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Popular Music and Meaning in the Classroom

New York: Routledge, under contract

With Popular Music and Meaning in the Classroom (Routledge, under contract), I aim to provide teachers and students, in secondary and collegiate contexts, an overview of frameworks for interpreting popular music. I highlight such frameworks as semiotics, aesthetics, critical theory, hermeneutics, and embodied/ecological theories of perception, with particular attention to how listeners weave popular music into contemporary life. Case studies demonstrate the application of the frameworks to specific pop songs, e.g. Despacito (Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee), Take Care (Drake, ft. Rihanna), Around the World (Daft Punk).



Listening in Action: Teaching Music in the Digital Age

New York: Routledge/Ashgate, 2017

In an age when students come to class with more varied music listening preferences and experiences than ever before, music educators can find themselves at a loss for how to connect with their students. Listening in Action provides the beginnings of a solution to this problem by characterising students’ contemporary music listening experiences as they are mediated by digital technologies. 


Several components of contemporary music listening experiences are described, including: the relationship between music listening experiences and listener engagements with other activities; listener agency in creating playlists and listening experiences as a whole; and the development of adolescent identities as related to the agency afforded by music listening devices. The book provides an accessible introduction to scholarship on music listening across the disciplines of musicology, ethnomusicology, sociology of music, psychology of music, and music education.

By reading Listening in Action, music educators can gain an understanding of recent theories of music listening in everyday life and how those theories might be applied to bridge the gap between music pedagogies and students who encounter music in a heavily mediated, postperformance world.

chapters and articles

Chapter. 'Interpretation as Creativity: Sound, Music, and Meaning' in Understanding Creativities in Music Education. eds, Clint Randles and Pamela Burnard. New York: Routledge. In progress/Invited.

Article. Co-author Jashen Edwards, 'Exploring Sonic Meaning and Embodiment in Human Cultural Transmission from a Pedagogical Perspective.' Frontiers in Communication, Topic: Songs and Signs: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Cultural Transmission and Inheritance in Human and Non-Human Animals. Accepted.


Article. ‘Toward an Ecological View of Musical Creativity.’ Journal of Aesthetic Education. forthcoming, spring/summer 2021.

In this paper I develop an ecological model of musical creativity by using Peter Webster’s ‘Model of Creative Thinking Process in Music’ as a starting point. I identify ways in which Webster’s model and definition of musical creativity adequately characterise some creative musical engagements, e.g. traditional composition, but not others, e.g. listening and improvisation. I point out that Webster’s model seems to depend on a specific view of perception, namely the computational view, and introduce the ecological and enactive views of perception as alternatives to the computational view. I use basic tenants of the ecological and enactive views, e.g. the concept of ‘affordances,’ to support a new definition and model of musical creativity, incorporating such 21st century musical creativities as digital composition and production alongside the traditional musical creativities of composition, listening, playing, and conducting, among others. As part of the model, I divide all the musical creativities into two categories, the enactive and the representational, based on the degree to which they are stimulus dependent. Finally, I suggest that music educators foster musical creativity within students by providing opportunities for them to move back and forth between the proposed enactive and the representational categories of musical creativity.


Chapter. 'Beyond the Aesthetic: The "Sensory Turn" and Models of Music Listening Today.' The Experience of Listening to Music: Methodologies, Identities, Histories. March 2019. 

David Howes and others have argued that we have witnessed a ‘sensory turn’ across the academic disciplines in recent decades. For Howes, the sensory turn entails two major shifts in how the human senses are treated in the academy. First, it challenges the presumed primacy of sight and the visual over and against the other senses. Second, it grants a more significant place to the senses within the disciplines of history, geography, anthropology, communications, and the arts, including music and music listening. Recently published typographies and models of music listening, including those of Simon Frith, Ola Stockfelt, me and others, demonstrate aspects of the sensory turn. Thus, the main objective of this chapter is to outline how they do so. In fulfilling this objective, I compare how these models address a central question related to contemporary music listening: ‘how do we listen to music today?’ My hope is that these comparisons contextualise the models for practitioner/researchers in the field of music therapy, the field of music education, the field of participatory/community music making in social work contexts, and, broadly, those who engage with music and wellbeing. In that these models and typologies fall in step with the sensory turn, they seem especially applicable to the practitioner researchers in these fields, as the promotion of aesthetic ideals is not the sole outcome of their work (or, in many cases, an outcome that is promoted at all). That said, I imagine that the distinctions that I make here could be of use to anyone who is interested in the phenomenon of music listening or interested in continuing to move conversations about music listening past the aesthetic paradigm. This is an interdisciplinary effort; I include models and typologies that have arisen from the areas of sociology of music, music theory, and music education.

