Popular music education

A step into the light

Authored by: Rupert Till

The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Music Education

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781472464989
eBook ISBN: 9781315613444
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042013




Popular music education (PME) is a fast-developing field of study in terms of educational programmes and activities, but relatively few relevant publications are available featuring, for example, case studies of best practice, or relevant theoretical considerations; this volume attempts to provide both, building on such pioneering publications as the special issue of the Journal of Popular Music Studies on popular music education (Oehler & Hanley, 2009), Bridging the Gap: Popular Music and Music Education (Rodriguez, 2004) (both of which focus largely on the US) and the special issue of IASPM Journal on popular music in education (Green et al., 2015). In 2015, the Journal of Music Technology and Education also published a special issue (Smith & Powell, 2015), on technology and performance in popular music education. The volume you are reading complements and further develops this and other existing PME scholarship as it relates to both critical and musical theories and practices.

 Add to shortlist  Cite

Popular music education


Popular music education (PME) is a fast-developing field of study in terms of educational programmes and activities, but relatively few relevant publications are available featuring, for example, case studies of best practice, or relevant theoretical considerations; this volume attempts to provide both, building on such pioneering publications as the special issue of the Journal of Popular Music Studies on popular music education (Oehler & Hanley, 2009), Bridging the Gap: Popular Music and Music Education (Rodriguez, 2004) (both of which focus largely on the US) and the special issue of IASPM Journal on popular music in education (Green et al., 2015). In 2015, the Journal of Music Technology and Education also published a special issue (Smith & Powell, 2015), on technology and performance in popular music education. The volume you are reading complements and further develops this and other existing PME scholarship as it relates to both critical and musical theories and practices.

At the 2011 International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) international conference in South Africa, IASPM founder member Philip Tagg gave a keynote speech discussing how popular music studies (PMS) has progressed over the 30 years since the organization was founded. He concluded that musicologists working in popular music have failed to make such inroads into conventional musicology that popular music and art music are treated equally. He “also questions why researchers from non-musical backgrounds still struggle to address the music of popular music studies, and offers solutions” (Tagg, 2012, p. 3). PMS has featured comparatively little focus on either music-making or pedagogy. Educational programmes that explore popular music practice in particular have proliferated recently around the world. From schools to higher education institutions (HEIs), numerous institutions have begun to explore PME further, changing music education provision, which was in many cases dominated by Western European Art Music (WEAM).

The study of popular music has made greater inroads where it explores sociological or cultural studies approaches to the subject, but in many countries (with notable exceptions, such as Scandinavia) institutions focused on music performance and composition have frequently shown epistemic inertia, sidelining popular music as a fringe activity (Williams & Randles, chapter 5, this volume). This is despite popular music making up the majority of musical activity, perhaps 90% of recorded music and 74% or more of live music, whereas the genre of classical music makes up only 3.5% of recorded music and between 1% and 16% of live music, depending on whose data you use (Till, 2013, pp. 6–8). 1 PMS has focused primarily on the study of popular music culture, rather than popular music itself; as a result the poietic processes (Nattiez, 1990, p. 92) of music-making as they relate to popular music, and how to teach and learn them, have lacked substantial attention. Music curricula in community settings, schools, colleges, conservatoires and universities only slowly began to integrate popular music over the last 30 years. Initial exclusion from music departments in the UK, for instance, led to PMS developing a focus on critical, sociological or media studies approaches. As a result there has existed a separation between PMS and the more poietic-focused PME. These are somewhat separate fields currently – PMS is somewhat excluded from musicology, and PME somewhat excluded from PMS. Historic divisions between PME, other popular music research and PMS, are unhelpful. PME should have been an important part of PMS from its beginning (and vice versa – see Hooper, chapter 13, this volume), and this book goes some way to rebalance the relationship between the two. This chapter presents an overview of the current state of PME internationally, focusing largely on HE provision and discussing a selection of key relevant publications. It is not possible to cover every relevant publication in a book chapter, and so this focuses on recent material. It then moves on to an emic discussion of some of my own PME activities before presenting conclusions that reflect on the discussion above.

PME around the world

PME is beginning to flourish in an increasing number of countries, and in recent years developments indicate that a tipping point has been reached (Kratus, 2007), with more rapid expansion occurring and cascading outwards. This situation is highly inconsistent internationally. In a number of cases something specific has afforded PME the opportunity to thrive (Clarke, 2005). For example, Bendrups (2013) describes the situation in Australia and New Zealand, where prominent streams of ethnomusicological study have focused on Aboriginal and Maori musical cultures, and ethnomusicology has become a significant part of music education culture, tying into national debates addressing issues of culture and identity. This focus on ethnomusicology has afforded opportunities to PMS and PME, which have become firmly established within curriculum in all sectors. Appropriate pedagogical approaches have also been explored for this curriculum. An ethnographically inspired approach has allowed educators to explore modes of teaching and learning inspired by popular music culture. One way of understanding PMS is to view it as being like an ethnomusicology of industrial, commercial or contemporary cultures. Indeed, it is possible to cast PMS as a subset of ethnomusicology; with such a perspective in mind, the links between ethnomusicology, PMS and PME seem not only healthy but also a possible model approach. Certainly some of the most highly developed PME practices are in Australia and New Zealand.

