The core of my teaching at Carleton comprises three introductory level courses: History of Rock, Golden Age of R&B, and History of Jazz. While these courses approach different topics and periods, they are bound together by a set of common goals.
Under the greater umbrella of factual information associated with these subjects, I teach students three basic skills in these introductory courses:
- Techniques for careful listening
- Ways to write about music
- Methods for approaching primary and secondary sources relating to popular music
Students bring a wide range of prior knowledge into these three courses, with very few having any formal musico-analytical experience. I find that close listening allows me to teach unfamiliar ideas to a wide range of new and experienced listeners.
I give students tools that allow them to hear, discuss, and write about aspects of musical structure, helping them to find topics of interest and providing methodological guidance. I also give them basic techniques to analyze live musical performances. My courses incorporate a variety of primary sources throughout all of these—including historical newspaper and magazine articles, biographical writings, and vintage source recordings—to help students see and hear historic events in context and musical processes at work.
I also teach upper-level seminars. I have led multiple iterations of courses on the Beatles, Motown, and early jazz reception. The goals of these courses are much different. After brief reviews of literature, methodological approaches, and research resources, students create lengthy original research projects, which are presented in both oral and written form.
The depth of these seminars can provide interesting learning experiences, for both student and instructor. Small groups and focused activities help to deepen student perspectives, while group investigations into primary source materials, and small weekly research presentations allow them to cover a lot of material and feel a sense of ownership over the discussions.
The subject matter of my courses draws many students who often have little training in music history and theory. This has caused me to reconsider the manner in which these seminar courses are “advanced.” Rather than thinking of these classes as the last in a series of building blocks, I use their advanced nature to investigate a more detailed aspect of history using primary source materials.
After a short introduction to the music at hand, students spend several weeks exploring various sets of sources and reporting on them. I use similar assignments for biography comparison, song form analysis, cover analysis, and exploring bootlegs as primary sources. In the final portion of the course, students are required to develop an original thesis, present their research to the group, and submit a written paper.
Another aspect of my teaching involves “Argument and Inquiry” courses, Carleton’s version of a freshman seminar. I have led two different iterations of these, one called “Keeping it Real: Authenticity in Popular Music” and the other “Bob Dylan’s America.” I find the Dylan course especially effective for this purpose, as it welcomes new students to Minnesota, Dylan’s home state, by focusing on the music of his early career when he was at a similar age as the students.
My interest in performance practice, studio production, and rock history also informs a hybrid course called “Rocklab,” which combines performance and academic study of rock music for non-majors. In this class I take about twenty students—with no consideration of prior experience—and place them into three or four bands. I provide all of the instruments and the rehearsal space for them to learn to play rock music at an extremely basic level. In the first half of the course, I use a variety of small-group coaching sessions to teach each band to perform two songs.
During the second half, the students make a recording of their performances, experimenting with a variety of recording techniques. Throughout the term, we augment these performance and recording activities with readings and discussion about performance practice in rock music and mediation of recording techniques, both extraordinarily rich topics in popular music studies. To teach the course, I have been instrumental in developing a college electro-acoustic lab, which serves as an instructional space while also supporting more advanced work by departmental composers and my own audio-oriented research projects.
I am very interested in pedagogy and spend a lot of time with my teaching. I’ve worked several times as a workshop leader with a group of non-music secondary school teachers as part of a seminar funded by the NEH called “Voices across Time” held at the University of Pittsburgh. I organized and administered a panel discussion on “teaching rock” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland as part of the annual pop conference sponsored by the Experience Music Project. In 2014, I published a response in a roundtable concerned with popular music pedagogy in a new journal at the forefront of this movement, The Journal of Music History Pedagogy.
Certainly my most important work in the area of pedagogy has been my textbook What’s That Sound (W.W. Norton). Working on this text has forced me to carefully consider teaching and canon formation in new ways, putting aside my own practices to think about how other instructors might approach the subject.