The AQA GCSE Strand of Learning for 2012 is Popular Music of the 20th and 21st Centuries. With that in mind, musicroom spoke to the author of Understanding Popular Music, David Ventura, to discover the problems and opportunities teachers often face with popular music in the classroom.
We also asked David about how the book makes these less traditional areas of the curriculum more tangible and accessible for both students and teachers of Music GSCE, BTEC, A level or Music Technology courses. Click here to view a .pdf of the book’s accompayning teacher notes.
“Compared with a traditional approach, modern music teachers have to be able to understand how the music of a wider variety of styles is put together. This is so that they can explain techniques clearly to their students and give them advice relevant to the exam specifications. Sometimes they do not realise how their training can be applied to modern styles, in other words music is still music whether composed by Beethoven or the Beatles.
An interesting change of harmony or a melodic extension can be effective in whatever musical style is employed. This book de-mystifies Pop Music, including the compositional methods, electronic sounds and recording technology, and the tricks that some of the innovative commercial performers used to put across their work.”
How has does the book’s innovative use of digital media set it apart from other titles? How do these online features make it a more relevant resource for today’s classroom?
“It is key to a student’s understanding that the link between the theory and practice of music is made. Therefore to be able to listen to musical examples precisely relevant to the text of a book can be very useful. There are a number of examples of musical and electronic instruments and effects that can be accessed through the companion website, along with playlists of the musical examples that are analysed throughout the decades.”
What are the most common problems students and teachers currently face when evaluating popular style performances? Distorted guitars, 1980s electronic music etc. How does the book assist them?
“It is not always easy to unpick the contributory elements that go towards making a successful pop song. This book shows clearly how songs are constructed from all the major Pop styles of the 20th century. Sound synthesis and sampling, electric guitar playing techniques and processing, overdubbing in the multitrack studio – all these are explained using language that assumes minimal knowledge. In addition, many audio examples of these techniques are provided on the book’s companion website.”
“Feedback from teachers indicated that there was a need for a no-nonsense textbook that dealt with Pop music styles and composing techniques for use with students in years 10- 12, covering aspects of Music Technology, and composing and listening skills. It was my decision to include information of the main musical instruments used based on the idea that composers often have to write for instruments they don’t play.”
Does the inclusion of current artists and developing trends, such as Lady Gaga and emo, make for a more engaging book for students?
“The book had to be up to date as far as possible. If recent trends do not last then this does not matter—there was some discussion about the inclusion of Dubstep, but when I spotted a Dubstep night taking place when I was on holiday in Africa I decided that it was here for a few more years yet! The basic musical lessons are still there, common to all styles.”
What did you most enjoy about the book? What motivated you to write it?
“I really enjoyed writing this book. I was worried at first that some of the more way out dance genres or thrash metal styles would create a problem for me in that I wanted to do justice to musical genres that at first seemed not to be easily analysed. How would I cope unpicking the music of Fat Boy Slim or Kanye West so that teachers and students would appreciate the talent of these artists? As I progressed with the writing I came to appreciate and therefore enjoy a much greater variety of music than before I began the project.
One of the many factors that motivated me to write the book was that I believe that the skills and techniques of Pop Music composers and performers are sometimes undervalued by the musical establishment. It is great that exam boards are now including pop genres and I wanted to support the teaching and learning required by these assessment bodies.”
Thank for your time David!
David Ventura read music at Edinburgh University, has taught music in Scotland, Lancashire, Liverpool and the Isle of Wight, and was the director of music at Hereford Sixth Form College for fifteen years up until 2009. He has lectured nationwide on music technology and advised the UK Government on assessment in the National Curriculum for music at all key stages. He has acted as a consultant for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, was chair of the Southern Examining Group’s GCSE panel, has examined for a number of boards, and has also run many teacher-training courses for Keynote Education. David has also authored Film Music In Focus, which is also available from musicroom.com.
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