“David Potter, my eyesight must be failing. Would you mind telling me where you see a drum roll in bar nine?”
“Oh, there isn’t one, sir,” said Bugs cheerfully. “I thought I’d just liven it up a bit.”
“This is a Strauss waltz,” said Mr. Darby icily, “not a rock number. It does not require livening up. In future, kindly play only what is on your music sheet—and nothing more.” (Korman, 1980, p.12)
In this case, there’s something to be said for the adage, “stereotypes exist for a reason.” Bugs’ band-class plight resonates with me; at the age of fifteen I was also the drummer in the percussion section who had a tendency to stray from the printed page, improvising snare drum patterns when I felt a different groove while the band teacher shot me accusatory what-on-earth-are-you-doing?-looks. I soon dropped out due to disinterest. My chief complaint about music class echoed Bugs’ critique of Strauss: “There are hardly any drums.”
To be clear, I quit school music, not music. Everyday after school I went home and played drums and guitar, teaching myself how to play these instruments, a practice consistent with the findings of Bennett (1980) who concluded: “rock music is learned to a much greater extent than it is ever taught by teachers” (p. 3). I didn’t take lessons and I didn’t have friends that played music, so most of what I know I learned by myself. I listened to a lot of recordings, and I also made a lot of recordings, both from which I learned a great deal. While being a high school music dropout effectively closed the door to any chance of me pursuing music studies at the post-secondary level, it didn’t inhibit my music education because I didn’t aspire to be a classical music performer—everything I wanted to do musically could be learned without enrolling in a music school. In the late 1990s when I began to peruse post-secondary options, Canadian university music schools subscribed heavily to the classical triumvirate (band, orchestra, choir) and the closest resembling music to what I played—jazz—seemed like a distant relative at best. To my disappointment, there was no major in rocking out to be found anywhere in Canada. Such an education would have to continue in a “third environment” (Hargreaves, Marshall, & North, 2003) while I pursued a different degree: in my cramped cell-like room in the student residence (ironically across the street from a penitentiary), dilapidated basements in the student-rented houses in close proximity to the university colloquially referred to as “the ghetto,” and of course, in numerous stale-beer-smelling bars where the oft-offered advice to concertgoers was, “they’ll sound better if you drink more.” I led a dual life of sorts, treating school as my day job, while I practiced and gigged with my band incessantly whenever possible. We had some small but notable successes such as a pair of video premieres on MuchMusic, a showcase at Canadian Music Week, gigs at venerated venues such as Lee’s Palace and the Horseshoe Tavern, and a funding award from FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records), but we never earned enough income to quit our jobs (or in my case to justify dropping out of school).
I confess that when I applied for graduate studies in music education, I had ulterior motives: I just wanted to find a way to keep my rock band going. Knowing that graduation and disbanding typically go hand-in-hand, I decided that I needed to find a way to keep the dream alive for my band. Faced with the decision of either getting a “real job” or taking courses and “doing research” (“whatever that is,” I shrugged off at the time), I did some quick math and calculated that the latter option would better suit the interests of my rocking aspirations. By the time my masters’ thesis supervisor lent me her copy of How Popular Musicians Learn by Lucy Green (2001), I had already done so much writing, rehearsing, improvising, jamming, gigging, recording, and of course, learning with my band that the significance of her work was lost on me. Nearly everything she revealed about her research I had experienced firsthand and had erroneously assumed to be common knowledge. I found the field’s conception of “general music” to be misleadingly specific—far from what I had observed when people played music, generally speaking. I was as ignorant to the field of music education as it was to popular musicians like me; music education seemed alien, and much to my surprise, I was an alien species to it.
