Music ed book review: “What’s That Sound?: An Introduction To Rock and Its History”

Bringing you tools you can use in your school-aged music classroom is my primary focus here at the blog, and John Covach’s What’s That Sound?: An Introduction to Rock and Its History is a source I use weekly. Let me tell you what I like and don’t like about it.

I need to start this blog post with a disclaimer; I consider John a friend. He and I have hosted a pop music educators conference at the University of Rochester where John teaches for a few years now and I taught with his wife for my first several years as a teacher. Keep reading, though, because I plan on being objective.

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Book Cover (Third Edition)

What I like:

Covach is able to tell a thorough history of popular music. It contains all the information you could need to make an informed decision on including a topic in your curriculum. John trumpets the 1970s which some music historians gloss over and it’s certainly a strong point of the book.

The best thing the book brings to the table are the listening charts. I liked the format so much, it’s the only thing I use when my student break down what they are hearing in a pop song. Breaking it down by time frame while filling in musical form information and the music elements happening in that short amount of time really helps students deconstruct the music when they are listening. It also helps them organize their thoughts when they are the ones making the chart.

What I don’t like:

This is never going to be a book I give to my students. It’s a college-level text and some language and topics are not appropriate for my students, though that can be said for the vast majority of popular music resources not specifically designed for middle school.

The book contains a mammoth amount of information which can seem daunting. For music educators, it should be treated as a starting off point. It doesn’t contain creating or performing aspects of the music, for instance.


Like I said in the opening, I use this resource at least once a week. I arrange my general music class as a history of popular music, so I bone up on the next class or unit the week prior to teaching it and keep it on my desk for the inevitable follow-up questions my students have. I wouldn’t use it so frequently if I didn’t think it was a great resource.

You can find the latest edition of What’s That Sound?: An Introduction to Rock and Its History on Amazon. John is also an active follow on Facebook as is the University of Rochester Institute for Popular Music.

images (1) @MattWarrenMusic

Music ed book review: “What’s That Sound?: An Introduction To Rock and Its History”

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