Lebler and Weston (2015) describe the undergraduate Bachelor of Popular Music programme at Griffith University’s Queensland Conservatorium in Australia, and how approaches to the programme are drawn from popular music industry practices. A student-run record label is an important part of the learning experience, as are self-directed and collaborative learning and participatory assessment. The programme uses educational methods that echo how popular musicians learn outside of institutional contexts (Green, 2001, 2008, 2014). This contrasts with adopting pedagogical principles from existing music education, which may be based on WEAM traditions and culture (Parkinson & Smith, 2015; Williams & Randles, chapter 5, this volume).

As Bennett (chapter 23, this volume) discusses, WEAM involves a tiered hierarchy of highly trained, specialized and elite professionals, with a stratified system of performers, conductors and composers who focus upon a canon of ‘great masters’ such as Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Stockhausen. WEAM education schools musicians in adopting the aesthetic values and musical parameters espoused by such dominant figures, in order to perpetuate a highly specific codification of correct musical behaviour. It thus adopts a master/pupil approach in which students have to learn the system precisely and accurately from those further up this musical stratification than themselves, from an elite of gatekeepers. Pedagogy based on such practices is sometimes appropriate in PME, but not always. Although it arguably still has canon (Smith, 2014) and elite figures, popular music is somewhat differently structured, depending to a greater extent on the opinions of audiences – of the many, rather than the few – and with a history of appreciating divergence from accepted behaviour (Jones, 2008; Kassabian, 2010). A system such as that described by Lebler and Weston, with a range of participatory and democratized approaches to teaching and learning, is fitting for such a popular cultural musical form. As we will see, this approach emerges from a number of sources as suggested good practice.

A key characteristic of the Griffith programme is that, although the students nominally want to pursue careers as popular music performers, popular music is addressed as a recorded medium, as one in which the text lies in the recording, a defining characteristic of much contemporary popular music (Attali, 1985, 2001; Cutler, 1984, p. 9; Frith, 1996, p. 15). As a result, study related to recording and music technology is integrated as a standard core skill (Lebler & Hodges, chapter 22, this volume). This is a feature of many other existing PME programmes, such as the first undergraduate popular music programme, the BA (hons) in Popular Music and Recording at the University of Salford in the UK (University of Salford, 2015), and the BA in Professional Music at the International College of Music in Kuala Lumpur (International College of Music, 2016).

Another characteristic evident at Griffith (and elsewhere) is that in order to stay relevant to technological and industry developments, staff maintain relationships with external music industry partners, and regularly update the curriculum to remain current (Morrow et al., chapter 26, this volume). The inclusion of masterclasses and workshops taught by music industry professionals is an important element of provision. A balance is struck between industrial training and educational development, between encouraging knowledge and understanding, and acquisition of skills and abilities (Jones, chapter 27, this volume; Lebler & Hodges, chapter 22, this volume).

Anthony (2015) addresses the use of music technology on the same programme as Lebler and Weston, discussing the detail of approaches to performance and recording. He describes these two elements as mutually dependent and informative fields, reflecting other publications by Lebler (2006, 2007), emphasizing the necessity of embedding the use of technology within pedagogy (Moir & Medbøe, 2015). Blom and Poole (2015) also describe student-led educational cultures in Australia, focusing specifically on composition/songwriting classes. Their study explores ‘presage’, the knowledge and skills students bring with them to the classroom. It discusses three separate institutions, exploring how students bring a range of experiences of songwriting into the classroom. Some students have a great deal of in-depth knowledge of the subject, and many have implicit levels of understanding as well as a deeply embedded level of associated context, upon which they are able to draw when exploring songwriting. Teaching staff draw upon this body of student knowledge to enrich class activities, democratizing the pedagogical approach, allowing students to contribute to and own the educational experience (see also Niknafs & Przybylski, chapter 32, this volume).

The situation is somewhat different in the UK. Cloonan and Hulstedt (2013) examined UK PME provision, reporting on research commissioned by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). They found PME in 47 UK HEIs, around one in three. They found PME to be “doubly new” (p. 5): to be a new subject that is less than 30 years old, and to be taught predominantly in new institutions that are often less than 20 years old, many with little or no research culture. They identify a number of needs within the sector, calling for more support for educators working in the field, more opportunities for networking and the sharing of good practice, as well as more links with the music industry. Programmes are found to be highly varied, with no consensus about entry requirements, graduate qualities, benchmarking or programme content (see also Fleet, chapter 14, this volume).

