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Module WXM-3010:
Zappa: the man and the music

Module Facts

Run by School of Music and Performance

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Prof Pwyll ap Sion

Overall aims and purpose

Frank Zappa’s musical styles are so varied that he defies easy categorisation under the typical headings, such as rock musician, classical composer, avant garde sound artist etc. This module will approach Zappa’s ideas using a timeline structure, working through his life chronologically. Each new style or endeavour will be explored as and when they occurred in his remarkable career. The different lectures will cover Zappa’s inspirations, his compositional styles and techniques, criticism of his music and ideas, his varied non-classical styles, humour and satire in his music, the people he worked with, Zappa’s exploration into films and animation and finally, his classical music. The module will also discuss other relevant issues, including: whether the criticisms of Zappa’s ideas were, and are, valid; whether musicians should become involved in censorship and politics; where Zappa fits into 20th-century music, and what may be said of his legacy? This module will seek to help the student to: • Gain a sound working knowledge of Zappa’s prolific and diverse repertoire. • Undertake a technical evaluation of Zappa’s musical contribution as instrumentalist and composer to 20th-century music, in both the rock and classical avant-garde worlds. • Develop an informed awareness of Zappa’s wider cultural legacy as political activist and social critic.

Course content

In this module, Frank Zappa’s music and life will be explored chronologically, starting from his beginnings as a young musician in Baltimore to his classical compositions towards the end of his life. The subject matter to be covered throughout the lectures and seminars will comprise: Zappa’s compositional styles and influences; his engagement in political issues (including censorship); humour and satire in his music; his classical works; his collaborations, and the legacy left by him.

Assessment Criteria


Work which demonstrates a thorough grasp of the subject and mastery of music-analytical and critical tools, with evidence of further study, outstanding intellectual engagement and originality of approach and/or insight, expressed convincingly and compellingly


Work which displays basic knowledge of the subject, with limited ability at conceptual thought and musical analysis, and a limited awareness of issues, but has some evidence of a generally intellectual approach, with fair expression


Work which displays a sound grasp of the subject, adequate control of music-analytical and critical tools and conceptual engagement, expressed intelligibly and interestingly

Learning outcomes

  1. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to synthesise a range of concepts within a critical evaluation of Frank Zappa’s music and its range of compositional styles.

  2. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to critically evaluate and synthesise scholarly literature (textual and audio-visual) about Frank Zappa and his music and its significance in 20th- and 21st-century culture and music.

  3. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to utilise analytical concepts in the discussion of one or more extracts of works by Frank Zappa.

  4. On successful completion of the module, students will be able to demonstrate advanced skills in communication.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight

Presentations will be held during the course of the semester on dates agreed with the module tutor. Depending on the class size it may be necessary to hold one or more separate sessions for student presentations.


Essay questions are provided in the module booklet, distributed at the start of the module.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


11 weekly lectures (2 hours each)

Private study

Private study, including lecture preparation (reading, listening, watching) and assignments. Each week students will be expected to spend at least two hours on assigned (unassessed) preparation tasks.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Intellectual skills specific to Music – contextual knowledge, cultural awareness, critical understanding, repertoire knowledge, curiosity, analytical demonstration
  • Intellectual skills shared with other disciplines – research and exploration, reasoning and logic, understanding, critical judgement, assimilation and application
  • Skills of communication and interaction – oral and written communication, public presentation, team-working and collaboration, awareness of professional protocols, sensitivity, ICT skills, etc.
  • Skills of personal management – self-motivation, self-critical awareness, independence, entrepreneurship and employment skills, time management and reliability, organisation, etc.


Resource implications for students


Talis Reading list

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: