The Popular Music Textbook Dilemma

by Dr. Norman Stanfield ~ June 1st, 2012. Filed under: Pop Music Studies.

If you look back at my earlier entry with virtually the same title, The World Music Textbook Dilemma, you will read my basic concerns which I will fine-tune here.

Like my M328 class, I have not been able to find a textbook that reflects the content of my lectures. Stating it another way, I don’t teach course material that is dictated by the contents of a textbook, as if I were merely an extension of the book, no matter how well structured and written a given text may be. I see bits and pieces of my hand-picked subject matter in the many textbooks which I will describe, below. But I believe students deserve the benefit of unique insights and discoveries that come from direct experience and personal research, rather than the formulaic structure of a rote education.

Textbooks have been a fixture of education since time immemorial, or at least since World War2. They were usually the principal source of information for any given course, acting both as a guide through the subject area and a reference. Now the reference component is completely overtaken by the Web, leaving only the direction of the course which ultimately is the responsibility of the instructor long before the advent of textbooks.

When I envisioned all the potential themes for my Popular Music Studies course, I quickly realized that I had enough material for dozens of lectures. This is certainly true of the field of Popular Music studies in general, making the topic almost impossible to coral in one book. So the themes in each of my lectures are designed to excite curiosity for self-guided learning in the future, in keeping with the 21st century attitude that life is filled with lifelong learning in the workplace, and “serious Leisure” at home.  Old hands will recognize these ambitions in descriptions of Continuing Education.

Ultimately, each student in my class will create their own DIY personal textbook based on the notes they write in class and during their online reading and study projects. Really dedicated students (hopefully everybody in the class) will supplement their notes with information gathered from the Web.

So, with all of this in mind, here is a brief and very select survey of textbooks that are available for students of Popular Music Studies. (A far more comprehensive bibliography is found on the web. Google Society for Music Theory: Popular Music Interest Group; BASIC BIBLIOGRAPHY.) One way to investigate these books is to look at them online, via Google books or similar sites. Or, go to the music library and browse the shelves where they are found. (Most of these titles have been placed in the M403J Reserve Books section of the Music Library.) Note that this survey does not include the amazing encyclopedias of Popular Music (e.g., Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World). Nor does it cover the multitude of excellent “readers” and essay compilations. That’s a subject for another blog entry.

Pop music textbooks roughly come in four varieties.

Popular music textbooks for non-music undergrads

This first category is comprised of books written for the massive, one-semester Popular Music classes found in major universities in the States (and one or two campuses in Canada). Like their fading predecessor, Music Appreciation (i.e., Western Art Music Appreciation), the pop music courses are designed for non-music students who enrol by the hundreds each semester, looking for an extra three units, some welcome relief from the rigour of their technical courses, or to broaden their Bachelor of Arts program of learning. They are essentially music history courses with all the styles of popular music arranged in chronological order, beginning with the ‘50s. They avoid music notation, knowing that their consumers, like their fellow Music Appreciation classmates, usually have no experience in the reading of music (although we all suspect that a great number of frustrated musicians participate in the course, having abandoned the dream of a career in music). The first two books are interesting adaptations of American texts, designed specifically for Canadian students.

Jay Hodgson et al (2009) Rock: A Canadian Perspective (Oxford UP, adapted from American Popular Music: from Minstrelsy to MTV, by Larry Starr and Christopher Alan Waterman: 2009, Oxford University Press USA). Jay Hodgson is one of the architects of the pop music program at University of Western Ontario.

Rob Bowman et al (2008) Rockin’ Out, Canadian Edition (Pearson Education Press, adapted from Rockin’ Out: Popular Music in The U.S.A., by Reebee Garofalo: 2007, Prentice-Hall). Rob Bowman of York University in the Toronto area is a pioneer in the study of Popular Music.

Barkley, Elizabeth Crossroads: The Multicultural Roots of America’s Popular Music (Prentice-Hall)

Campbell, Michael And the Beat Goes On: An Introduction to Popular Music in America, 1840 to Today (Wadsworth)

Campbell, Michael, and James Brody Rock and Roll: An Introduction (Schirmer)

Charlton, Katherine Rock Music Styles: A History (McGraw-Hill)

Covach, John What’s That Sound? An Introduction to Rock and its History (Norton)

Friedlander, Paul Rock and Roll: A Social History (Westview Press)

Stuessy, Joe and Scott Lipscomb, Rock and Roll: Its History and Stylistic Development (Prentice-Hall)

Szatmary, David P. Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock and Roll, 5th ed.  (Prentice Hall)

Popular music textbooks for music undergraduate students

These titles are a blend of music and sociology that would be appropriate for a third or fourth year course in a School of Department of Music. They would be most effective if they were a foundation course that would be followed by courses specializing in particular pop music area studies, for example, heavy metal.