In the UK, there is a divide between older research-intensive universities and ‘new’ institutions that were granted permission to use the term ‘university’ after 1992 and which are principally focused upon and funded by teaching. PME is focused in the latter (hence the lack of research focus identified above), featuring strong vocational content (Parkinson & Smith, 2015). Although the UK featured the first PME degree programmes, its lack of consensus or debate about best practice in PME pedagogy is perhaps due to a theoretical vacuum in new institutions, where practitioners may be afforded little opportunity for research-led reflection on practice, and may have no research training or postgraduate qualifications. Indeed, many staff have music industry rather than academic backgrounds. Programmes and teaching tend to be based on the individual experiences of tutors, with strong content in terms of what is taught, but less rigour in how that content is taught and learned. Popular music staff in teaching-intensive Higher Popular Music Education (HPME) institutions often have to deal with large groups sizes, high staff-student ratios and heavy teaching loads, providing little time for research into teaching methodologies. 2

UK music education in universities is changing, partly due to market forces (Jones, chapter 27, this volume; Smith, 2015). Increasingly, older universities are addressing popular music in order to recruit more students, as application numbers in WEAM-focused music departments have decreased due to demographic and funding changes, as well as an increased focus on popular music in schools (Winterson & Russ, 2009). Cloonan and Hulstedt (2013, pp. 76–77) ask highly pertinent questions about the nature of PMS, about whether critical, vocational or musical studies should be at the centre of PME. Their research supports the conclusion that best practice features interaction between a research-focused critical approach and a practically orientated musical, vocational or technological approach – that these areas should be synthesized and integrated.

UK school education is closely regulated, and is enriched by up-to-date educational theory. Increasingly school curricula have included ‘world music’, popular music, jazz and film music alongside WEAM (Winterson & Russ, 2009), and integrate performance, composition and analysis. For example, UK examination board Edexcel’s level 3 (GCE A level aimed at 16–18 year olds) qualification is arranged to

allow students the opportunities to perform as soloists and/or as part of an ensemble. Teachers and students can choose music in any style. Any instrument(s) and/or voice(s) are acceptable as part of a five-six minute assessed performance. Notated and/or improvised performances may be submitted.

(Edexcel, 2004) Any piece of popular (or other) music can be performed, and this accounts for 15% of the assessment. Historical and analytical study is based on the Edexcel Anthology of Music (Winterson, 2008), which includes works by Bach, Beethoven, Cage, Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Barrington Pheloung, Miles Davis, Ram Narayan, Howlin’ Wolf, The Kinks and Oasis. An essay question in the Developing Musical Understanding section of an Edexcel sample examination paper is “Describe the stylistic features of ‘You can get it if you really want’ by Jimmy Cliff that show that this is an example of Jamaican popular music” (Edexcel, 2007, p. 21). Clearly, PME is part of UK schools’ music education. In addition, music teaching in the UK school and further education sector now integrates practical and theoretical considerations within project-based activities, which can include reading, analysis, composition, performance and recording. Teachers can choose to select classical options within such curriculum. As one can see, PME in the UK is somewhat inconsistent, with little discussion or alignment of best practice.

John Collins (2011) has discussed the development of PME in universities in Ghana. As with provision in Australia and New Zealand, Collins describes Ghanaian PME as being afforded by ethnomusicological developments. PME programmes in Ghana emerged from a focus on African popular music and performance. These programmes spread and developed from the late 1980s on. They were encouraged and developed by a growing sense of postcolonial national identity, in which environment it was increasingly possible to focus upon music from Ghana rather than the WEAM that dominated previously. This was further enabled by popular music and ethnomusicology sharing many common goals, interests, methodological approaches and fields of study.

In Germany and some neighbouring countries, it was jazz that afforded the development of PME. Martin Pfleiderer (2011, p. 45) writes:

[By] winter 2010/11 almost 200 courses concerning popular music were offered by university programs in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, mostly provided by musicology and music pedagogy departments … almost every university and music high school (Musikhochschule) offers courses filed under populäre Musik.

He explains that such programmes are typically taught by postgraduates or recently qualified staff, with more senior and prestigious posts held by WEAM scholars. The existence of these programmes was made possible by the development of jazz education in Germany in the 1970s. Linked to experimental music, jazz was absorbed into mainstream curricula, subsequently affording similar opportunities for other forms of popular music.

Michael Ahlers (2015) provides an evaluation of five years of teaching in German HE, drawing upon the hermeneutical helix (exploring understanding, knowledge and meaning, and the influence of study upon the studied), and the concept of style copies. He suggests that the use of formal and informal learning together is good practice within PME. Ahlers refers to Green (2001) exploring how popular musicians learn by copying others. Indeed, this is something that happens (and happened) frequently in popular music culture, artists such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Oasis and others learning to write songs by copying or even plagiarizing the work of others (Till, 2007). Style copies (also known as covers), have often been the equivalent of scales and exercises in WEAM for popular musicians, helping them learn the language of the music. Writing songs based on the music of others is certainly a useful compositional exercise, but there is little evidence of an understanding of this as a form of practice-based research (Smith & Shafighian, 2013). Ahlers suggests that despite a proliferation of programmes in popular music in Germany, there is a lack of research that explores how such programmes should be taught. He describes a course element in which students create a style copy and subsequently analyze the result, mixing practice and theory so that they enhance one another, adopting a trans-disciplinary methodology.

