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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

John C Hanford
BIS 393
Bothell Campus

Special Topics

Various topics designed to respond to faculty and student interests and needs.

Class description

Our course will explore the composition, performance, production, as well as the cultural contexts and historical origins of popular music in America. For purposes of this course the term “popular music” will indicate music that is mass-produced and disseminated via the mass media: that has been listened to by large numbers of Americans at various times; and that typically draws upon a variety of musical traditions. In our studies we will look at the historical and cultural currents that have circulated around pop music and at the social forces that continue to shape its development. “Pop” must be viewed in relation to a broader musical and cultural landscape in which various styles, audiences, and institutions interact in highly complex ways. Two prominent ongoing themes we will encounter concern, on the one hand, how the music business has historically tried to manage popular music as a stable and predictably profitable commodity, and how, on the other hand, the commercial “mainstream” has been repeatedly reshaped and reinvigorated by the musical traditions of the most marginalized members of American society. However, in addition to our reading about and discussing the social, economic, and cultural forces that are reflected in the music of any given era, we will also emphasize looking at the primary “documents” themselves—the musical compositions and performances that make questions about historical and social origins worth asking in the first place.

The specific kinds of musical categories and traditional styles that will be focused on in lecture will include: Tin Pan Allen songs; early jazz and “symphonic jazz”; country and urban blues; hillbilly and early country; 1940s swing; rhythm & blues; urban blues; rock ‘n’ roll; country & western; bluegrass; gospel; soul; rock—and many of its various sub-styles; disco; fusion; punk; new wave; and funk. Depending upon constraints of time, on the size of the class, and the availability of materials, our survey may extend into the 1990s and cover some of the myriad sub-styles and major genres of the last decade (rap, techno, and various “alternative” styles). In any event, while covering historical styles and eras we will also have good cause to discuss more recent musical developments and new genres whose roots are quite audible in earlier traditions

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

I want to stress that IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO HAVE A SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE OF MUSIC TO TAKE THIS COURSE. One does not need to know, for instance, how to read musical notation (though on occasion, musical scores will be used in class for their lyrical contents as well as for their basic graphic information). Neither is any previous knowledge of instrumental or vocal performance, nor is a familiarity with any musical forms or genres, prerequisites for taking the class.

BASIC STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES: 1. Keep up-to-date with all assigned listening and reading, on a class-by-class basis.

2. Keep up-to-date with the writing assignments. Late assignments will be significantly down-graded, and NO ASSIGNMENTS WILL ACCEPTED AFTER THE LAST SESSION OF CLASS, MEETING ON 11 JUNE.

3. Class attendance and participation: class sessions constitute essential course material. You are urged to raise questions and issues for discussion.

Class assignments and grading

ASSIGNMENTS: Graded course work will include: in-class quiz sessions (the number of which will be determined by the first week of classes); two or three relatively short essays on assigned topics (each paper of around three pages in length); and one midterm exam. Students’ participation in class will also be assessed and graded. A final project, comprising a more lengthy paper and (if time permits) an in-class presentation, will reflect a large-scale research project of the student’s own choosing, subject to the instructor’s approval. Presentations will be scheduled for the last week of regular class meetings and including June 11th, during the session that is otherwise allotted for final exams. The attendance of all students for all of the presentations is mandatory. Further details about papers and presentations will be forthcoming.

Writing Assignments: The writing assignments and final paper are intended not only to help you understand specific musical pieces and issues, but also to develop your writing skills in general and your ability to write about music in particular. Therefore, your essay assignments will be graded on the basis of rhetorical control, organization, grammar, proper methods of citation and documentation, as well as on the basis of their conceptual content.

GRADING: The written assignments, midterm exam, classroom participation, and final project, will be graded on a point basis. (The distribution of points will be given on the syllabus to be distributed in class.) Your final grade will be based on a percentage of total possible points earned for the quarter, and will be converted to a numeric score according to the system outlined in the UW Bothell Catalog.

NOTE: The course description given above is to be regarded as somewhat provisional. E.g., the number of assignments and presentations will be contingent upon the number of students that register for the class. Therefore, the instructor reserves the right to revise certain details in the assignments and grading policies outlined above. Any such revisions will be announced in class and stated in the finalized syllabus. Students with questions may contact me by e-mail.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Lindsey M Mc Carthy
Date: 04/02/2008