Teaching Tip Tuesday – Using Pop Music

Here’s a cool idea for the classroom in this latest edition of Teaching Tip Tuesdays.
Have your students compile their own top 40 lists of the best music of the day. Have them work in small groups, to come up with a list of songs that they enjoy. The students will then look to see if there are any common elements among the songs and list whatever categories they come up with. Each group then selects two or more of the categories to compose thematic albums. The students then create a compilation album complete with art, liner notes, and an album title.
I think this is a great activity because students get to analyze the Top 40 charts. They could research different radio formats and music video charts as they pick and choose their own songs for their group compilation. In so doing, they may notice trends of their favourite music and come to realize exactly what the different genres of music are capable of doing.
Another benefit to this activity is that it gets the students to focus on the thematic content of songs. It helps them get past their own preconceptions about music. I know that when I was a student, my musical tastes were extremely limited. I think it is important to be exposed to different genres and come to appreciate all forms of good music.
Of course, not all students will agree on what songs to include in their groups lists. Some groups may end up with only one or two genres being represented. Some might have a hard time classifying the songs by content. Of course, I would provide students the opportunity to download lyrics of the songs so they can separate form from content. This is a skill that hopefully is taught in music classes and poetry classes so the students will have already been exposed to doing this in some form.
This activity could be extended in so many different ways. It can be tied in with the music curriculum as well. I’ve just read about this activity for the course I am taking online right now. I hope to try it out in my classroom once we get the EQAO testing out of the way.
I have made several different mix tapes in my life. I can use my expertise as a hip-hop DJ to inspire the class in this assignment. We could even using editing programs to blend and mix the songs together so we could teach music concepts such as tempo and dynamics.
Tim McGraw comments on how we used to have more of a mix in what we used to listen to on the radio in one of his songs. In the song “Back When, he sings,
“I had my favorite stations
The ones that played them all
Country, soul and rock-and-roll
What happened to those times?”
This is a great question. Here are a few more that this activity naturally raises and that our students could be thinking about as they complete this activity.
Why is radio so pigeonholed in what it plays these days?
Why is lyrical content not as important as the sound and genre of the song?
I would also make sure that the students included at least three different genres of music in their compilation albums so that we could recall the old days that Tim McGraw sang about. I still make tapes that blend genres like this and I think a lot of students probably have a few different genres represented in their MP3 players as well.
This activity will get the students thinking about genre, form and content, artistic elements, and careers in the music field. It sounds like a great activity and I hope to try it our soon.