Music education always & always looking forward.

Incorporating Pop Studies into Traditional Ensembles: A Primer

 High & low art meet: the Pet Shop Boys at the BBC Proms, after the premiere of "A Man from the Future", July 2014.

High & low art meet: the Pet Shop Boys at the BBC Proms, after the premiere of "A Man from the Future", July 2014.

Greetings friends!  Chances are you've been directed to this blog from a presentation that I made at the APME Conference in Denver (June 17th, 2017).  With only a little time permitted, I was not able to get into specifics as to how I try to incorporate popular music studies & pedagogy into my classroom.  Much of this information here is for supplementary purposes; you know, extra little addenda here & there.  Some of these items can serve as overriding themes for full units or even quarters, and some can be fully flushed out lesson plans.  Without further ado, here are a few more details.

 Our good friend Usher Raymond.  Interval studies with him & Lil' Jon?!  I do that in my classes.

Our good friend Usher Raymond.  Interval studies with him & Lil' Jon?!  I do that in my classes.

^ Ear-training: every year, as students prepare for the All-State Chorus exam, interval ear-training is something we cover.  For these purposes, I put together a list of songs that prominently feature certain intervals, and often we'll refer to those in class.  Alternately, I'll bring up a song students are all familiar with (such as Taylor Swift's "Trouble", which just for reference purposes, has a prominent perfect fifth at the start of the pre-chorus).  

^ Arranging & Transcription: I make a deal with my kids every year.  If they bring me or can accurately dictate to me a pop song they're interested in, I will flush it out into a full arrangement for them.  This practice can enhance critical listening skills and transfer of ear-training skills to their personal listening habits.  This is also how I put together a pretty well-received arrangement of "What Makes You Beautiful" in 2012.  (The link is to a Finale BAK file.  And I'll be quite honest with you, I am itching to arrange & conduct Harry Styles's "Sign of the Times" right now.)

 Nowadays I cannot think of that One Direction song without singing its Sesame Street companion version in my head.

Nowadays I cannot think of that One Direction song without singing its Sesame Street companion version in my head.

^ Sight-Reading & Rhythmic Studies: I stole this idea from a fellow director in my district (who now kicks butt & takes names in Las Vegas).  Put a pop tune into Finale & remove its title.  How easy are the rhythms in "Another One Bites the Dust", which is so ubiquitous in pop culture to become almost intuitive, to read without knowing what the tune is supposed to sound like?

^ Concert Themes: I am very much invested in the idea of concert themes for a music program, especially for a Spring Concert.  It allows for a huge amount of interdisciplinary lesson planning along that theme and gives a very cohesive framework for the often chaotic last quarter of the school year.  In 2016, after what had been a difficult school year when morale was somewhat low, I instituted the School of Rock in my classroom, as we prepared for the Spring Concert (which was a wild success).  This boosted interest in musical learning and was a terrific lead-in to the Rock Band program we started that fall.  Included in the lesson planning were larger cultural discussions, such as, "What qualifies as rock?"  This paralleled many cultural discussions at the time, especially as NWA was being inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

^ In-class & At-home Analysis: One of the things I do here on my blog and in my classroom are to challenge students to listen for more in popular music, both during class and at home.  At the end of the school year, I challenged my chorus kids (as we'd been discussing conducting patterns) to tell me about a popular song not in 4/4.  One of my students came through the next day talking about the changing meter in "Hey Ya!".  Needless to say, I was pretty happy with her making those connections.

^ Personal Listening Surveys: Like it or not, we are responsible for our students cultural education, not just their band, chorus, or orchestra education.  Thus, it's important to know what they're familiar with and what they can and/or should be exposed to.  As I've said to many music teachers, yes, they need to know about Beethoven, but many of them also don't know anything about the Beatles.  (And while that sense of cultural relevance is often debated, I believe that it is important to have cultural foundational knowledge of the Beatles, as a launching point for further study.)  I had a student in the last year who, much to the chagrin & chiding of his classmates, did not know who Whitney Houston was.  We have a good deal of work in terms of introducing students to various sorts of music, and that goes far beyond an education in Gustav Holst.  Here's a link to a personal listening survey I've given to my students several times before.  

 PDF image of my listening survey.

PDF image of my listening survey.

I could talk all day about the purpose & merits of merging American (or British) vernacular music with highly regarded Western art music, and I will be glad to should you send me a message.  The point here is not why (you should already know that!) -- it's how to merge those fields in your elementary or secondary classroom.

APME Denver, CO: The Recap!

Sugar, Substances, Summer, and Self Care