In this chapter I propose a plan for popular music education in Canada. To accomplish this I pose a number of questions: (1) What is the current state of Canadian music education? (2) What is the current state of popular music pedagogy (PMP)? (3) What is authentic PMP? (4) What is popular music? (5) How is popular music made? (6) What is PMP presently missing? I argue that at present PMP has a limited view of popular music practices. While researchers in the field of music education—most of whom are not popular musicians—have made significant and meaningful contributions to our understanding of how popular musicians learn and how these approaches might inform PMP, a failure to understand the fundamental role of recording in popular music since the mid-1960s has led to the formulation of PMP that remains rooted in rock practices prior to this period. What’s missing from most iterations of PMP are the music-making practices of the contemporary producer, which stem from Jamaican dub conventions, and are omnipresent in the making of almost all popular musics at present.
Realizing the Mosaic
My underwhelming experience of school-based music education is hardly unique and many music education scholars have been critical of the field for adhering to an educational model that caters to the interests of a few at the cost of disengaging and disenfranchising (too) many. In critique of the calcified curriculum pervasive in most higher education music institutions, Kratus (2015) questions: “Why is the musical training of 21st-century music educators nearly identical to that of 19th-century performers preparing to join orchestras and opera companies?” (p. 345). The very makeup of an incoming class of music education students, and by extension our future music teachers, is typically determined by conservatory-model performance auditions that prioritize the needs of large ensembles. The logic of such a system is not far off from the much more maligned practice of universities admitting students into academic programs based primarily on their athletic prowess. As a result, those “who have other desirable 21st-century music skills…often struggle to find a music education program that will admit them (Kaschub and Smith, 2014, p. 16), not to mention those who are not white (DeLorenzo, 2015) and/or disabled (Lubet, 2011). For those who don’t fit the 19th-century musical mould described by Kratus (2015), the barrier to a post-secondary music education is less like a glass ceiling and more like a bouncer at a bar: the criteria for entry are blatantly discriminatory. This practice extends to university teaching and research: “few popular musicians have felt inspired, qualified, or welcome (or all three) to bring their practices into the academic realm” (Parkinson, 2013, p. 160). This is evident in Canada where the popular musician on a music faculty (but not on a non-music faculty!) remains a rarity. Canada isn’t musically homogenous, but someone from another country could be forgiven for coming to this conclusion based on an analysis of most of our post-secondary music programs. Coast-to-coast, the curriculum of a Canadian music school is as predictable as a Tim Hortons’ menu; we’re more musically mired in the Western European tradition than Western Europe. Many of our music schools still champion pedagogies on the leading edge of tradition such as Orff, Kodaly, and Dalcroze, which are undeniably engaging and effective, but were designed to educate music learners in the Western European tradition. While my views on the state of Canadian music education could be construed as anti-traditional, I am not suggesting that we replace one culture’s music with another. Rather, what I am suggesting is that we strive to reflect the diversity of the country in which we educate. We pride ourselves on being the mosaic—let’s realize this musically.
A good music school reflects the reality of the global musical landscape, and a progressive one paints the future. At present we’re neither, mostly we just whitewash (Elpus, 2015, reported that more than 90% of music teacher candidates in the US are white and I suspect that Canada likely matches or exceeds this statistic). Can our palette be expanded with informal learning and non-formal teaching? Let’s look across the pond and see if the grass is greener on the other side.
In his analysis of 81 articles on popular music pedagogy (PMP) from 1978 to 2010, Mantie (2013) observed that whereas American writers tended to focus on issues of legitimacy regarding PMP, authors from the UK, Australia, and Scandinavia focused on best practices for PMP, implying that legitimacy was a non-issue (for readers wishing to delve into the issue of legitimacy of PMP, I suggest reading Bowman, 2004). Like Folkestad (2006) and Green (2001), I agree that popular music is automatically ushered into schools because students and teachers bring it with them; culture cannot be parsed out of a person. If PMP is deemed legit, the critical question becomes: “how should we practice PMP?”