Like Ahlers, Jost (2015) explores a binary relationship in German PME, discussing critical and post-critical approaches to popular music. He addresses the legacy of Adorno, as well as recent developments synthesizing didactic and action-based explorations of popular music. He suggests musicological analysis as a bridge between the two, as a way of bringing together theory and practice. Such an approach requires popular music educationalists to become well acquainted with musicological analysis, methodology and language. This is a far from simple issue for popular music researchers from a cultural studies background, but, as mentioned above, is something Tagg has been calling for over the last 30 years (Tagg, 2012).

PME is less well-established in the US than in many countries, although US PMS has a long history (Krikun, chapter 4, this volume). As mentioned above, one collection of chapters on popular music education (Rodriguez, 2004) focused largely on policy development in US schools, and most of the papers in a special issue of Journal of Popular Music Studies on popular music education (Oehler & Hanley, 2009) were also focused on the US. A proliferation of new programmes is described by Powell et al. (2015), including Music Makes Us in Nashville; Little Kids Rock/Amp Up in New York City and beyond; Music For Everyone; Girls Rock Alliance in Oregon; The Travelling Guitar Foundation; Rock and Roll: An American Story (a rock music history curriculum developed by Steven Van Zandt); and School of Rock, which exists in 31 states. Furthermore, Powell et al. (2015) describe the US-based Association for Popular Music Education (APME), which provides a forum for representatives of different PME organizations to collaborate and share practice. There is certainly scope for this to become a more widely internationalized association, perhaps through collaboration with the International Society for Music Education and the research-focused IASPM. There has for too long been a gulf between Popular Music Research and Popular Music Education, both of which are core to Popular Music Studies.

Przybylski and Niknafs (2015) also discuss PME in the US, addressing DIY (do-it-yourself) and DIWO (do-it-with-others) approaches, and the differences between PME in, for example, the US, the UK and Australia. They explore formal and informal approaches, drawing on music education and ethnomusicological theories, focusing on improvisation and composition, as well as autonomy, play, peer learning and peer teaching.

Barreto and Modirzadeh (2015) describe new developments in Brazil, where programmes in popular music are proliferating rapidly. Unlike in the US, Brazilian educators are struggling to find resources and pedagogical models to use in order to establish the content of curriculum. They address issues of balancing sensitivity to culture, context and existing musical frameworks with music-making that is original and maintains a sense of authenticity. Much as in the work of Ahlers (2015), they discuss the difficulty inherent in understanding which rules to follow and which to break in order to achieve success. The lack of a connection to external musical communities within educational institutions such as universities is cited as a key problem for PME in Brazil. Although the focus here is on jazz education, Barreto and Modirzadeh’s study has wider relevance. The authors suggest including experiences within and outside the institution, as well as the integration of theoretical and practical approaches. They emphasize the importance of space for experimentation, by educators as well as students (see also Niknafs & Przybylski, chapter 32, this volume). Again two conflicting needs pull against one other – the need for freedom to experiment with new approaches, and the need for a rigorous, theoretically mature pedagogical approach.

Although PME programmes are proliferating in both North and South America, development processes are problematic. O’Brien (2015) illustrates this through a study of the politics surrounding a state-run school of música popular in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As is the case for many popular music programmes, this illustrates how the most prestigious facilities and opportunities remain unavailable to PME, forcing it to be an edge-dweller, navigating the peripheries of educational spaces, struggling for recognition and funding. It is clear that there is a long way to go before PME is afforded equal status in all educational contexts.

Dairianathan and Francis (2015) discuss similar issues. They explore PME developments in Singapore, addressing the importance of understanding a local perspective, and not, for example, ascribing US- or UK-based musical qualities to another culture. They explore consolidating performance technique in a way that embraces global practices, addresses global and local soundscapes, and encourages learning that reaches out across the world. This research points out the dangers of teaching a clichéd cultural package when addressing subjects such as locality, gender, sexuality or religion/philosophy (Parkinson, chapter 30, this volume). Dairianathan and Francis also suggest that PME is particularly powerful when it addresses the whole person, as well as values that reach beyond mere instrumentality. They focus on allowing learners to engage bodily with music, engaging their whole selves as a means both of forming and informing the individual, and of self-actualization and self-transcendence. Again this research references Green (2001), and the idea of connecting PME with the world outside the classroom in order to engage with local popular music communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991) beyond the institution. Guitar tuition is the focus of Dairianathan and Francis’ research, and the work of Casas-Mas and Ignacio Montero (2015), who explore a case study related to jazz guitar tuition in Spain. They address issues of learner autonomy, as well as dichotomies related to the competing requirements of ear-led training and traditional educational approaches drawn from WEAM culture.

An emic perspective

My own initial pedagogical approaches (from 1993) developed from insider music industry experience rather than hermeneutical or other theories, in the context of a lack of established models of teaching and learning in PME (Mantie, 2013). Despite this, a number of pedagogical approaches are evident in my teaching practice. I am typical of the new context of PME discussed by Cloonan and Hulstedt (2013) – my music degree was from a ‘new’ university (a polytechnic programme that focused on practice rather than research); I have a music-industry background as a sound engineer, producer, composer and performer, and have adopted similar approaches to those discussed by Lebler and Weston (2015); my students have released their compositions/productions on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon; performance students have performed public concerts, and provided their own backstage services such as ticket sales, marketing and technical production; students have created music-based business plans; an optional year in industry has been available; and students experience a range of concerts, talks and master classes from visiting music industry representatives. Part IV of this book contains several chapters that discuss the richness and complexity of relationships between higher education and the music industry.

