From musical detectives to DJs: Expanding aural skills and analysis through engaging popular music and culture

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You Are Here:, Contemporary Issues, curriculum, music education, pedagogy, popular culture, popular music, publicationsFrom musical detectives to DJs: Expanding aural skills and analysis through engaging popular music and culture

Tobias, E. S. (2015). From musical detectives to DJs: Expanding aural skills and analysis through engaging popular music and culture. General Music Today, 28(3), 23-27. doi: 10.1177/1048371314558293

My article From musical detectives to DJs: Expanding aural skills and analysis through engaging popular music and culture is now published. Here is the abstract:

Many music educators address aural skills and analysis by drawing on strategies designed for the realm of Western classical music. Focusing solely on aural skills and analysis within paradigms of Western music can limit students’ musical learning and engagement to particular ways of knowing music. To diversify and broaden the types of aural skills and analysis that students learn and engage with, music educators might consider contexts beyond Western classical music. This article outlines several ways that music teachers might situate aural skills and analysis in the context of musical engagement related to popular music and culture. Designed with secondary students in mind, the included approaches can be applied in any music learning context if adjusted for developmental appropriateness. The forms of engagement in this article might broaden the types of aural skills and analysis we include in music programs and expand popular music pedagogies that sometimes focus on performing.

In the article I discuss how K-12 music education privileges certain ways of thinking about and engaging with music in relation to “aural skills” and “analysis” (more often referred to as “music theory” in music programs). For instance, consider what is and is not included in a typical “AP Music Theory” course and exam or peruse the core arts music standards. The article has its roots in multiple contexts such as some of the ways I taught general music; the richness of articles addressing analysis and popular music in journals such as Popular Music, the Journal of Popular Music Studies, and Popular Music and Society; observations and research of the varied ways that people engage with music in popular and participatory cultures; and an interest in providing students with opportunities to engage with music in multiple ways. I invite music educators to consider having students engage in the following musical roles to explore and develop aural skills and analysis (and musical understanding) in multiple contexts:

  • Engaging as musical detectives or forensic musicologists  (more on forensic musicology here)
  • Engaging as music critics
  • Engaging as cover artists, arrangers, and stylistic transformers
  • Engaging as music teachers and learners
  • Engaging as music cartographers
  • Engaging as DJs

Exploring some of these approaches and forms of engagement could expand the ways that we address “aural skills” and “analysis” and how popular music and culture are integrated in schools, which is often limited to having students play published arrangements in large ensembles, perform in popular music ensembles typically resembling garage bands (See the Musical Futures program if you are unfamiliar with some recent music education work in this area), or listen and respond to questions about recordings (often with a focus on particular paradigms of thinking about music).

The article is one among a long history of music educators addressing popular music (for a synthesis see Bob Woody’s 2007 MEJ,Dan Isbell’s 2007 Update, andRoger Mantie’s 2013 JRME, articles or any number of other music education articles and chapters on the topic throughout the past few decades. A look through MEJ letters to the editor about the topic over the past few decades is also quite interesting, especially around the time the Victrola talking machine became available!

For a taste of some of the references used in the article take a look at the following videos and consider the implications for music teaching and learning:

Dave Days’s stylistic transformations of his original song I’m better than your boyfriend:

Anthony Vincent’s Ten Second Songs

If you are a member of NAfME you should have access to the article. If you don’t have access to the journal and would like a copy of the article, feel free to contact me in the comments section.

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