Popular Music: Essential to Music Education Training

Popular music has been gaining recognition as an essential element of music education training.

According to Bryan Powell, director of programs at Amp Up NYC (see below), traditional school music programs work for approximately only 20% of K-12 students. For music education to be more accessible to the other 80%, additional strategies are essential.

“Alternative approaches to teaching music are invaluable for teachers of this generation because we are faced with the task of upholding traditions of music education while at the same time piquing the interest of a new generation of students,” says Kaelynn Newton, B.M., Music Education, Choral-Vocal Music, California State University, Long Beach (’15). “Emerging Methods” is a class she took in college with Dr. Dan Zanutto to introduce prospective teachers to popular music styles, instruments, and techniques. “Even as a teacher of a traditional ensemble such as band, orchestra, or choir, techniques of popular music education can be employed to meet students in a place where they are more comfortable and willing to learn. An example of this would be doing rhythmic warm ups with a classical choir using a cell phone drum machine app that you can easily hook up to classroom speakers. This training also gives a teacher the option to offer to teach alternate ensembles such as rock, folk, mariachi, steel pan, etc. and utilize materials available to them if the resources are not available to support a traditional band.”

Radio Cremata, assistant professor of Music Education at Ithaca College School of Music, is committed to ensuring that music education is universally available. As a “teacher of teachers,” he says that prospective music educators need more than traditional conducting and general music in their music education training. “Experience in planning and teaching popular music in collaborative student-led music settings,” is also essential, he says.

In his research and teaching, Cremata focuses on music technology as a “familiar digital platform” from which children can explore their ideas. Music educators should be effective in a variety of inclusive contexts, he says. They “need to know how to navigate things like sound systems, recording, technology, iPads, drum sets, drum machines, guitars, and basses. They also need experiences in facilitating songwriting and other negotiated creative learning environments.”

Landing a job

Nathan Phung, B.M., Music Education & Piano Performance, California State University, Long Beach (’13), is convinced his background and experience in popular music helped him land a high school instrumental teaching job in San Bernardino, California. He currently teaches two string orchestras, two bands, and a percussion class. And he’s in charge of the marching, jazz, and pep bands in addition to coordinating the winter percussion ensembles.

The Emerging Methods music education course at Cal State Long Beach provided Phung with popular music pedagogical training. Student teaching in the Music, Media & Entertainment Technology program at Huntington Beach High School in Orange County, California gave him hands-on experience. He credits both for equipping him with the “open-mindedness and tenacity” necessary for getting hired and becoming successful at his job.

Phung sees himself “providing a perspective of practicality and industry experience, plus encouragement and validation for students who listen to and love alternative music styles.”

His background as a gigging ska, reggae and punk rock musician – the music he grew up listening to – has been invaluable. “My whole experience as a popular music performer provides me an outlet, and I feel that this outlet is something I can share with teenagers and adolescents as they go through a time in their life where they’re learning to deal with new emotions and might be dealing with their first major life struggles,” he says.

How to learn more

The Association for Popular Music Education (APME) hosts an annual conference in June that brings together college music faculty, K-12 music teachers, and others interested in sharing best practices for including popular music in the K-12 as well as college music education curricula. High school bands are invited to perform and receive songwriting and other training from faculty of college popular music and music industry programs.

The International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) was founded in 1981 and advocates for popular music “inquiry, scholarship and analysis.” Conferences, research, and publications are the major areas of focus to “advance an understanding of popular music and the processes involved in its production and consumption.”

Little Kids Rock partners with school districts to offer Modern Band, a program that expands upon existing school music programs for the benefit of kids who are less likely to participate in traditional programs. Classes in guitar, bass, keyboard, drums, vocals, technology, and computers are offered in rock, pop, reggae, hip hop, and R&B.

Photo: Music, Media & Entertainment Technology program at Huntington Beach High School (CA)

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