Most of the assignments I set are project-based, usually involving a mixture of practical music-making, written work and self-directed learning. For example, a final-year project is to compose and produce an EP of music, with an accompanying report that includes critical self-reflection as well as discussion of aesthetics and the research sources involved. I have used participatory assessment, including peer assessment and self-assessment, especially in self-directed group work, such as recording or performance projects. Most assignments are submitted online, with online and sometimes audio-file feedback, grading provided following a timetable provided in advance. Such approaches are similar to those discussed by Lebler (2007) and Kleiman (2007). I have always conceived of popular music as principally a recorded medium, routinely mixing music technology, recording and production, much like Lebler and Weston (2015) at Griffith University – a blended learning approach (Chew et al., 2008). I use flipped classroom (Strayer, 2012) and rhizomatic learning (Sanford et al., 2011) approaches, such as online tutorials to teach the use of music software tools like Apple’s Logic Pro. I allow students to choose their own groups, musical genres, musical content and assessment criteria, a student-focused approach similar to that of Green (2008) or Lebler (2007) (see also Sharples et al., 2012).

In teaching poietic subjects such as performance and composition, I have minimized requirements to use scores or traditional music theory, instead emphasizing technological, oral and aural approaches (see also Fleet, chapter 14, this volume). I have run gospel choirs with up to 100 participants, teaching songs orally: a non-formal learning approach, as discussed by Mok (2010), Smith (2013) and Powell and Burstein (chapter 20, this volume). I have found such approaches particularly valuable when teaching outside of HEIs, in, for example, community choirs; DJ skills workshops in housing estates in deprived areas; and rap production projects with children excluded from conventional schooling due to behavioural problems. Such projects begin with the needs and interests of the participants and take place in informal/non-formal settings (Howell, 2011; Veblen, 2007).

I value presage – the existing knowledge of students, as discussed by Blom and Poole, 2015. I have integrated constructivist approaches, rather than focusing uniquely on a developmental, master/disciple approach (Fosnot, 2005; Morford, 2007; Rinaldo, 2004). Presentations and participation in blogs, discussion boards and Facebook groups feature in my classes, students posting examples of the subject we are studying online or offering them in seminars. This helps to keep curriculum up to date, and gives students a sense of ownership in the learning activities (Partti & Westerlund, 2012).

Style copies such as those discussed by Ahlers (2015) have always featured in my teaching, included within composition, performance, music production and recording. One assignment requires students to add a new melody and lyrics to an existing hit song; group performance begins with style copies, before moving on to writing new material collaboratively in the same genre; in music technology classes, students accurately reproduce short sections of electronic dance music (EDM) as exercises; and recording classes have required students to research and put into practice the methods of specific producers. I routinely encourage students to work collaboratively, introducing, for example, collaborative composition projects (Gaunt & Westerlund, 2013).

Such projects used a range of pedagogical methodologies, but not consciously or responding to specific written texts. Mantie (2013, p. 344) notes that it is typical for those teaching popular music in the UK to “focus more on what students do rather than what teachers do” – on content and on popular music, rather than on pedagogy. He finds that UK PME prioritizes “matters of utility and efficacy” (p. 334), and observes:

The fundamental difference I detected in the corpus is that non-American discourses appear to focus on student experiences and how teachers can better bring about “quality learning” on the part of students. That is, quality is a function of the educational encounter, not an immutable property of repertoire or teachers.

(p. 344) Various approaches discussed in this book (my own among them) emerged over the last 30 or more years within PME practice, but have been used in the past somewhat uncritically, lacking the context of rigorous study or grounding in educational research. This volume takes steps towards addressing this, and will make it easier in the future to make informed decisions about pedagogical approaches, and to develop PME programmes with increasingly sophisticated methods in teaching, learning and assessment.


I have tried to provide an overview of recent PME developments in a number of countries, primarily focused on higher education contexts, presenting case studies of educational activities and relevant theoretical perspectives, and relating some of my own PME experiences. In doing so, a number of key issues emerge. One in particular is that of basing pedagogical approaches on specifically tailored methods evolved from popular music, rather than uncritically adopting methodologies from WEAM or other existing educational models. Popular music is highly diverse, and differs hugely in national, regional and local contexts, and such methods allow teaching and learning to be adapted to the specific popular music cultures of the student body concerned.

The research of Lucy Green (2001, 2008) is clearly a key influence, and was one of the first – and most influential – in-depth PME studies. Green describes how informal learning is used in PME and can be effectively adapted for application in schools, but has not suggested in her publications that this should be the principal approach in all situations. Indeed, I specifically asked her about this, and she made it clear that she thought there was certainly a place for formal learning methodologies, especially in HPME and other formal institutional contexts where learners have already undertaken a range of tuition or other learning. There is much for PME to learn from existing musical pedagogy, including that of WEAM and other formal musical traditions from around the world. As the level of study advances, a mix of formal and informal learning methodologies is required, chosen to fit the circumstances, akin to what Smith (2013, p. 26) has termed “hybridized learning”.