As a starting point, focusing on learners as curriculum makers ensures that curricular content reflects their musical interests (e.g., Lebler, 2007; Green, 2008; Finney & Philpott, 2010; Karlsen, 2010; Williams, 2014; Wright, 2008). If there is a figurehead for this movement, it is without question Lucy Green, whom Mantie (2013) noted was referenced in over half of the literature he reviewed on PMP. James Brown sang that he “Paid the cost to be the boss” (1973), and Snoop Dog later rapped that he “Paid tha Cost to Be da Bo$$” (2002); criticism comes with the territory of being a recognized leader. As the boss of PMP, Green is in good company with Soul’s Godfather and hip-hop’s Doggfather. It is with a great deal of respect that I critique her work in the interest of contributing to the improvement of PMP, which she encourages (2011). Her major contributions to PMP (i.e., 2001; 2008; 2014) are commendable considering the worldwide seismic shift in popular music education they helped spur. In an effort to cultivate learner-centred environments for classrooms that could emulate the authentic practices of the popular musicians she researched (2001), Green (2008) formulated a pragmatic model for PMP, which stipulates that popular musicians:
- Choose their own music to learn;
- Learn by listening to and copying recordings;
- Learn alongside friends or by themselves;
- Assimilate skills and knowledge in haphazard, idiosyncratic, and holistic ways;
- Integrate listening, performing, improvising, and composing simultaneously throughout the learning process.
If we conceptualize that “popular music is not an ‘it’ but a ‘them’—a vast, multifarious, and fluid range of musical practices” (Bowman, 2004, p. 34), then we should be sceptical of a single serialized informal pedagogy (Jorgensen, 2012). As Allsup (2008) points out, the source of Green’s empirical data used to formulate her theory were “collected from a sample of fourteen all-white participants, twelve of whom were male, all of whom played what can be loosely described as white-ethnic rock” (p. 4). The learning processes outlined in How Popular Musicians Learn (2001) are about how a particular group of popular musicians—white rock musicians—learn. The danger to PMP lies in the interpretation of Green’s research as representative of all popular musicians. How Rock Musicians Learn would have made for a more accurate title and one that would have aged better. Green later explained that her rock-centric sample was a research delimitation: “I excluded rappers, DJs, and musicians who produce highly electronic, synthesized, and sampled musics, because the learning practices involved in such musics contain significant differences from those of guitar-based rock” (2004, p. 226), clearly demonstrating that she is aware that not all popular musicians learn in the same manner. And yet, more recently she stated: “informal popular-music learning practices are undertaken in one way or another by most popular musicians in nearly all sub styles, in ways that can be characterized by a number of general features” (2014, p. xxiii). These “general features” referred to in 2014 are the same as those outlined initially in 2001.
The core concepts of Green’s model of How Popular Musicians Learn (2001) have not been revised or amended in her more recent monographs (2008; 2014). This helps to explain why PMP programs following her principles like Musical Futures adhere predominantly to rock practices prevalent in the early 1960s, both in instrumentation (vocals, guitar, electric, bass, keyboard) and in practice (real-time “live” performance). As the owner of a couple dozen guitars who has played hundreds of live gigs, I encourage these learning experiences, but if we stop at rock, we’ll hit bottom by failing to see the bigger picture of popular music and its potential in/for music education. Second, the music education profession is still stubbornly preoccupied with equating “performance” with live synchronous music making. This mentality stems from the formal tradition and is a prime example of how music educators enmeshed in this ethos tend to jam the square peg that is popular music into a classical-shaped hole (e.g., having 30 children on stage strumming guitars to the latest chart-topping song). On one hand, it’s exciting for me that the music I have played my whole life could be part of a more holistic, and more democratic music education. I applaud these initiatives for diversifying approaches to music making in music education; it’s long overdue and sorely needed. On the other hand, it’s concerning for me that what gets passed off as popular music education is sometimes a faint shadow of what I perceive to be authentic popular music practice. Rather than simply tear down what has already been propped up to scaffold PMP, I hope that my twenty years of experiences as a popular musician can contribute a constructive perspective on how popular musicians learn, and thereby improve the foundation of this burgeoning area of inquiry. With this in mind, I turn to the construct of authenticity.
