Understanding Popular Music
Understanding Popular Music 2023-24
School Of Arts, Culture And Language
Module - Semester 1
The module provides a contextual history of the development of popular music analysis as a sub-discipline of musicology, seeking to explain why popular music should be studied seriously and how thoughts about this have developed, especially since the 1980s. The module will also introduce students to different modes of analysis, with reference to case studies, allowing students to become familiar with approaches such as Schenkerian techniques, soundbox, semiotics, lyrical analysis, and deconstruction of visual accompaniments (e.g. music videos, music in advertisements etc.). It will also give students a firm understanding of the leading authors in the field and how their approaches differ and interact. The ability to read music notation is desirable but not essential for this module.
Third Class: D- to D+ (40%–49%) The crucial achievement is demonstration of a basic grasp of what the topic is about, and the sort of material involved. However, the mark will be limited to this level by such things as: mere repetition of information without demonstration of real understanding; confusion of argument which indicates a failure to properly understand the material; inability to distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant; inability to grasp ideas; inclusion of factual errors; seriously defective bibliographical or footnoting skills; poor expression; oral reticence; scrappy presentation.
Lower Second Class: C- to C+ (50%–59%) The main quality which warrants marks in this category is the amassing of a reasonable body of relevant material drawn from a fairly wide range of reading or other forms of information retrieval, sorted into a coherent order and expressed intelligibly. Qualities which limit the mark to this level are: incoherent arguments, or argument which is defective in some way; limited or defective bibliography or footnotes; limited understanding of ideas or argument; limited evidence of a broad knowledge and understanding of the topic; limited engagement with negotiating and renegotiating ideas in oral discussion; limited evidence of serious thought, as opposed to straightforward diligence.
Upper Second Class: B- to B+ (60%–69%) The distinguishing quality is the ability to construct focused argument which is properly evidenced. The work will therefore probably demonstrate the ability to understand the discussion of a work of art and to apply that knowledge to different works; the conveyance of a general knowledge and understanding of the topic as a whole, and of a more detailed knowledge and understanding of specific areas; competent bibliographical and footnoting skills; effective communication of ideas and argument; ability to see problems and contradictions within source reading; thoughtful contribution to oral discussion; skills in observation and analysis. Upper Second Class work may contain many of the same qualities which apply in First Class work, but they will be demonstrated at a less independent level, or the work may be outstanding in one First-class characteristic but significantly deficient in another.
First Class: A- and A (70%–83%) The distinguishing quality is evidence of real intellectual and independent thought in a sustained discussion. Work at this level will probably demonstrate initiative in carrying out research beyond the obvious sources; ability to evaluate critically sources used; sustained and coherent discussion; articulate expression in speaking and writing; ability to bring together material from disparate sources; observational and analytical skills of a high order; the ability to employ knowledge to illuminate musical texts; indications of wide knowledge beyond the narrow confines of the topic addressed; the ability to lead oral discussion; ability to identify and rigorously confront problems in the topic, contradictions in texts, or lacunae in available evidence.
First Class: A+ to A** (84%–100%) Work at this level is highly original and of a standard that attains or closely approaches professional standards. The work will demonstrate in a consistent manner all of the features listed in the A-/A (70%-83%) category, and will be of such a quality that it either stands up to publication or broadcast in its submitted state or has the potential for publication or broadcast with presentational amendments.
- Apply skills of musical analysis, source-based research, and critical thinking, and conceptual thinking in relation to the music studied
- Communicate ideas about the music studied in a manner commensurate with professional protocols
- Demonstrate and apply a detailed knowledge and understanding of popular music in culture (current or historical) and be able to evaluate this in relation to their wider knowledge
- Demonstrate and apply a detailed knowledge and understanding of specific methodologies / techniques of popular music analysis and be able to evaluate their broader relevance
Deliver a 10-minute presentation, demonstrating through original application your understanding of at least one mode of analysis discussed on the module. You may not use any song discussed on this module. Year 2 students must discuss at least one song (one is fine); Year 3 students must discuss at least two songs (two is fine). Presentations will be scheduled in class, typically in the weeks after reading week.
Essay Write a 3000-word essay demonstrating your understanding of at least two modes of analysis covered on this module. You must apply the analysis to at least two pieces of popular music and make it clear how the analysis is informed by your chosen models. At least some of your essay must situate the chosen examples in the cultural context. The ‘essay’ can be in the form of a traditional essay, literature review, analytical commentary or a scripted podcast / YouTube style video. Full details are provided in the module handbook. To be submitted on the first day of the assessment period.