Richard Middleton (1990) Studying Popular Music

Allan F. Moore (2001) Rock: The Primary Text: Developing a Musicology of Rock

Sociology textbooks for popular music studies

The second and much larger category of textbooks is rooted in sociology and cultural studies. Or to put it another way, many students prefer to bypass the litany of names and dates and go straight to the answers that come from asking “why”.  These kinds of music courses perfectly link with sociology and even anthropology departments. They also recognize a well-established truism that popular music is driven largely by sociological concerns and trends, either consciously or unconsciously. A few of these books also dabble in music theory specifically applied to popular music because they have been created for music schools in England that actually grant degrees in the study of popular music.  I have arranged the books in chronological order, beginning with Richard Middleton’s ground-breaking text which was the first to break into the post-secondary music education market. Not surprisingly, most of them originate in England.

Peter Martin (1995) Sounds and Society: Themes in the Sociology of Music

Simon Frith (1996) Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music

Keith Negus (1996) Popular Music in Theory: An Introduction

Jason Toynbee (2000) Making Popular Music: Musicians, Creativity and Institutions

Peter Martin (2006) Music and the Sociological Gaze

Brian Longhurst (2007) Popular Music and Society

Roy Shuker (2008) Understanding Popular Music Culture

Joe Kotarba and Phillip Vannini (2008) Understanding Society through Popular Music

Music theory textbooks for popular music studies

Then there are the new crop of popular music textbooks that are centred on music theory and analysis. They are closest to the kind of book one would imagine in a course on popular music in a school or department of music that offers an optional upper level music course that would exist alongside music theory courses devoted to twentieth century atonalism or advanced level set tone analysis. The one possible exception is Ken Stephenson’s book which is rather elementary, and would work well at the secondary level of school. The last three books are comprised of essays, a very popular trend in Popular Music literature. It still takes me aback to see a monograph on the use of bitonality in the music of Sarah McLachlan, as opposed to say, Richard Strauss.

Sorce, Richard (1995) Music Theory for the Music Professional: A Comparison of Common-Practice and Popular Genres

John Covach and Graeme Boone, editors (1997) Understanding rock: essays in musical analysis

Ken Stephenson (2002) What to listen for in rock: a stylistic analysis

Walter Everett, editor (2000) Expression in Pop-Rock Music

Allan F. Moore, editor (2003) Analyzing Popular Music

Allan F. Moore (2012) Song Means: Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song

Popular Music for Secondary and Primary Education

Finally, there is a particularly interesting genre of textbooks relevant to budding music educators. They signal the trend to enlarge and even replace, traditional music-making programs in schools such as class recorder, band, choir and orchestra.

As I compiled this list I was reminded of some startling statements I read a few weeks ago in Making Music with GarageBand and Mixcraft, by Robin Hodson et al. (Course Technology Cengage Learning, 2011). “Teaching creativity in the classroom has always been somewhat of an enigma in the traditional school music program. For whatever reason, many music educators find it difficult to teach their students how to be creative-specifically through music composition…the power of the (software and PC/Mac) tools our students have at their disposal, the creative opportunities that those tools facilitate, the incredible potential in all of the students we teach…that allow non-traditional (and traditional) music students to compose music without having to know how to read music…It is clear that the students in our classroom want to create content in the same medium in which they consume it. (page 2)

Lucy Green (2002) How Popular Musicians Learn: A Way Ahead for Music Education

Lucy Green (2008) Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy

Nicole Biamonte, editor (2011) Pop-Culture Pedagogy in the Music Classroom: Teaching Tools from ‘American Idol’ to YouTube

Carlos X. Rodriquez, editor (2004) Bridging the Gap: Popular Music and Music Education (based on a Northwest University seminar sponsored by the MENC, The National Association for Music Education)

But wait! There’s more

Having declared that there will be no textbook in the class, for lack of an appropriate candidate, I am now going to assign a textbook for the class – Ethnography in the Performing Arts: A Student Guide. It is a manual for doing music ethnography rather than a book specifically designed for a popular music course. Written by Dr. Simone Kruger, a distinguished academic and ethnomusicologist residing in England, the book will be the subject of four of the weekly reading assignments. And here’s the best part. It’s online and it’s free.

Kruger, Simone (2008) Ethnography in the Performing Arts (Palatine/Liverpool John Moores University)

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