Popular music is defined by the opinions of the many, rather than the few, and pedagogical approaches grounded in a democratized perspective fit PME particularly well (Christophersen & Gullberg, chapter 33, this volume). Examples of relevant contemporary pedagogical methodologies include blended learning (Chew et al., 2008), seamless learning, rhizomatic learning and personal enquiry learning (Sharples et al., 2012). These approaches include methods such as flipped classroom, student-directed learning, collaborative learning and participatory assessment. Using these pedagogical techniques, coursework, group projects, wikis, blogs, online video lectures, virtual classrooms or software educational tools might be expected to replace lectures and exams as dominant PME forms and formats.

Such methodologies are quite common in PME, but are not always used knowingly. In school-age learning in the UK, teaching methods are more regulated and inspected than in HEIs, and this sector has consciously adopted new pedagogical approaches. Universities may need to look to how music is taught in schools for examples of transferable best practices in PME. In terms of PMHE, Australian institutions are perhaps the most pedagogically sophisticated, the publications of Lebler being particularly influential (2006, 2007; Lebler and Weston, 2015). In terms of school-age learning, Nordic countries lead the way, as evidenced by, for example, Folkestad (2006), Karlsen (2010, 2011), Partti and Westerlund (2012), Stålhammar (2006), Väkevä (2013), and Westerlund (2003).

PME programmes cover a number of areas, which are discrete but interrelated. Cloonan (2005, p. 83) categorizes these as musical (including composition and performance, revised to “practical” in Cloonan and Hulsteadt, 2013), vocational (including music business) and critical (including cultural studies and analysis). I would recommend adding a fourth category to the model: ‘technical’. Technical work includes recording, production, live sound, digital and computer music-making, programming and web applications. This final category could be described as vocational, or, within musical studies, as production; however, the activities do not fit adequately within either category, and involve such a significant range of activities they necessitate separation.

The use of technology in PME is a core focus or set of skills. All music is technological; scales, notation, pianos and scores are all technologies. Popular music today makes extensive use of the latest digital technologies, from the computer technology used by DJs and producers, to the social media, smartphones and tablets used for dissemination and reception of music. Although scores, notation, music theory and knowledge of canonical works are all useful within PME, they are of no more (and perhaps less) significance than elements that are centred on popular culture, such as web design, social media etiquette or digital recording techniques.

Engagement with the music industry is a feature of many of the most successful and well-developed PME programmes. Inter-professionalism, alongside inter/multi/cross-disciplinarity, is important for PME as a whole. Where it has been practised, interaction between a research-focused critical approach and a practically orientated musical, vocational or indeed technological approach, has been successful, suggesting that these areas should be synthesized rather than separated.

There is no single pedagogical approach that is appropriate to all cultural and educational contexts. PME requires neither greater uniformity nor diversity, but can only benefit from further discussion of pedagogical theory. PME has not always been well-researched or theorized, nor has it involved a great deal of international or even national co-operation. Alongside other recent publications, this book will hopefully assist educators to explore a range of relevant approaches to teaching and learning popular music by presenting PME case studies supported by theoretical frameworks and conceptualization. Current developments mark a coming of age of PME, and will hopefully lead not just to a proliferation of activities, but also to a maturing of the field so that it includes increasingly considered programmes and curricula that reflect a range of pedagogical approaches.

There is a political dimension to the development of PME, especially as such development will inevitably be at the expense of high art forms of music to some extent, as only so many educational resources are available. Both education and music are increasingly available to the many, rather than the few, both democratized and changed irrevocably by digital mediation and distribution. The music industry is undergoing huge changes at present, and these wider developments underscore the significance of this volume.

The appearance of publications focused on PME is not merely timely but long overdue. There is clearly a need for further qualitative, quantitative and philosophical research in PME, but this book provides an important contribution and a useful starting point. Popular music (and indeed society and culture more generally) can only benefit from PME and relevant scholarship becoming more widespread and better developed. The research I have discussed, and that in the rest of this volume, will be beneficial both in countries that have long histories of PME, and in those where its development is new. It is intended that this volume will be the beginning of a larger, longer conversation, a step in the development of a community of practice, which will immensely benefit both popular music educators and popular music education.


