This reading list is a compilation of books from outside of the field of music education that helps to fill in the gaps on what has been reported by music education researchers on popular music pedagogy. For the most part, these books delve into process, that is, how popular music is made (in the school of thought to which I subscribe, by focusing on the processes of making music, we simultaneously focus on learning).
Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste
On Becoming a Rock Musician
H. Stith Bennett
Becoming a rock musician is not a process which is steeped in the history, theory, and pedagogy of prestigious academies; nor is it a learning experience which is guided by an informal tradition of teachers and teachings. Becoming a rock musician is not even a process of apprenticeship. In fact, rock music is learned to a much greater extent than it is ever taught by teachers.
If I had to pick one chapter...Chapter 6: Technology and the Music
Noteworthy: This book is getting a re-release later this year with Columbia University Press. Sadly, the awesome orange cover has been replaced: https://cup.columbia.edu/book/on-becoming-a-rock-musician/9780231182850
The Poetics of Rock: Cutting Tracks, Making Records
Recording moved almost inevitably from a process of collecting, preserving, and disseminating to one of making. The aesthetic criterion shifted from the sound of the actual performance to the sound of the recording.
The song is what can be represented on a lead sheet; it usually includes words, melody, chord changes, and some degree of formal design. The arrangement is a particular musical setting of the song. It provides a more detailed prescriptive plan: instrumentation, musical parts, rhythmic groove, and so forth. The track is the recording itself. As the layer that represents the finished musical work, it subsumes the other two. That is, when we hear a record, we experience both song and arrangement through the sounds of the track.
If I had to pick one chapter...Chapter 3: Sound as Form
Pop Music - Technology and Creativity
The transposition of the Romantic notion of the artist as inspired individual into popular culture is undermined by the reality of pop music production, which is almost invariably the result of teamwork. And it is in the recording studio, the very crucible of creativity in pop music, that the team works.
If I had to pick one chapter...Chapter 2: The Production of Pop Music
The Producer as Composer
Rock and the many subgenres it has spawned are a different story: timbre and rhythm are arguably the most important aspects of this music. Generally, nothing beyond a lyric sheet and possibly a few chord changes is written down; the recording of a song functions as its score, its definitive version. It is no accident that the rise of rock ‘n’ roll happened almost at the same time as fundamental technological innovations such as tape editing and overdubbing.
If I had to pick one chapter...Chapter 1: From Mirror to Beacon
Groove: A Phenomenology of Rhythmic Nuance
Roholt explains so thoroughly and clearly what a groove is, how a groove works, and why grooves are important. With the vast majority of music education students coming from band/choir/orchestra backgrounds (at least that's the case in the US and Canada), I've found that they don't often have experience making groove-based music, although they listen to lots of it. Roholt's concentration on the very little things helps to fill the void of the predominant popular music pedagogies that tend to focus on just a few core principles. Key concept: Grooves must be embodied to be experienced.
The nuance level helps us understand why listeners can be so enthralled with music that seems very basic from a music-theoretic perspective, and why musicians invest so much time perfecting seemingly simple parts.
Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America
To interpret rap as a direct or natural outgrowth of oral African-American forms is to romanticize and decontextualize rap as a cultural form. It requires erasing rap’s significant sonic presence and its role in shaping technological, cultural, and legal issues as they relate to defining and creating music. Retaining black cultural priorities is an active and often resistive process that has involved manipulating established recording policies, mixing techniques, lyrical construction, and the definition of music itself.
Rap producers are not so much deliberately working against the cultural logic of Western classical music as they are working within and among distinctly black practices, articulating stylistic and compositional priorities found in black cultures in the diaspora.
If I had to pick one chapter...Chapter 3: Soul Sonic Forces: Technology, Orality, and Black Cultural Practice in Rap Music
Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop
As Rose does in Black Noise, Schloss frames hip-hop production as a musical practice rooted in African-American culture. Schloss:
The rules of hip-hop are African American, but one need not be African American to understand or follow them.
To follow the rules, one must first learn them from people who already know. In order to learn them from people who already know, one must convince them that one is a worthy student.
As Schloss acknowledges in the 2014 edition (the book was originally published in 2004), much has changed in hip-hop production since the passing of the so-called golden age of the sample-based era (mostly due to copyright laws). Making Beats does not discuss contemporary hip-hop production practices, but it's packed full of observations and insights that are still highly relevant.
Hip-hop’s idiosyncrasies were designed to represent the spirit and intelligence and individuality of its many creators, in a world that would have preferred to ignore them. So when we focus on the seemingly minor artistic and practical choices that go into hip-hop production…we are not minimizing hip-hop’s social or political significance. We are celebrating its humanity.
Looking for a thesis/dissertation topic? Here's a very clear 'need for study' from an expert:
We need more studies of hip-hop in specific times, in specific places, in specific communities, from specific points of view. We need more studies of specific aspects of hip-hop; not just the elements, but also the way those elements are practiced in different social and cultural environments. We need more discussion of the way artistic choices are being made in different contexts—especially musical choices—and what’s at stake when those choices are made.
If I had to pick one chapter...Chapter 2: "It's about Playing Records": History
Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ
hip-hop production…is intimately tied up with the techniques and aesthetics of DJing. In the mid- and late 1980s, hip-hop DJing spawned a new art, the art of making beats. In some ways the two are quite different—DJs perform live, manipulating records in front of audiences, while producers compose, often slowly and painstakingly, using digital samplers, drum machines, synthesizers, or computers. But there is a strong link between the two, and in the minds of many beat makers, the DJ begat the producer, simple as that.
If I had to pick one chapter...Chapter 2: Mix and Scratch--The Turntable Becomes a Musical Instrument: 1975-1978
Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae
What made dub unique in the context of pop music both in Jamaica and worldwide was the creative and unconventional use recording engineers made of their equipment…This enabled them to fashion a new musical language that relied as much on texture, timbre, and soundscape, as it did on the traditional musical parameters of pitch, melody, and rhythm.
The Song Machine
By the mid-2000s the track-and-hook approach to songwriting—in which a track maker/producer, who is responsible for the beats, the chord progression, and the instrumentation, collaborates with a hook writer/topliner, who writes the melodies—had become the standard method by which popular songs are written. The method was invented by reggae producers in Jamaica, who made one “riddim” (rhythm) track and invited ten or more aspiring singers to record a song over it. From Jamaica the technique spread to New York and was employed in early hip-hop. The Swedes at Cheiron industrialized it. Today, track-and-hook has become the pillar and post of popular song.
If I had to pick one chapter...Chapter 16: "Ester Dean: On the Hook"
Inspiration: “I didn’t even know what a producer did.” - Max Martin