Western art canon versus Rock 'n' Roll: a comparative case study of two high school general music classes
Bell, Robyn Lee
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High school general music classes often primarily consist of lectures about the Western art canon, despite repeated calls for a popular music focus (Deal, 1984; Miceli, 1998; Snell, 2007; Thompson, 1979; Woody, 2007). It is argued that the latter approach can alleviate student apathy toward class content and boredom, provide more meaningful learning experiences for the students, and create a more positive experience for the teacher. The purpose of this study is to examine the experiences of students and teachers in both a traditional general music class and a popular music-focused general music class. In this qualitative comparative study, I studied two high school general music classes in Tennessee and investigated the experiences of the students and teachers with respect to subject matter, teaching techniques, and meaningful learning. My data sources were interviews with teachers and students, classroom observations, and classroom archival documents. I analyzed the data using interpretive coding guided by a constant comparative approach. Cross-case emergent themes involving meaningful learning included students' preference for music studied at the end of the semester and a high level of student-teacher interaction and engagement when studying popular styles of music. Regarding curricula and teaching methods, cross-case themes showed similar attitudes and frustrations for teachers and students in both classes. Within-case themes in the Music for Listeners class included an expressed student desire to learn popular music, student lack of understanding of the Western art canon, and student ability to connect class topics to outside of school activities. Within-case themes in the Development of Rock 'n' Roll class illustrated the importance of delivery style and technology in the general music classroom. I concluded that a combination of curriculum and teaching style produced differing experiences for the students and teachers. Based on the results of this study, suggestions for education profession include employing a genre of music that is meaningful to the students in their daily lives; engaging students in conversations about the music they enjoy; avoiding "busy work" and ensuring that assignments are relevant; and providing ample music listening opportunities.
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