The texts I have chosen in this blog post are for my hypothetical “Music Technology/Composition” class, where throughout the semester I would be introducing students to basic music theory, how to use that theory to begin making music, as well as how to compose and record music into a digital audio workstation (DAW). The texts I have chosen specifically correlate to a part in this semester where I would be working with my students on the beginnings of writing music and the theory involved.
As such, I found texts that involve how chord progressions work, what musical form is, and what components of a specific piece of music may be subject to copyright. I specifically chose this section of a semester because I think that concepts like chord progressions like the “four chords” or musical form are things students are probably familiar with, but they might not yet have the words to describe those ideas. Each of these texts can be used to facilitate a discussion that encourages students to draw connections between what they read, the music they hear in their life, and the music they seek to compose.
Print Article (Chord Progressions)
Yates, C. (2021, January 15). Chord Progressions: Writing hit songs made easy. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://www.musicianonamission.com/chord-progressions/
This article summarizes chord progressions, an integral component of musical analysis and composition, in a way that is simple and digestible for people who do not know a lot of music theory. The author provides brief explanations for keys, scales, and major/minor/diminished chords, concepts that one would need to understand to make sense of chord progressions. After this the author familiarizes the reader with the way chord progressions are written and how they work with popular examples like “The Four Chords” (I-V-vi-IV). Once the concept of chord progressions is fully explained, the author delves into the more nuanced theoretical concepts that dictate how different chords flow from one to another, and then leads the reader through an exercise that will help them write their own progressions.
A quantitative analysis shows that the article is over 2000 words long, which is so long that I would not consider using the entire article in one class period. Instead, I would choose to heavily condense the article by removing any information that was not relevant, and then use specific sections of it as reading material that related to what we were covering in class that day. Despite being 2000 words long, the average sentence length is markedly short. I used StoryToolz to check the overall readability of the text, which averaged out to a 7.2 grade level, and considering how easy it is to read the article, I have to agree with the aggregate score. While the concepts discussed within the article are quite complex, the simple text serves to make the nuanced information easier to understand. For that reason, I would not have a problem using this article as a text in a high school classroom.
From a qualitative outlook, the author successfully explained numerous vocabulary words so that even a complete beginner at music could follow along and begin to understand the ideas presented. The explanations would make this text excellent in a music appreciation or general music class where students who are not necessarily in band or orchestra could learn the rudimentary components of music theory. With this explained vocabulary comes few knowledge demands, once again, making the text more accessible to a beginner music audience. The specific language used throughout the article is rather simple since all the author is doing is explaining one musical concept after another. The text is relatively formulaic, predictable, and is supplemented with Roman numeral graphs as well as standard musical notation that further explain concepts like key signatures, chord construction, etc.
Potential vocabulary word list: key, chords, scale, diminished, major, minor, circle of fifths.
The text could be used in multiple ways. Left as is, it could be used to introduce the concept to new musicians, but with some editing it could also be condensed into its most helpful ideas to help solidify previously understood knowledge by a more seasoned musician. The inclusion of famous chord progressions and the section that addresses how to write one’s own chord progressions could be used to spark interest in the idea as well. What is cool about this article is that to make it culturally relevant, it could be paired with pieces of music that are relevant to young students like the song “Babylon” off the new Lady Gaga album Chromatica. The song follows a variation of the famous “FOUR CHORDS” progression (I-V-vi-IV) but starts on the IV chord in the key of A-Major (IV-I-V-vi) instead of the I chord. You could also find pieces of relevant music pertaining to black culture like chord progressions from famous hip-hop, funk, or motown songs, or to Latinx culture with famous chord progressions from reggaetón or folk music.
In a music composition/technology course, students could be encouraged to write a piece of music that was relevant to them, and by reading the text they could gain more insight into what kind of vibe they wanted to create with their music. If they were making a 90s East Coast style hip-hop beat, the article has a section on how to find chords that are moody and dark, and if they were trying to wrote a catchy pop hook, they could probably experiment with a variation of the tried and true “four chords.” By showing students how to write a progression and ways that can create different moods from it, they may be more motivated to experiment in their writing. As students taking this hypothetical “Music Technology/Composition” course, understanding how to write a chord progression is essential to their development as songwriters/composers. This article supplies them with the baseline information they need to begin that.