Ahlers, M. (2015). Opening minds – style copies as didactical initiators. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 181–194.
Anthony, B. (2015). Creative conceptualisation: Nurturing creative practice through the popular music pedagogy of live recording production. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 139–156.
Attali, J. (1985). Noise: The political economy of music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Attali, J. (2001). Bruits: Essai sur l’ économie politique de la musique. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Barreto, A.C. & Modirzadeh, H. (2015). A discourse on Brazilian popular music and U.S. Jazz education. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 23–35.
Bendrups, D. (2013). Popular music studies and ethnomusicology in Australasia. IASPM Journal, 3(2), 48–62. Doi: 10.5429/2079–3871(2013)v3i2.4en
Blom, D. & Poole, K. (2015). Presage: What knowledge and experience higher education songwriting students bring to the classroom. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 157–180.
Casas-Mas, A. & Ignacio Montero, J.I.P. (2015). Discourse on practice of a semi-professional jazz guitarist: A case study of constructive musical learning (El discurso sobre la práctica de un guitarrista de jazz semi-profesional: estudio de caso de aprendizaje musical constructivo). IASPM Journal, 5(2), 54–80.
Chew, E. , Jones, N. & Taylor, D. (2008). Critical review of the blended learning models based on Maglow’s and Vygotsky’s educational theory. Hybrid Learning and Education: Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 5169, 40–53.
Clarke, E. (2005). Ways of listening: An ecological approach to the perception of musical meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cloonan, M. (2005). What is popular music studies? British Journal of Music Education, 22(1), 77–93.
Cloonan, M. & Hulstedt, L. (2013). Looking for something new: The provision of popular music studies degrees in the UK. IASPM Journal, 3(2), 63–77. Doi: 10.5429/620.
Collins, J. (2011). The introduction of popular music courses to Ghanaian universities. IASPM Journal, 2(1–2), 34–44. Doi: 10.5429/2079–3871(2011)v2i1–2.4en
Cutler, C. (1984). File under popular: Theoretical and critical writings on music. London: November Books.
Dairianathan, E. & Francis, L.H. (2015). Learning to perform on the electric guitar; some observations of teaching and learning of popular music-making among music education trainee teachers in higher education in Singapore. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 81–99.
Folkestad, G. (2006). Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs formal and informal ways of learning. British Journal of Music Education, 23(2), 135–145.
Fosnot, C.T. (2005). Preface. In C.T. Fosnot (Ed.), Constructivism: Theory, perspectives, and practice, second ed (pp. ix–xii). New York: Columbia University Teachers College.
Frith, S. (1996). Performing rites: On the value of popular music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gaunt, H. & Westerlund, H. (Eds.) (2013). Collaborative learning in higher music education. Surrey: Ashgate.
Green, L. (2001). How popular musicians learn: A way ahead for music education. Vermont: Ashgate.
Green, L. (2008). Music, informal learning and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. Vermont: Ashgate.
Green, L. (2014). Music education as critical theory and practice. Vermont: Ashgate.
Green, L. , Lebler, D. & Till, R. (2015). Popular music in education [special issue]. IASPM Journal, 5(1).
Howell, G. (2011). “Do they know they’re composing?”: Music making and understanding among newly arrived refugee and immigrant children. International Journal of Community Music, 4(1), 47–58. Doi: 10.1386/ijcm.4.1.47_1.
International College of Music. (2016). Welcome to ICOM. Retrieved from: http://icom.edu.my [Accessed 1 July 2016 ].
Jones, C.W. (2008). The rock canon: Canonical values in the reception of rock albums. Vermont: Ashgate.
Jost, C. (2015). Beyond Adorno: Post-critical teaching of popular music in the German educational system and its theoretical and practical challenges. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 195–212.
Karlsen, S. (2010). Revealing musical learning in the informal field. In R. Wright (Ed.), Sociology and music education (pp. 193–206). Farnham: Ashgate.
Karlsen, S. (2011). Using musical agency as a lens: Researching music education from the angle of experience. Research Studies in Music Education, 33(2), 107–121.
Kassabian, A. (2010). Have canons outlived their usefulness? Journal of Popular Music Studies, 22(1), 74–78.
Kleiman, P. (2007). Towards transformation: Conceptions of creativity in higher education. Creativity Special Edition: Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(3), 209–217.
Kratus, J. (2007). Music education at the tipping point. Music Educators Journal, 92(2), 42–48.
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lebler, D. (2006). The master-less studio: An autonomous education community. Journal of Learning Design, 1(3), 41–50.
Lebler, D. (2007). Student-as-master? Reflection on a learning innovation in popular music pedagogy. International Journal of Music Education, 25(3), 205–221.
Lebler, D. & Weston, D. (2015). Staying in sync: Keeping popular music pedagogy relevant to an evolving music industry. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 124–138.
Mantie, R. (2013). A comparison of “popular music pedagogy’ ” discourses. Journal of Research in Music Education, 61(3), 334–352. Doi: 10.1177/0022429413497235
Moir, Z. & Medbøe, H. (2015). Reframing popular music composition as performance-centred practice. Journal of Music, Technology and Education, 8(1), 147–161.
Mok, A.O.N. (2010). Musical enculturation, learning and the values of four Hong Kong socio-musical groups (unpublished doctoral thesis). Institute of Education, London, UK.