A New Authenticity
It is not possible to insert alternative music styles into a set of classroom practices that has been developed to deal with classical music. Subcultures are more than just the style of music they use, they’re context-dependent. (p. 213)
Context is the crux of this PMP conundrum. How can educators identify and evaluate authentic practices if they’re not ensconced in the subculture from which the music emanates? Investigating hip-hop DJ pedagogy, Katz (2012) attended a Scratch DJ Academy, which offers a formalized curriculum on how to DJ in the hip-hop tradition. He remarked on how the Miami “classroom” was designed to resemble the dilapidated South Bronx projects of the 1970s, replete with fake brick wallpaper, oil drums, and graffiti—all to fain authenticity. Well aware that “most DJs learned by observing friends, relatives, or neighbours and developed their skills largely through trial and error” (p. 233), Katz questioned renowned turntablist QBert whether the Scratch Academy’s prescriptive pedagogy could foster authentic practices. QBert didn’t mince words in his response: “If…it’s fucking kicking ass, then you’re fucking keep it real” (p. 236).
The implication of QBert’s frank assertion is that how one goes about learning is not as important as being able to demonstrate what has been learned. Second, the participants of a musical culture act as gatekeepers; they are the arbiters of authentic practice. It is the respect of one’s musical peers that guides and drives learning, which tends to occur obliviously as an on-going by-process. But such a position needs to be taken with a kosher-sized grain of salt because we need to continually consider the context of the learner. Presumably all learners want to get better, but whether or not that can occur depends on a host of factors, requiring the educator to be “intimately acquainted” with the historical, social, economic, and cultural context of students’ lives (Dewey, 1938). Further, there is the more practical issue of accessing members of specific musical cultures for the purposes of validating authentic practice. How do you gauge your musical development if you live in a cultural vacuum (such as where I grew up in rural Ontario) and are attempting to participate in a musical culture that is worlds away? Do we default to the Internet, hoping that these musical cultures have a strong online presence and a vested interest in music education? This proposition seems a little farfetched.
The alternative is to formulate a new authenticity, one that meshes with the culture that has adopted a musical culture from elsewhere. Canada’s indigenous hip-hop scene provides an example of this practice. Jerilynn Webster aka JB the First Lady of the First Ladies Crew in East Vancouver explained to Warner (2015) how hip-hop culture shares similarities to indigenous culture with dancing, drumming, storytelling, and art all featuring as critical components. Webster related:
As a young person, an activist talking about women’s rights or about murdered and missing indigenous women, hip-hop has been the best venue to connect with not only my peers and young people, but also the greater public that may have barriers to listening to the stories of First Nations’ indigenous people. (Warner, 2015, n.p.)
Webster’s engagement with hip-hop music illustrates that musical cultures are not necessarily fixed phenomena with rigid rules to shepherd authenticity. Rather, they fit into the fold of their adopters in which new iterations of authenticity are spun out and woven back into the cultural fabric. This perspective is supported by Clive Campbell aka DJ Kool Herc, widely acknowledged as the progenitor of hip-hop music:
To me, hip-hop says, “Come as you are.” We are a family…It’s about you and me, connecting one to one. That’s why it has universal appeal. It has given young people a way to understand their world, whether they are from the suburbs or the city or wherever. (Chang, 2005, p. xi)
Music educators must take into consideration the context of the learning environments they inhabit to make sensitive and informed decisions on how to best facilitate authentic learning. As Smith (2015) suggests, “we should be asking our students and ourselves, ‘How can my musicality help you more fully to realize (in both senses of the word) yours?’” (p. 190). Ideally, teachers will connect their classrooms with representatives of the musical cultures that interest their students as there is no substitute for an insider perspective, but they should also recognize that within the very rooms they work new authenticities will arise. This is an exciting prospect for the field of music education because rather than mimic genres, we can make them. Instead of waiting for the next wave, we can be it. But before we start to make waves in PMP (literally and figuratively), let's ensure that we have a sound understanding of the mutable milieu of popular music.