Article. ‘De-sacralizing the European: "Artistic Listening," Music Appreciation, and Music Listening Today.’ Music Education Research. February, 2018.

Common approaches to teaching music listening emphasise ‘attentive listening’ and ‘active listening’ (Campbell, Patricia Shehan. 2005. “Deep Listening to the Musical World.” Music Educators Journal 92 (1): 30–36. doi:10.2307/3400224) and minimise explorations of everyday music listening practices (Madsen, Clifford, and John Geringer. 2001. “A Focus of Attention Model for Meaningful Listening.” Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 1 (147): 103–108) The US music appreciation movement of the early twentieth century provides a window into the development of this state of affairs. Early on, movement advocates sacralized the music of the European classical tradition, hailing it intellectually, morally, and spiritually superior to other types of music – call this the ‘stylistic hierarchy.’ Later, textbook authors began sacralizing listener engagements instead of the music itself, e.g. ‘concert/attentive listening’ was deemed superior to ‘everyday/background listening.’ The rhetoric of the new ‘engagement hierarchy’ allowed authors to abandon explicit claims of European classical music's superiority. However, I argue that the engagement hierarchy actually maintains the superiority of the tradition and enables unwitting music educators to maintain its superiority even today. A complete de-sacralization of the European tradition thus requires music education professionals to dismantle both the ‘stylistic hierarchy’ and the ‘engagement hierarchy.’ I propose the incorporation of musical hermeneutics into the music classroom as one way to do so.

Chapter. ‘Opening the ‘Hermeneutic Window’ in Popular Music Education,’ in Coming of Age: Teaching and Learning Popular Music in Academia, ed. Carlos Rodriguez (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Maize Books, University of Michigan, 2017).

Recent advocates for popular music in the schools have focused primarily on increasing opportunities for students to make or create popular music that are consistent with popular music making in the ‘real world,’ whether that’s by way of composing, improvising, or performing.   In this chapter, I introduce another way students can engage with popular music ‘on its own terms’ within the classroom.[2] It’s a way that focuses on what all students seem to already be doing with popular music: listening to it. I begin with a brief history of how popular music made its way into public schools in the US in the middle of the 20th century, highlighting possible reasons for the emphasis on popular music performance and production.  Next, I provide an introduction and demonstration of an approach to teaching popular music that focuses on music listening experiences and music meaning, an approach that I have come to call hermeneutic exploration. Finally, I provide an argument for why hermeneutic exploration seems especially relevant for today’s students and layout some advantages and challenges this approach has for incorporation into the classroom.


[1] Carlos Xavier Rodriguez, “Popular Music Ensembles,” in Oxford Handbook of Popular MusicVol 1, ed. Gary E. McPherson and Graham F. Welch (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 878-89.

[2] When I use the phrase ‘on its own terms,’ I mean as opposed to manipulating popular music to fit into the dominant large ensemble model.

Article. ‘Music Listening, Music Media, and Music Education Today.’ Illinois Music Educator. December, 2017.

This article is a summary of Listening in Action. It is intended for music education practitioners.

Article. ‘Music Listening and the Identities of Pre-service Music Educators.’ Proceedings of the 2011 Symposium on Music Teacher Education. 

In order to understand the place of music listener identity in relationship to the development of music educator occupational identities and adolescent identities, this study explores the role of music listening in the lives of preservice music educators. The study asks the following questions: (1) How do preservice music educators understand themselves as music listeners? and (2) What relationship do preservice music educators perceive to exist between their music listening practices and their identities as preservice music educators?

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