Journal of Popular Music Education and Popular Music in Music Education

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The first volume and issue of the new Journal of Popular Music Education is available for free online. Congrats to editors Bryan Powell and Gareth Dylan Smith, who were a driving force in the journal coming into existence.

Some Context on Popular Music in Music Education

People sometimes have the misperception that engaging with popular music in music programs is new. It is not. You can find examples of music educators in the US discussing aspects of popular music in music education for over half a century – whether in letters to the editor of MEJ, articles on approaches to teaching popular music, and (more recently) numerous research studies that address aspects of popular music in music learning and teaching ranging from approaches to learning by ear to socio-cultural issues around gender, identity, and power dynamics. You can get a sense of the long histories of popular music in US music programs by reading Dan Isbell’s article Popular Music and the Public School Music Curriculum and Robert Woody’s article Popular Music in School: Remixing the Issues.

Photo by Scott W. Vincent

Many of our colleagues overseas have addressed popular music in music programs for an even longer period of time. Australia, England, and many Nordic countries, in particular, have provided a wealth of experience and information helpful to many music educators in the US.

Around 2000 in the US, conversations about popular music in schools seemed to make a quick pivot from debates and conversations about whether popular music should be included in schools to foci on approaches and considerations for addressing popular music in schools. For many folks in the United States, this was spurred by Lucy Green’s research on how [some] popular musicians learn and (soon after) how school music programs might adopt aspects of how [some] popular musicians learn. Carlos Xavier Rodriguez’s edited book Bridging the Gap: Popular Music and Music Education also signaled that music educators were discussing and taking action to address popular music in schools.

Around this time, a growing number of music educators in the US latched onto the work of the Musical Futures project as a tangible guide for addressing popular music in their programs. Several years later, a number of school music programs that included and addressed popular music were highlighted in Ann Clements’s edited book Alternative approaches in Music Education: Case studies from the field. Books focusing on popular music pedagogies followed, such as Nicole Biamonte’s edited Pop-Culture Pedagogy in the Music Classroom: Teaching Tools from American Idol to YouTube [situated mostly in the context of higher ed music theory and musicology courses] and the soon-to-be-released Routledge Research Companion to Popular Music Education. The Journal of Popular Music Education is a natural extension of these (and other) trajectories.

Challenges and Future Directions?

Many K-12 music educators and music teacher education programs address popular music whether they refer to it as “popular music education” or any number of other phrases. However, music education faces similar challenges in addressing popular music as it does with addressing Western classical music. Here are just four challenges we could address immediately (and there are many other challenges to tackle):

  • Music educators and related resources typically privilege particular styles of popular music (mainly Rock) and practices while leaving out or marginalizing others
  • The (popular) music discussed and addressed in school music programs seems to be dominated by White men
  • Programs often silo or compartmentalize musics or ways of engaging with music (i.e. focusing exclusively on performing [popular] music or studying history or facts about [popular] music)
  • Music education often focuses on popular music without necessarily addressing aspects of popular culture or the socio-cultural contexts and issues within and around popular music

I’m optimistic about the future and tend to favor approaches that support hybridity, (multiplicities of musics, musical practices, forms of engagement, pathways through a course or program), convergence (of the old and new[er]), and hyphenated-musicianship (opportunities to engage in varied musical roles i.e. producer-creator-violinist-DJ-sound designer) combined with constructivist, project-based, culturally-relevant, and critical pedagogies.

Luckily, there are many other perspectives across the field in K-12 settings, music teacher education programs, schools oriented to educating people who will enter the music industry or professional world, and any number of other people with viewpoints they wish to share. The Journal of Popular Music Education among other journals, social media, blogs, conferences, and communities of practice will play important roles in helping music educators address popular music for years to come.

Some Additional Resources

Here are some additional curated resources for addressing popular music and culture in music learning and teaching settings. Feel free to make additional suggestions for what I should include.

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