"Popular Music": What Exactly Are We Talking About?
Beethoven, Gilbert and Sullivan, Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Sousa, Perez Prado, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter were but a few of the composers included in an eclectic popular music compilation issued by Reader’s Digest in 1960. In the booklet paired with the 10-LP anthology, the editors commented:
We called the collection “Popular Music That Will Last Forever” because it is popular in the finest sense of the word. When a piece of music is still popular after millions of people have heard it umpteen times, it has stood the sternest test of all—the test of familiarity (1960, p. 2)
For the editors at Reader’s Digest, familiarity constituted popularity, yet consider that by 1960 the first wave of rock ‘n’ roll had already swept through the United States and Canada, and the music most popular amongst teenagers at that time was conspicuously absent from the compilation. More than half of a century later we now know that rock ‘n’ roll would bud and branch too many sub-genres and cross-genres to catalogue, many of which would colloquially be referred to as “popular” at one point in time or another. “Rock ‘n’ roll” soon became too limiting of a label to adequately describe the diversity of musics that stemmed from its first flowering, and what resulted was an exponentiation of rock-related genres as diverse as the people that engaged with it. The original rock recipe is said to be most parts rhythm and blues (music of African-Americans) with some added influences from country and western (music of poor whites) and “popular music” (as deemed by the white middle class) (Covach & Flory, 2015; Stuessy & Lipscomb, 2012; Friedlander, 2006).
While identifying what learners perceive as popular is an important task for the music educator, it’s merely the first step along the path toward a pliable PMP platform. In the inaugural issue of Popular Music in 1981, Richard Middleton commenced his editorial by acknowledging that the “obvious subject” is answering the question, “what is popular music?” (p. 3). Admitting that such a feat is likely arbitrary, Middleton shifted his focus away from definition toward description, paraphrasing John Blacking: “over-concentration on musical categories obscures the more necessary attention to processes of music-making” (p. 6). Schloss (2014) contextualizes this perspective in the case of sample-based hip-hop production:
It is tempting, particularly in view of the conceptual similarities between hip-hop production and the composition of European art music, to see the compositional activity as secondary to the work that it produces. But to do so would be to overlook the most central aspect of the aesthetic system: the process. (p. 162)
To understand the process is to understand the music. A process-over-product perspective of PMP complements a learner-centred curriculum while honouring the music makers of a tradition by striving to understand the broader context in which it is made. In the case of popular music—an eclectic jumble of genres, sub-genres, and hybrid genres—recording-as-music-making is a process in which all musicians engage. Recording can be regarded as an artefact or as an action; the latter will lead us to PMP that better reflects the reality of popular music practice.
For nearly a century, formal music education has turned its back upon the learning practices of the musicians who produce most of the music that comes out of loudspeakers. But perhaps by constructively embracing those same technological developments which many people consider to have alienated music-making, and noticing how they are used as one of the main means of self-education for popular musicians, we can find one key to the re-invigoration of music-making in general. (Green, 2001, p. 186)
The quoted passage emphasizes the importance of using recordings as means of learning. Researchers in music education (e.g., Campbell, 1995; Jaffurs, 2004) and popular music (e.g., Bennett, 1980; Schwartz, 1993) report that recordings constitute the primary texts from which popular musicians learn. As McClary and Walser (1988/1990) elucidate: “What popular music has instead of the score is, of course, recorded performance—the thing itself, completely fleshed out with all its gestures and nuances intact” (p. 282). But to view recording as only something to learn from is to misconstrue how popular musicians learn because recording is a music-making process. Having an understanding of how this process works can help music educators to facilitate learning experiences that reflect this important aspect of PMP that by and large is not well represented in contemporary music education practices.
