Classifying Music 

Online Assignment – Classifying Music 

For this week’s online exercise, each student will find an online recording of three primary forms of modern music: folk music, popular music and art music (which represents “high culture” in this course).  While each of these differs in terms of form, audience, and technology used for recording and transmission, all three have a fundamental role in modern American culture.

Students are expected to comprehend the essential characteristics of each of these three musical forms, find an example of each form, and briefly discuss (in roughly 75 words per example) why each example is an appropriate representation of the musical form.

To accomplish this, students will create a blog entry under “Class Blog – Week 2 – Classifying Music” on Blackboard Learn. In this entry, you will provide a link to song files or videos of each musical style, followed by your explanation of why it is a good example.

To be clear, you are required to accomplish the following:

  1. Go on the Web and find examples of folk music, art (classical) music and popular music.
  2. Log in to Blackboard Learn, go to “Class Blog – Week 2 – Classifying Music” (under “Blog”) and post your assignment.
    1. Each post should contain three 75-word explanations of each musical example found online. These explanations include why the song is an example of the type of music assigned to it.

Art Music

“The story of American art music chronicles the rise of the composer in the United States. At no time have such composers controlled or dominated American concert life, however. Their historical role has been to take Old World practices as a starting point and to complement repertories that are chiefly European with works of their own. Although some 20th-century American composers have opened up fresh artistic territory, art music in America, even into the later years of the 20th century, has continued to revolve around the performance of European classics.”

Folk Music

“This concept has been defined and developed in multiple ways by collectors, scholars and practitioners, within different geographical locations and in different historical periods. Widely used in Europe and the Americas, it has been used both covertly and overtly in the construction and negation of identities in relation to class, nation or ethnicity and continues to be the source of controversy and heated debate. At its root lie questions about the identity and identification of the ‘folk’, the delimitation of musical repertories, how these repertories are transmitted and the assessment of sounds.”

Popular Music

“A common approach to defining popular music is to link popularity with scale of activity. Usually this is measured in terms of consumption, for example by counting sales of sheet music or recordings. Another common approach is to link popularity with means of dissemination, and particularly with the development and role of mass media. It is true that the history of popular music is intimately connected with the technologies of mass distribution (print, recording, radio, film etc.); yet a piece that could be described as ‘popular music’ does not cease to be so when it is performed live in public, or even strummed in the amateur’s home, and conversely it is clear that all sorts of music, from folk to avant garde, are subject to mass mediation. A third approach is to link popularity with social group – either a mass audience or a particular class (most often, though not always, the working class). In the first case, the theory is usually ‘top-down,’ portraying the group as undifferentiated dupes of commercial manipulation; this tends to accompany pessimistic scenarios of cultural decline. In the second case, the theory is ‘bottom-up’, representing the group as the creative source of authentic (as opposed to ersatz) popular music; this tends to accompany populist scenarios of leftist opposition.”

Other definitions

You are likely to use Google to further investigate what exactly constitutes these musical forms.  Wikipedia’s discussion on folk music <>, art music <>, and popular music <> are helpful.

Finding the music

To find examples of each of these, you are welcome to use Google or another search engine.  Your search terms may be broad (“art music example”) or narrow (“Beethoven”) but in either case, attempt to verify that the song is properly titled.  One means of doing this is to search for the song title and see if other similar or identical examples of the song exist online.  If so, you’re most likely listening to a correctly labeled performance.

Defining the music

I expect you to associate your example with a musical form to the best of your ability, and you will receive full credit if you meet all assignment requirements.  You will find that not even scholars agree on the essential characteristics of these three types of music, so the main thing is to try your best. You might think about it this way:  After reading about and listening to the different forms, consider what you believe the essential characteristics to be. Then, tell me how your example fits that criteria.

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