Multimedia (“Is Blues the Mother of All Modern Music?”)
- Is Blues the Mother of All Modern Music? [Video file]. (2019, November 07). Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYy-6ltraVQ
This video essay details the history of blues music, from its working-class origins in the deep south, to its fusion with electronic instruments like electric guitar/bass, and beyond. In doing so, it also emphasizes the integral role blues played in the development of almost all genres of American popular music: country, rock and roll, jazz, funk, heavy metal, and hip-hop. An importance is placed on the musical form to which most blues songs adhere, the 12-Bar Blues. In the video, the hosts explain the form from its measure count to its chord progression, and then show how it was adopted by other genres, like jazz, country, and rock and roll, as a foundation from which the style could be expanded upon.
I typed the first fifth of the script into StoryToolz to aid in a quantitative analysis of the text, which yielded an average reading level of grade nine. The average size of a sentence was a lengthy seventeen words, but beyond this there was not much to be concerned about text-wise. Most of the words were short, an average of five letters per word, and there were no musical vocabulary terms that went unexplained, aiding in student understanding. Thematically, the speakers in the video cover a lot of ground from recounting blues history as well as the basic theoretical elements of its composition, but their conversational demeanor serves to make the content accessible and understandable. An outline of the script would show that the concepts discussed follow a logical flow that a viewer could follow easily, since the PBS video series this is from (Sound Field) is made so the everyday person can watch it and make sense of the content. When describing 12-bar blues form, there are some knowledge demands that may confuse the viewer a bit. Firstly, the viewer would need to have a simple understanding of Roman numeral harmonic analysis. Secondly, they would have to understand what a cadence is and why the blues having a IV-I cadence is unique when compared to the classical V-I cadence. These are rudimentary concepts when discussing composition, so I would be sure to discuss what these are with my students before viewing the video.
Potential vocabulary list: blues, timbre, form, genre, chords, harmony.
This video provides culturally relevant content in several ways, firstly in that the blues serves as the foundation for almost all American popular music that is consumed today. Whether students listen to country, rock, jazz, or hip-hop, it is likely that they have encountered 12-bar blues form in their recreational listening at some point in time. The video also provides context as to what musical elements beyond form define the blues, like wailing guitars or harmonica, rough timbres, and lyrics that detail life’s hardships. As students who will be learning the fundamentals of writing their own music, recognizing these forms and genre distinctions is important to their growth as songwriters and musicians. Perhaps more importantly, the video serves to amplify black voices by spotlighting a crucial musical and cultural movement that was created by working-class African Americans in the Jim Crow era South. I think that it would be beneficial to do a comparison between a classic blues tune and a modern hip-hop track from a relevant artist like Kendrick Lamar, since we could discuss the similar musical elements in his tracks as well as his lyrics about growing up in a society that was designed for people who look like him to fail. We could also do another listening activity where I could find songs with 12-bar blues form from several genres, and then have each student draw a form chart and follow along with each tune.
Culturally Relevant (Ed Sheeran Lawsuit NPR Article)
Flanagan, A. (2018, June 28). Ed Sheeran sued for $100 million over SUPPOSED Song Similarity. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2018/06/28/624405244/ed-sheeran-sued-for-100-million-over-supposed-song-similarity
This article from NPR highlights an especially important part of writing music, copyright law. In it, the author describes a pending $100 million lawsuit that pop star Ed Sheeran was facing from Marvin Gaye’s estate, who in 2018 claimed that Sheeran’s hit song “Thinking Out Loud” was similar enough to Gaye’s seminal “Let’s Get It On” to constitute plagiarism. From a teacher’s perspective, this text can both be an exciting way to connect what we are learning about composition to the current music world and also open the door for a conversation about what constitutes plagiarism in music, what happens when an artist or songwriter is found to have plagiarized a song, and whether chord progressions can be copyrighted.
