Introduction - Songwriting and Popular Music Learning Practices

By Farish, Ian | The Canadian Music Educator, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Introduction - Songwriting and Popular Music Learning Practices


Farish, Ian, The Canadian Music Educator


These days most music educators, even the serious classical music educators, have a place in their life for popular music. Gone are the days when pop music was a dirty word in the music classroom. However, pop music is still a can of worms for most music teachers, and I think most of us are still a long way from authentic inclusion of popular music in our schools and music programs. Popular music choices for repertoire are often used as a teaser and a reward for students, or as a crowd pleaser in our concerts. We play arrangements of the original pop music recordings, but although the title and themes are "popular", neither the product nor the process can be considered an authentic popular music experience.

In her book How Popular Muskian's Learn, Lucy Green (2002) gives many examples of the learning processes of popular musicians. A respected academic with a classical music background, Green has gained the respect of popular musicians and academics alike for her "understanding of the skills, motivations, and purposes that underlie popular music-making" (Sloboda, 2002). Green (2005) outlines two main practices common to music learning in popular music. The first is usually solitary, beginning with listening to recordings and including aural learning, imitation, improvisation, and composition. The other is group activity involving conscious peer direction, peer observation, imitation, and talk. In What Can Musk Educators Learn from Popular Musicians? Green (2004) suggests that honoring informal learning strategies is essential in order to re-create an authentic approach to popular music. These informal practices fulfill what music educators typically consider a balanced approach, including listening, composition, and performance. Popular music processes are flexible, informal, and involve a variety of instruments and devices as decided by the individual.

I think it is important to give students the tools and opportunities to work in the medium of popular music, and to develop their musicianship in that context. In particular, I believe that songwriting is a valuable activity for developing musicians, and as such, it has a valuable place in the schools and in the music classroom. Many of us teach students who sing, play the guitar, or play the piano in addition to their school instrument. This series of articles might help them the most, however, I believe songwriting is a valuable creative outlet for all music students, not just the ones who play guitar or the piano.

In this series of articles, I would like to address three important facets of songwriting: melody, lyrics, and song structure. I would also like to talk about popular music learning practices and how to encourage budding songwriters by providing opportunities to showcase their music. Each of these articles will have an assignment for you and your students. The sequence will be roughly as follows:

Article 1: Introduction - Songwriting and Popular Music Learning Practices

Article 2: Composing Melodies for Pop Songs

Article 3: Song Structure in Pop Music

Article 4: Bringing it all together - the Craft of Songwriting

My point is to challenge educators to become more informed about popular music, and to help them tune into the possibilities of popular music and songwriting. This leads me to assignment 1: Go write a song!

Pop music often sounds simple and repetitive, but this can be deceptive. It's not as easy as one might think. Songwriters spend years honing their craft. …

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