Study Abroad and Exchanges



MUS2083 : American Popular Music

Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module examines the historical, social and cultural contexts of American popular music, focussing predominantly on the USA. Emphasis is placed on popular genres and styles of the twentieth century, the period in which the USA took on a dominant role in the creation and spread of popular culture across the globe. As well as charting this growth in dominance, the module analyses popular music as representative ‘people’s music’. Genres and styles—including the blues, jazz, country, soul, funk, punk, disco, hip hop and grunge—are used to read aspects of change and continuity in the American twentieth century.

Rather than providing a simple chronological history of musical styles in the USA, the module uses the music to examine concepts of race, place, tradition, commerce and authenticity. The music industry is analysed in terms of American business models, and recording and revival are explored as ways of thinking about representation, commercialization and exceptionalism. Vital socio-historical moments—such as the emergence of rock and roll and the use of music in the civil rights era—are studied alongside the ‘invention’ of the teenager and the rise of a counterculture. The module concludes with a series of reflections on the various soundscapes associated with America and with the notion of multiple Americas audible through the myriad of non-Anglophone genres that exist within North America.

Outline Of Syllabus

Week 1
Lecture & Seminar 1: American Popular Music

Week 2
Lecture & Seminar 2: The Blues Continuum

Week 3
Lecture & Seminar 3: Standards

Week 4
Lecture & Seminar 4: The American Popular Music Industry

Week 5
Lecture & Seminar 5: Records & Revival

Week 6

Week 7
Group Oral Presentations

Week 8
Lecture & Seminar 8: Protest

Week 9
Lecture & Seminar 9: American Soundscapes: The City

Week 10
Lecture & Seminar 10: American Soundscapes: Out There

Week 11
Lecture & Seminar 11: American Soundscapes: Further Out There

Week 12
Lecture & Seminar 12: American Popular Music Summary – Essay Prep

Week 13
Workshops: preparing the assessed essay

Week 14

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture102:0020:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching141:0014:00N/A
Guided Independent StudySkills practice123:0036:00Weekly guided listening for students
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery41:004:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity63:0018:00Students working together on their group presentations
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1108:00108:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures provide a forum for the presentation and discussion of key critical concepts, musical sound, set texts and explorations of materials and methods of investigation. Weekly seminars enrich and deepen student comprehension of key concepts and issues in American popular music and significantly enhance their teamwork, communication and critical skills through small group discussions with staff and other students. Student independent learning for this course involves listening, reading and reflecting on key sources and texts, which helps to develop and enrich knowledge of American popular music repertory and scholarly perspectives on the role of popular music in society.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Oral Presentation101A3010 minute group presentation
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M702,500 word essay
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The essay topics are based on the materials covered in the lectures, seminars, readings and study tasks, so you should be able to map each essay option onto one or more weeks of the module. You are encouraged when writing your essay to make connections across the module as we have been doing in class. The essay tests comprehension of the conceptual territory covered in lectures, reading, listening and in groupwork.

Group Oral Presentation
The aim of the Group Oral Presentation is to reflect the multiple ways in which we can approach the study of popular music, examples of which you will have experienced in the lectures, seminars, study tasks and readings. While your approach should reflect those adopted on the module, you should choose a piece of music that has not been studied extensively on the module, whether in lectures, seminars or readings. Each group should communicate their chosen track to the module convenor at least one week before its scheduled presentation. Credit will be given for the application of your chosen approach to the track in question. While it is hoped that the group presentation will have an overall sense of structure, you will be assessed as an individual speaker. Everyone in the group will be marked individually for their specific contribution to the presentation so you should make sure that your personal contribution is clearly defined.

You will be marked for content (c.75%), presentation skills (c. 25%) and overall engagement (your contribution to the presentation session as an audience member, c. 5%). These are indicative weightings only, however, and you will receive a single mark for content, presentation skills and engagement.

Reading Lists