As a starting point, consider the typical recording processes of rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s and early 1960s as described by Stokes (1976):
Recording was a relatively simple process in which a band lined up in front of microphones, each one controlled for volume from the control booth, and played their music. Generally it went right from the microphones to the final tape; only the most sophisticated of recordings allowed even some overdubbing. No matter which method was used, when the recording session was over, the record was finished. (p. 136)
By the mid-1960s the recording process had changed drastically with musical artists harnessing recording technology to move the conception of recording beyond that of an audio snapshot capturing a moment in time. Referencing the increasingly elaborate studio productions of the Beach Boys, Moorefield (2010) writes:
Already in 1966, then, the composer, arranger, and producer are melded into one person…Brian Wilson was at the controls himself, making on-the-spot decisions about notes, articulation, timbre, and so on. He was effectively composing at the mixing board and using the studio as a musical instrument. (p. 19)
Since the mid-1960s, “most of the music that comes out of loudspeakers” has not been made by a group of people playing together in the same room at the same time. Instead, like Brian Wilson, musicians have used the studio as a musical instrument, whether they work alone (Author, 2014; Butler, 2014; Schloss, 2014), or in teams (Hennion, 1983/1990; Seabrook, 2015; Warner, 2004). Music education needs pedagogy to reflect this reality.
To the credit of the field, music educators have written about using the studio as instrument, at least inadvertently, since the 1970s. Paynter and Aston (1970) advocated using tape recorders to “make music,” recognizing the technology’s potential to not only record but to edit, make loops (literally), shift pitches via speed changes, layer sounds, and play sounds backward (p. 134). Under the umbrella of “composition” several music education researchers investigated the music-making process with computers (e.g., Bamberger, 1977; Folkestad, Hargreaves, & Lindstrom, 1998; Hickey, 1997; Stauffer, 2001; Wilson & Wales, 1995), all of which resemble the practice of using the studio as instrument. More recent studies have followed suit in reporting on learning and music-making practices in which studio technology serves as the instrument, occurring in a broad range of formal and informal learning environments (Egolf, 2014; Finney, 2007; Gullberg & Brandstrom, 2004; Lebler, 2008; Lebler & Weston, 2015; King, 2008; Mellor, 2008; Tobias, 2013; Tobias, 2015). Despite the significance of these contributions to our understanding of the studio as instrument as it relates to music education, what’s promulgated as PMP tends to eschew these authentic practices of production. Circling back to Green’s quote at the beginning of this section, we need to interpret “technological developments” to mean the processes of recording as opposed to the products of recording, and focus on how popular music is made to support the learners with whom we engage. To that end, in the proceeding section I examine the role of production at present and its implications for PMP.
The college students I teach in New Jersey unanimously agree that Drake is the most popular musician. They’re also colossal fans of the Weeknd, and although they all don’t like to admit it, Justin Bieber. How intriguing that my students, most of whom were born and raised in the United States, are obsessed with Canadian musicians. As Henderson (2008) observed, in the digital era of the Cancon period (note: since 1971 the Canadian government has mandated that a specified percentage of music content played on commercial radio be at least fifty percent Canadian-made with regard to music, artist, production, and lyrics), Canadian musicians no longer try to blend into other music markets, “they go as Canadian” (p. 313). Drake is a prime example. My students inform me that the guy I recognize as “Wheelchair Jimmy” from Degrassi: The Next Generation is actually Aubrey Graham from “the 6” (Toronto), and that although his dancing in “Hotline Bling” is ridiculous, they still love him anyway. They know whom he’s dating and whom he’s hating. They’re well aware that he may have a ghostwriter for his raps, but they don’t really care. Taken together, this social-media savvy celebrity is recognized by my American students as the epitome of popular music. Yet despite their awareness of the intricacies of all things Drake, when I ask my students about his music-making process, if they know how it’s made, or how they would go about making something similar, they are at a loss for words. While there is scholarship on the music-making processes entailed in rock (Zak, 2001), 1980s pop (Warner, 2003), contemporary pop (Seabrook, 2015), electronic dance music (Butler, 2014), and sample-based hip-hop (Schloss, 2014)—the majority of which is confined to the academic press—most people, let alone music educators, have no idea how popular music is made.
