In 2014, I presented at the University of Rochester Institute for Popular Music’s annual Educators’ Workshop. It’s a day where secondary school teachers get together to share ideas, concepts, and philosophy on integrating popular music into schools. This session was titled “Popular Music-Based Composition Starters For Your Classroom” and it utilizes several examples from my own classroom.
In the video above, I share the ways I use the history of popular music to teach my students composition. We create and learn how to write lyrics on a staff using American Folk Music. Then we use the Blues to discuss chordal harmony in addition to improvising melodies. We create accompaniments to Rhythm and Blues music and make brand new Rockabilly arrangements during our study of the 1950s. When we get to the 1970s, my students compose and improvise bass lines based on disco and pop lines of the decade and also create compositions using synthesizers. In the 1980s, rap composition takes over. Examples and documents from each of these lessons is in that 35-minute video that includes questions from the audience.
The best part of all of these composition projects is that they reinforce everything else we are doing. They help my students practice performing without drilling and killing. We get to listen to musical examples with a purpose and discuss key points from the music that they also need to include. It’s a win all over.
I hope you use popular music compositions to teach in your classroom and share them with me!
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