Compared to the other texts, this article is a more difficult read that scored an average of a grade-thirteen reading level on StoryToolz. The average sentence length is thirty words (with the largest sentence being 70 words long) and there are numerous words throughout that some students might need to have defined for them (troubadour, precipitously, royalties, vesting) so they can better understand the main ideas of the reading. Beyond the sheer number of words and new vocabulary presented therein, the flow of the text is not as straightforward as the others and there are points where the writer takes an aside from the main story to provide background context on previous lawsuits the parties have been involved in. While reading through this article, it may take considerable guidance to ensure students are pulling the most pertinent information from the text. I would plan on doing this by stopping after every few paragraphs to highlight main ideas (“Who is suing who?” What are they suing over?” “What are their claims about the songs’ similarities?). The final paragraph of the article is about the owner of the company suing Sheeran and how he lost millions of dollars following the digital boom that tanked the music industry in the early 2000s. While this is an interesting point to note regarding the lawsuit as it pertains to his willingness to protect his assets, it completely breaks from the main flow of ideas in the text and could also be hard for students to follow. Considering the complexity of the vocabulary, sentence structure, and requirement of good synthesis skills to make connections between main ideas, I think that rating the text at a grade-thirteen reading level is appropriate.
In our songwriting/composition unit, I would use this text to spark excitement and interest in our foray into chord progressions by providing my class with this controversial music news regarding one of the most popular performers on Earth. Knowing how complex the text would be for a high school class, however, I would want to read the text as a class and follow it with a discussion about the main points of the article. I found another piece of multimedia text from the music outlet Consequence of Sound, a video that plays side by side comparisons of the specific musical sections in “Thinking Out Loud” that the plaintiff alleges were stolen from Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” The video supplements the NPR article by offering more context into what the Marvin Gaye estate heard in Sheeran’s song, and can make for a fun discussion that encourage students to share what was similar and different about the two songs. Ideally, after reading the NPR article I would begin a discussion with my students about what parts of music one can trademark (melodies, specific rhythmic phrases, lyrics) and what parts of music cannot be copyrighted (key signatures, chords, chord progressions). In this class I would also do a project with my students where we would sample other songs to make hip-hop beats, and since the concept of sampling in music is also well-documented and loaded with controversy, this article lays the foundation for the students’ knowledge of how far they can go with composing music without crossing any artistic/legal boundaries.
Multimedia (Ed Sheeran/Marvin Gaye Comparison Video)
Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud VS Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” [Video file]. (2019, January 04). Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcBIYoJCebs
As stated previously, this video contains snippets of music from both Ed Sheeran’s hit song “Thinking Out Loud” and Marvin Gaye’s classic “Let’s Get It On.” While I do not hear any similarities that I feel warrants a $100 million lawsuit, I do believe that giving students a side-by-side comparison of two similar songs will foster a conversation that encourages students to think musically about music by using subject-specific language to convey their points.
Multimedia (The Eight Elements of Music)
J. (2020, October 11). The Eight Elements of Music [Digital image]. Retrieved March 19, 2021, from https://juliajooya.com/2020/10/11/what-are-the-8-elements-of-music/
In this image from the Julia Jooya’s education blog, she displays the main elements of music in a colorful, eye-catching infographic. Since discussing music in an educational setting depends on students being able to articulate their ideas, educating students about the core elements of music provides them a point of reference from which they can base their thoughts. For utilization in the classroom, I would have a lecture on the main elements of music and use this infographic to introduce them, then have the students copy down the image in a notebook so they can quickly reference it throughout the semester. Being able to use subject-specific language like this is integral to developing the mindset of a professional musician, which can only benefit the students in their own musical endeavors.
Culturally Relevant (The Four Chords)
Four Chords. (2011). On Animal Vehicle. Australia: The Axis of Awesome. (2011)
This music video from Australian comedy act The Axis of Awesome is a perfect way to introduce students to the idea of chord progressions because it references dozens of pop music songs that all follow the same four chord sequence (I-V-vi-IV). It’s funny, it’s relevant because the songs they reference are indelibly tied to the fabric of popular musical culture, and it’s a very surface-level text that just requires the students to listen in and have fun. After this, we can begin to explore other chord progressions and further expand into musical form.
Printed Text (What is Form in Music?)
Chase, S. (2020, September 11). What is form in music? A complete guide: Hellomusictheory. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://hellomusictheory.com/learn/form/
This text explains the most popular varieties of musical form in simple terms that even non-musicians can understand. For most forms, the also provides an accompanying musical example from well-known pieces of music, like Beethoven’s Fur Elise used to demonstrate rondo form, and Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind to denote ABAB (Verse-Chorus) form, a variety of binary form.