They took the lone a cappella vocal track they had from Mr. Bieber, cut it to stutter certain words in the introduction, and pitched it higher and lower in various parts of the song, allowing Mr. Bieber to answer himself from below and harmonize above. They toyed with dance beats, keyboard chords and bass lines — thickening the song and then thinning it again. They concocted sounds that were determinedly different from standard dance-club fare; what seems like a snare drum, for instance, is actually a tweaked version of an Indian tabla, Skrillex said.
And they devised the “dolphin” — the song’s most instantly recognizable, most insinuating hook. It’s not an acoustic or electronic instrument: It’s a brief snippet of Mr. Bieber’s vocal line, a subliminal reinforcement of the melody. It’s pitched two octaves above the original, run through distortion and equalization effects and given a very short tail of reverb, creating a digital sound with a human core. (n.p.)
The case of “Where Are Ü Now?” (2015) makes it clear that in this techno-pop production, much like hip-hop, “the timbral properties of both voices and instruments are as fundamental to the composition as the pitches and rhythms they perform” (Adams, 2015, p. 123). The work of Warner (2003) on eighties electronic pop music reveals a similar practice in which musicians “treat frequency and time as continua rather than elements to be divided…as ‘pitch’ and ‘rhythm’” to exploit timbre (p. 19). Schloss (2014) is quick to dismiss any notion that tinkering with timbre is a minor detail in hip-hop production; to the contrary he asserts that idiosyncrasies express individuality, a cornerstone of hip-hop culture.
The implication of these varied musics sharing this similar practice is that the technological tools once associated with audio engineering and the associated skills needed to wield them are musical instruments and actions, respectively. In the age of the microprocessor, computing devices are our culture’s most readily available musical instruments, supporting a spectrum of computer-based musical practices (e.g., Brown & Dillon, 2012; Butler, 2014; Crow, 2006; Evens, 2005; Jaffurs & Younker, 2010; Odam, 2004; Väkevä, 2010). In these musical practices,
the acoustical gestures of bowing, fretting, strumming, blowing, fingering, are replaced by the technological gestures of downloading, cutting, pasting, duplicating, aligning, normalizing, filtering, etc. Hours and days in front of the keyboard and mouse are spent playing a piece. (Evens, 2005, p. 124-125).
Behind a cheap four-track mixing desk, which by the standards of the time was hopelessly out-dated, Perry whirled and bopped and twiddled the knobs, imbuing the recordings with wild crashes of echo, gravity-defying phasing, and frequency-shredding equalization. (p. 29)
The mixing console and effects processors were the musical instruments of Tubby and those under his tutelage (Williams, 2012). Their aesthetic of utilizing pre-recorded materials to realize new renditions was figuratively sampled and remixed by hip-hop DJs in the Bronx spinning break beats with repurposed record players (Williams, 2013). Seabrook (2015) surmises that since the mid-2000s “the standard method by which popular songs are written”—“track-and-hook”—are essentially based on Tubby’s dub approach (p. 200). While the tools of the trade have changed since Tubby’s time, the music-making processes he pioneered as the primogenitor producer still serve as the formidable trunk from which contemporary popular musics branch out. Musically, we have Tubby’s DNA; we are the kin of Kool Herc, the brood of Bambaataa , the family of Flash. In sum: “the DJ begat the producer, simple as that” (Katz, 2012, p. 121). Practitioners of PMP committed to student-selected curricula and authentic popular music practice would be wise to recognize that the learning legacy of the producer is rooted in dub, and its descendant, hip-hop. In this tradition producing is music making, therefore music education ought to produce producers.
