RockPop Spring 15 Syllabus

Syllabus for Rock & Popular Music Spring 15

PDF of Official Syllabus

The information below is excerpted from the pdf above.

Course Information

Semester: Spring 2015
Course Number: MUST 281-001
Course Title: Rock & Popular Music
Meeting Days & Time: MW 3:30pm-4:45pm
Classroom: CMUS 401
Professor: David Kulma
Office: CMUS 104
Office Hours: MW 10-11am & 2-3pm (By Appointment)

Course Description

An examination of the styles, musicians, and techniques of Popular Music (rock, blues, pop, soul, funk, country, folk, metal, hip-hop, EDM, etc.) from its beginnings to the present.

Course Materials

Required Text

What’s That Sound?: An Introduction to Rock and Its History, 3rd Edition
By John Covach and Andrew Flory, W.W. Norton, 2012.

Online Resources

Course Website

Course Goals and Learning Outcomes

The amount of music that fits under the umbrella of popular music is huge. There is no way we could cover even a sliver of it in a semester. We have a textbook as a jumping off point. It has a lot of good information and is a helpful resource, but we are not bound by it.

Our course is nominally a history of American and British rock music starting around 1955. But we will explode this purpose to get at more music, and to dig deeper into particular topics we choose together. We might study the Beatles one week, Beyoncé the next. Talk about the mechanics of songwriting and harmony, then turn around and look into music’s relation to politics. Music as a business. Music as an art. Blues. Country. Prog rock. Antifolk. Post-punk ska. Neo soul.

The goal of this topic format is to allow for more flexibility, but also to focus on a few important ideas that will give you multiple new ways to interact with music.

  1. Listening
    • This is the main way most of us engage with music. I will create a weekly listening list for our chosen topic. I ask that these lists become your main listening for the semester. Through regular listening to recordings, you will engage with numerous songs. Some you will know; some you won’t. Some you will like; some you won’t. We will discuss these songs in class, write about them in assignments, and engage with them in other ways you choose.
    • For basic recognition, we will have regular retakeable listening quizzes over our lists. You will learn basic information about all the songs, such as title, artist, date, songwriter, etc. Hopefully by the end of the semester, you will know at least 100 more songs than you know at the beginning.
    • Active and passive listening. Passive listening is the way most of us engage with music on a daily basis. We listen to music while in the car, while doing work, from speakers in public places. This is a valuable form of listening, but one goal of this class is to introduce you to active listening. Active listening is focusing on music for a specific purpose where the music is the primary experience. For example, to figure out a song’s form, to understand the lyrics, to listen for what instruments are playing, etc. This critical listening can bring new details to light, change our opinion of a song, bring us more joy, make us hate it more.
  2. Making
    • Creating music ourselves is one of the great joys of being human. Although most of you are not music majors, we will learn about how music is organized and created. This will range from how music is structured (chord progressions, formal structures, and songwriting) to what instruments we hear (usually guitars and drums, but almost anything can appear on a record), to how songs are recorded (the studio has become a musical instrument itself). I hope that will we have the opportunity to make music together this semester.
  3. Discussing
    • Talking about music is a major way we all engage with music. We talk about it with our friends and family. We read concert and album reviews online and in the media. We write about it ourselves on blogs and social media. Plus scholars in many disciplines research music in every way imaginable.
    • My goal in this class is to get you to discuss music in many ways as I can: in-class discussions, writing assignments in the style of reviews, interviews, blog posts, etc. Maybe even a project where you make a video, a song, or explore music in a way I can’t yet imagine.
    • We will also read from our textbook to get some historical basics, and I will assign other readings from magazines, websites, books, and maybe scholarly articles to deepen our knowledge of each of our chosen topics.

Our largest goal is to engage with music more thoughtfully, to be informed listeners of not only the music we love, but also music we hate or don’t care much about.

Required Work and Grading Policy

10-12 Listening Quizzes 15%
Small Assignments 15%
Large Assignment 1 20%
Large Assignment 2 20%
Final Presentation with Project 30%

My methods described below are arranged around an idea called flipped pedagogy, where we do activities and discussion in class, and you get information outside of it. I don’t plan on lecturing much, but will do short ones as the situation warrants. I want to know what you think and what you want to learn, rather than spending lots of class time on what I think about a particular topic. I am happy to contribute my opinion, but I want to be one voice among many.

Listening Quizzes

We will have weekly listening quizzes, between 10 and 12 (one for each topic). Here is the procedure for each quiz.

  • During the week prior, I will assign you a list of about 10 songs for the upcoming topic. You will listen to these songs as you prepare the readings, etc. for that topic. This will give you about 4 days to listen before we begin discussing this topic and these songs in class.
  • On day one of the new topic, we will have a listening quiz over the corresponding listening list at the beginning of class. I will play chunks from 5 of the songs. You will need to write down the correct title and artist for each song. I may ask for another piece of information, as we decide together in class.
  • For those who want, there will be a retake quiz at the end of topic day two. If would like more retake opportunities, you may meet with me during office hours.
  • Each quiz retake will be a different selection of 5 song chunks from the original list. At a later date in the semester, we will determine a cut-off date for quiz retakes.

Small Assignments

These small assignments are the basic daily and weekly work of the class, and are graded on participation.