Morford, J.B. (2007). Constructivism: Implications for postsecondary music education and beyond. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 16(75). Doi: 10.1177/10570837070160020108
Nattiez, J. (1990). Music and discourse: Toward a semiology of music. ( C. Abbate , Trans.). Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1987).
O’Brien, M. (2015). Activism, authority, and aesthetics: Finding the popular in academies of música popular. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 36–53.
Oehler, S. & Hanley, J. (2009). Perspectives of popular music pedagogy in practice: An introduction. Journal of Popular Music Studies, 21(1). 2–19.
Parkinson, T. & Smith, G.D. (2015). Towards an epistemology of authenticity in higher popular music education. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 15(1), 93–127.
Partti, H. & Westerlund, H. (2012). Democratic musical learning: How the participatory revolution in new media challenges the culture of music education. In A. R. Brown (Ed.), Sound musicianship: Understanding the crafts of music (pp. 300–312). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Pfleiderer, M. (2011). German-language popular music studies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. IASPM Journal, 2(1–2), 45–50. Doi: 10.5429/2079–3871(2011)v2i1–2.5en
Powell, B. , Krikun, A. & Pignato, J.M. (2015). “Something’s happening here!”: Popular music education in the United States. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 4–22.
Przybylski, L. & Niknafs, N. (2015). Teaching and learning popular music in higher education through interdisciplinary collaboration: Practice what you preach. IASPM Journal, 5(2), 100–123.
Rinaldo, V. (2004). Subject matter is the vehicle and not the focus of learning: A constructivist perspective of music education. Canadian Music Educator, 45(34), 31–34.
Rodriguez, C.X. (Ed.) (2004). Bridging the gap: Popular music and music education. Reston, VA: MENC, The National Association for Music Education.
Sanford, K. , Merkel, L. & Madill, L. (2011). “There’s no fixed course”: Rhizomatic learning communities in adolescent videogaming. Loading …, 5(8). Retrieved from: http://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/93
Sharples, M. , McAndrew, P. , Weller, M. , Ferguson, R. , FitzGerald, E. , Hirst, T. , Mor, Y. , Gaved, M. & Whitelock, D. (2012). Innovating pedagogy 2012: Open University innovation report 1. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Smith, G.D. (2013). I drum, therefore I am: Being and becoming a drummer. Farmham: Ashgate.
Smith, G.D. (2014). Popular music in higher education. In G. Welch & I. Papageorgi (Eds.), Advanced musical performance: Investigations in higher education learning (pp. 33–48). Farnham: Ashgate.
Smith, G.D. (2015). Neoliberalism and symbolic violence in higher music education. In L. DeLorenzo (Ed.), Giving voice to democracy: Diversity and social justice in the music classroom (pp. 65–84). New York: Routledge.
Smith, G.D. & Powell, B. (Eds.) (2015). Technology and performance in popular music education [special issue]. Journal of Music, Technology and Education, 8(2).
Smith, G.D. & Shafighian, A. (2013). Creative space and the “silent power of traditions” in popular music performance education. In P. Burnard (Ed.), Developing creativities in higher music education: International perspectives and practices (pp. 256–276). London: Routledge.
Stålhammar, B. (2006). Musical identities and music education. Aachen: Shaker Verlag.
Strayer, J.F. (2012). How learning in an inverted classroom influences cooperation, innovation and task orientation. Learning Environments Research, 15(2), 171–193. Doi: 10.1007/s10984–012–9108–4
Tagg, P. (2012). Caught on the back foot: Epistemic inertia and visible music. IASPM Journal, 2(1–2), 3–18. Doi: 10.5429/2079–3871(2011)v2i1–2.2en
Till, R. (2007). The blues blueprint: The blues in the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. In N. Wynn (Ed.), Cross the water blues: African American music in Europe (pp. 183–202). Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
Till, R. (2013). Twenty first century popular music studies. IASPM Journal, 3(2), 1–14. Doi: 10.5429/664
University of Salford. (2015). Popular music and recording. Retrieved from: http://www.salford.ac.uk/ug-courses/music-popular-music-and-recording [Accessed 1 August, 2015 ].
Väkevä, L. (2013). Digital musicianship in the late modern culture of mediation: Theorizing a new praxis for music education from a pragmatist viewpoint. Journal of Pedagogy and Psychology “Signum Temporis”, 6(1), 38–47.
Veblen, K. (2007). The many ways of community music. International Journal of Community Music, 1(1), 5–21. Doi: 10.1386/ijcm.1.1.5_1.
Westerlund, H. (2003). Reconsidering aesthetic experience in praxial music education. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 11(1), 45–62.
Winterson, J. (2008). The Edexcel anthology of music. London: Peters.
Winterson, J. & Russ, M. (2009). Understanding the transition from school to university in music and music technology. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 8(3), 339–354.

This relates to UK recordings. Of the 3.5% of recordings that are labelled as within the classical genre, 1% is accounted for by André Rieu, and popular material sung by the likes of Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson, Lesley Garrett, Rolando Villazon, The Priests, and Hans Zimmer is strongly represented.

My own experience has involved regularly teaching PMS to classes in sizes of 60 to 120 students. Teaching in a College of Further and Higher Education I regularly had 24 hours of student teaching contact per week, compared to 14 hours in a research-active university. According to the Complete University Guide, none of the 30 UK universities with the best staff-student ratios are new universities, and none of the 30 UK universities with the worst staff-student ratios are old (pre-1992) universities (http://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk).

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.