks, and make it seem like Marzano is involved somehow). I'll also post things I find relevant or at least amusing that are also pertinent to the life of a music teacher.
I have no experimental evidence to prove that any of this works. But I have a lot of anecdotal evidence that music programs in public schools are waning, and that many of them could use a shock right to the heart. Additionally, many schools are adding popular music programming and curriculum (even on more typical popular music instruments, such as guitar, bass, and drumset, as well as rock piano). The Florida Music Educators Association is also hosting a popular music festival, referred to as a "multi-genre" music festival, starting this year. (I am really not a fan of "multi-genre musical festival", but no one consulted me.)
Also, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
I hope that if you like what you find here, you'll spread the word. That would be really awesome and deeply appreciated. I hope you'll give me feedback and let me know if I make a glaring error in analysis or how a certain idea could be more deeply explored. I don't want your money but who are we kidding: attention is always nice.
*I am not tremendously well-versed in music from Indigenous Americans, nor traditional or popular music from really anywhere in Africa or Asia (with the exception of Russian Mighty Five composers), but one day I do hope to be, so we'll expand as my personal knowledge expands.
**I also had a baby within the last two years, so the updating of said project has taken a backseat. The creation of this particular blog is essentially the equivalent of my project once again calling "shotgun!" like my younger brother did every time we entered a car as kids. Besides, you can't put an infant carseat in the front seat anyway.
***Also in the works: a "genre songs" segment of the wiki. This portion will include songs that exemplify specific genres or sub-genres of popular music for reference purposes. When listening to these songs, you can have students identify stylistic traits within these genres.