Prepping my rap and rock class at Montclair State

This summer, I’m teaching Cultural Significance of Rap and Rock at Montclair State University. It’s my first time teaching it, and it’s also the first time anyone has taught it completely online. The course is cross-listed under music and African-American studies. Here’s a draft of my syllabus, omitting details of the grading and such. I welcome your questions, comments and criticism.

Rap and Rock

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What are all the genres of Western music and their typical characteristics?

To answer your immediate question, the best thing to do is to go through a well-established music database and listen to representative tracks from each genre: Amazon, the iTunes store, Pandora,, Spotify if you’re in Europe, SoundCloud, take your pick. Figure out who the ten or twenty most popular and influential artists are in each genre and listen to as many of their songs as you can. Once you’ve listened to a wide variety of songs in a given genre, you’ll get a sense of their defining musical characteristics, and you’ll be able to make judgments of your own.

There’s a bigger question behind this one, though. What does a musical genre really mean? Continue reading

Blues basics

Since I’m teaching the twelve-bar blues to some guitar students, I figured I’d put the lessons in the form of a blog post. Blues is a big topic and this isn’t going to be anything like a definitive guide. Think of it more as a tasting menu.

Blues is a confusing term. You probably have some idea of what blues is, but it’s surprisingly hard to define it specifically. There are many songs with the word “blues” in the title that aren’t technically blues at all, like “Lovesick Blues” by Hank Williams. John Lee Hooker was the living embodiment of blues, but a lot of his best-known songs aren’t technically blues either.

Meanwhile, there are quite a few songs using the blues form that you might not think to identify as blues. Two examples: “Shuckin’ The Corn” by Flatt and Scruggs, and the theme from the sixties Batman TV show.

So what exactly is blues?

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