Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

General Information

This course is a history of pop music in America, starting with the minstrel era of the 1840s and continuing until the present. The survey of the more recent popular styles will result from student presentations. The trends in American popular music will be studied in relation to other cultural and historical events, but the focus will be on the music.

Listening is vital to this course. Initially, you should listen to each assignment before and after the class meeting. Then listen again (and again), in order to familiarize yourself with each piece. The class work, reading, essays, and final project will all center on the listening assignments.


Listening and Reading

Listening and reading assignments are listed in the Reading and Listening section.

The text for this class is:
Starr, Larry, and Christopher Waterman. American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MP3. 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780199859115.

The majority of assigned readings will be taken from this text, with some additional readings. The recordings can also be found at your local public or university library.

When preparing each assignment, I find starting with the music a more rewarding experience. Therefore, I suggest you start by listening to one of the assigned compositions, then read about the piece, composer, etc. in the text, taking notes about both the music and context. Next, listen again to the work and take notes on the musical characteristics.


You will write three types of papers for this class: A short research essay, a final project paper, and listening outlines. See the Assignments section for format guidelines and assignment details.

  • Research essay (4–6 pages) explores a topic in pop music before 1945. See page 6 for more details and a list of potential topics.
  • Listening outlines (1–2 pages). You will create two listening outlines to be shared with the rest of the class and to be part of a short, informal presentation.
  • The final project consists of two components. One is a written paper of 6–8 pages and the other is a more formal presentation on the ancestry of a work released within the last five years. In conjunction with this presentation, you will create a one-page handout. See the detailed assignment description for more details.


There will be two exams. Each exam will cover the assigned listening and reading as well as material discussed in class. Exam 1 covers material from Sessions 1–10 and Exam 2 covers Sessions 11–22. Questions will feature excerpts from the assigned listening for identification, description, and comparison. Additional questions will deal with concepts (describing musical forms, historical significance, etc.) and terms.


Students are required to attend each class meeting and participate actively. In addition, all students will be asked to lead the discussions on specific pieces from the assigned listening.


2 exams 10% each
Research essay 20%
2 listening guides and presentations 10% each
Final project and presentation 30%
Participation 10%

Course Overview by Week Including Key Dates

I Introduction and Themes of American Popular Music  
II Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Popular Styles  
III Tin Pan Alley  
IV Country Blues and Hillbilly Music  
V The Swing Era and The Post-War Era, 1946–1954 Research Essay Due
VI Rock 'n' Roll Exam 1
VII British Invasion  
VIII American Rock in the 60s  
IX That 70s Music  
X Outside the Mainstream  
XI The 1980s ... and Beyond  
XII Presentations on Final Project Exam 2
XII Presentations on Final Project (cont.)  
XIII Presentations on Final Project (cont.)