Welcome to American Popular Music

What is American Popular Music? For the purposes of this class, it means any music that was intended for mass consumption via sheet music or recordings in the United States. Popular music of this sort was born in the late 1800s and early 1900s, though it has its roots in both traditional music and classical music.

Over the course of this semester, we'll be investigating everything from ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, blues, and jazz up to Rock and Roll, punk, funk, metal, hip-hop, and electronic music.  Remember the shape of this course - an hourglass - because we'll be starting with a number of different strands of music and then weaving them together until they meet in 1955 to create Rock and Roll, then fragment out once again.  Here is the course syllabus:

Week 1 – Jan 7-11 – Turn the clock back to 1900

Week 2 – Jan 14-18 – Ragtime

             - Reading – Weeks 1-2 – Ragtime – Chapter 3

Week 3 – Jan 22-25 - Tin Pan Alley

Week 4 – Jan 28-Feb 1 – Blues and Boogie-woogie

Week 5 – Feb 4-8 – Jazz

             - Reading – Weeks 3-4 – Deep Blues – Chapter 2


Week 6 – Feb 11-15 – Rock and Roll – 1945-1960 – Part I

Week 7 – Feb 19-22 – Rock and Roll – 1945-1960 – Part II


Week 8 – Feb 25-Mar 1 – Country / British Invasion

Week 9 – Mar 4-8 – Vietnam, Psychedelics, and Woodstock

Week 10 – Mar 18-22 – Funk: the Music of the One


Week 11 – Mar 25-29 – Music of the People: Punk Rock

Week 12 – Apr 1-5 – Alternative Rock


Week 13 – Apr 8-12 – Musical Noise: Heavy Metal

Week 14 – Apr 15-19 – Birth of Hip Hop

Week 15 – Apr 22-26 – Electronica and the Rave

Assignment 1 – From Traditional to Popular – Select two or three pieces of music from before WWII.  Analyze each tune as well as the circumstances from which it was produced and use them as examples to explain how history has both influenced Popular music and is reflected within it.  Write at least 3 pages about the relationship and historical context between these pieces.  Outline due Feb 1st, rough draft due Feb 15th, final draft due Mar 1th

Assignment 2 – Create a 10-20 minute radio broadcast based on the old “jive-talking” broadcasts of the 1950s.  Include clips of music from that era, commercial endorsements, and lots of slang. Due Feb 22th.

Assignment 3 – Create a compilation album of Rock, Soul, Funk, or Punk and write your own original liner notes for the album.  Be sure to include the graphics, history, commentary, and mood.  Rough Draft due Apr 9th.  Final Draft is due on April 19th.

Assignment 4 – Create a 3-5 minute music video showing your take on 80-90s Rock, Metal, Hip-Hop, or Electronica.  Due May 3rd.


Email – pswanson@harmonyschool.org         Phone – 812-391-3335