  • For example, before we do the week on history as the second topic, each of you will read a chapter from our textbook, and make a one-page handout on the information in the chapter.We will then spend the next class day talking about popular music history as we outlined in your handouts.
  • We will also have in-class writing prompts to work on discussing music in prose. For instance, if our topic was punk music, we would listen to “Anarchy in the UK,” and I would give you a reading about the Sex Pistols and the punk scene in England. I would also give you a few questions to think about as you read, and at the beginning of the next class, we would write individually for about 10-15 minutes on those questions. We would then discuss what we wrote about in class, and I would collect any work for those students would like feedback on their writing.
  • The possibilities here are limitless, but notice that they involve each of you doing reading or work before we cover something in class. This format would allow us to do more interesting activities together rather than me lecturing.

Large Assignments

The two large assignments are a way for you to dig deeper into some topic or song we cover in class. It could also be a related topic or song. One will be due before midterm, and one will be due a few weeks later. I will create rubrics for these assignments with your input. Please inform me of your assignment and topic choice when you decide what to do.

They are also more open ended, in that you will decide what to do. Here are a few examples of possibilities. You need to show that you clearly researched the musicians, and thought deeply about the music you chose and/or created.

  • You can make a 5-minute video where you discuss the history and background of a particular song or artist that relates to something we covered in class. Play some song excerpts, analyze the lyrics, discuss what interests you about this music.
  • You can write a 2-3 minute song based on the style of a particular artist or song we covered. Record yourself singing and performing it, and then upload the song onto soundcloud or youtube. Then write a page or two on how you applied what you learned in class to create this song.
  • Create a 500 word blog essay written for an uniformed listener about an artist or song related to stuff we covered in class. How would you go about informing someone on the internet about this music you chose? What would you want to tell them to get them hooked or to turned them off from it? What information would be helpful? How could you take some technical knowledge and make it interesting? This can be in the style of a music critic think piece, if you like.
  • Write a standard 2 page academic paper (about 500 words) researching some topic of interest related to the things we covered in class. Find print and online resources to back up your argument and quote from with citations. Can you make a clear argument for the connections or new ideas you intend to discuss?
  • Something awesome related to your major that relates to music we have covered. This is where you come in.
  • Again this is open ended. Be creative!

Final Presentation with Project

The final presentation will take place during the final exam period and as many previous class periods as needed. I recommend you begin thinking about and working on it now. These presentations can be similar to the large assignments, but should be larger and you get to choose a topic on your own, with my approval. This can be anything you want related to popular music. Again the sky is the limit in terms of what you might do. But you need to condense it down to some kind of 5 minute presentation to tell us all about the awesome things you found out. You will also include writing up your findings or what you did. Again this could be an academic paper, a blog, a video, something else to cover the stuff that might get left out of a short presentation. We will discuss the specifics a few weeks into the semester, and create a rubric for grading them.

Policies on Missed Work, Late Work, and Makeups

It is your responsibility to initiate, contact, and make arrangements for makeup work.


If you miss a quiz because you were absent or late to class, you will have the opportunity to make it up as a retake no matter the reason. If you do not take a retake in class or during office hours by the cut-off date we determine, you will receive a zero for the quiz in question.

Small Assignments & Large Assignments

If you miss turning in an assignment or attempt to turn it in late, you will receive a zero. If you have a university-sanctioned reason for your absence (as listed under the attendance policy), I will allow you to make up or turn in late the given assignment. I am the one who decides whether your reason fits the requirements for allowing a makeup. In other circumstances, speak with me, and I will determine if your reason warrants an exception. Keep in mind, I may say no to your request. Your best option in all circumstances is to speak with me as soon as you have a problem.

Final Presentation with Project

All students must complete their presentation during the time they sign up for. The project portion will be due during the final exam period. If you either miss your presentation day and time or are unable to turn in the project for a justified reason (as listed under the attendance policy), you and I will find a way for you to make up the presentation portion or turn in the project late. Otherwise, if you miss the presentation or do not turn in the project, you will receive a zero for the presentation and/or the project.

Attendance Policy

I work hard to begin and end class on time, and to make our time together fruitful. Please respect this by arriving to class on time or a few minutes early, if possible.

There is a university wide policy on attendance. If you miss seven class meetings, the university requires me to give you an F for the semester. So you have six absences to work with. If you are absent for any reason (even a university sanctioned one), that absence counts toward your total. So please keep your absences for when you have to be at a university sanctioned event (band trip etc.), you are sick, or if you have a family emergency.

I will take attendance in the first five minutes of class. If you arrive after I take attendance, there is no guarantee I will remember to add you to the role. Under those circumstances, you will be counted absent. If you are regularly late to class, I may ask to speak with you individually to discuss your professionalism.

You are responsible for all material and all announcements, even if you are not present. When you are absent, I am obligated by the university to provide you makeup opportunities if you have an adequate cause, which includes:

  • incapacitating illness,
  • death of an immediate family member, and
  • authorized representation of the university.
I am responsible for deciding the adequacy of the cause for your absence, and you are responsible for providing me documentation certifying the legitimacy of your absence in advance. If advance notice is not possible, you must give me this documentation on the day you return to class. (See Class Attendance Policies in the Winthrop University Undergraduate catalog for the complete policy.)

Other Required Syllabus Statements

See the PDF at the top of the page for other syllabus information.