Beyond CIDA’s failing to feed the very people it intended to initially, Freeman (1982) details how it set in motion an unsustainable cycle of dependency on tractors and other Canadian-made farm machinery. In Africa where tractor parts and services were scarce, repairs and maintenance were difficult to come by. Freeman (1982) concludes: “despite the priority in CIDA's aid strategy given to the poorest people in least developed countries, the wheat farms bypass this target group both in methods of production and in the market for its products” (p. 501). How could a well-intentioned program to reduce food shortages go so wrong? In retrospect the answer seems so obvious—listen to the locals—yet these voices were ignored for decades and the problems persisted. Rather than lead to effective aid, good intentions and seemingly good ideas resulted in an ignominious failure.
In no way do I want to equate this Tanzanian plight with the failings of our field. Our problems are serious ones, but not a matter of survival in the literal sense. The reason I employ this analogy is to illustrate how even those of us with the noblest of intentions can be misguided simply because we can’t see the complete picture from our viewpoint. We can’t see our blind spots (that’s why they’re called blind spots), so we need to connect with communities of popular music makers to help us find our flaws and pick apart our pedagogies. And, we need to hire them:
If we believe that music educators must innovate to ensure music programs in schools and communities are relevant and meaningful in the 21st century, we must validate musical expertise, interests, and backgrounds that do not conform to the traditional models of our secondary and tertiary music programs. (Abril, 2014, p. 181)
Musical Pasts: A Way Back for Music Education
- know the canonical works
- read and write music notation
- do as they’re told by their instructors and take the conductor’s word as law
- practice incessantly
- play the piano
With my CMP in tow, I then proceed to offer “professional development” to an eclectic group of popular musicians in which we simulate the conservatory on a Saturday afternoon. When these popular musicians return to their respective music-making contexts, they round out their peers’ music education by autocratically delivering structured and sequenced lessons based on the tenets of CMP. If my CMP satire is hitting a nerve, I apologize, and I mean no offense. Surely such a scenario would do more than ruffle the feathers of the academy; every formal music institution would lambast such a proposition. Critics would be quick to point out the omissions and sweeping generalizations. Music degree-holders would fume that amateurs were taking jobs away from them. And yet, the opposite is lauded as progressive in our profession. Understand that popular music cannot be compartmentalized; it is a continuing commitment. Listening to the locals is wise and it’s a start. But, to join them, live amongst them, fellowship with them, thrive with them, become them—that’s the artesian well of authentic PMP. That’s the source that teaches us about the process of production and the value of the production process to music education.
The current iteration of PMP is predominantly an English educational interpretation of an African-American musical tradition, reminiscent of a previous “British Invasion.” Although rock has its roots in the United States, it lost its edge by the early 1960s and it would take English bands like the Beatles doing their best Little Richard impressions to reinvigorate American rock and unseat the tame teen acts such as Canadian heartthrob Paul Anka. How did American musicians respond? Bob Dylan plugged in, Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire, and James Brown formulated funk. Retrospectively, the late 1960s era is so revered that it’s dubbed the golden age of rock. What will be the pedagogical parallel in Canada’s response to PMP? I’m optimistic that if we: (1) maintain a fluid definition of popular music; (2) continually interrogate and irritate PMP in the spirit bettering it; (3) strive for authenticity; (4) privilege process; and (5) produce producers, we’ll succeed in supporting a sustainable model of PMP. Then, we’ll get closer to realizing the musical mosaic that we’re meant to be.
 Since the original writing of this piece, Bambaataa has been accused of sexual abuse. More here
I’d like to thank my colleague at Montclair State, Ethan Hein, who influenced my thinking on PMP through our conversations on our experiences teaching in the academy.
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- The Song Machine by John Seabrook (2015)
- The Poetics of Rock by Albin Zak (2001)
- “Tubby’s Dubstyle: The Live Art of Record Production” by Sean Williams (2012)
- Making Beats by Joseph Schloss (2014)
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