“I Don’t Know Anything about Popular Music! How (Why) Can I Teach It?”

“I Don’t Know Anything about Popular Music! How (Why) Can I Teach It?”

Meeting Music Students Where They Are

By NAfME Members Maud Hickey and Emily Cleghorn

How can I possibly “teach” popular music to students who likely know more about it than I do? (And why should I teach it?)

If you’ve had these questions as a music educator lately (or after hearing that you have to teach a class on popular music, OR even have considered it), then this session at NAfME’s National In-Service is for you.

The “why” is easy.

Popular Music

Students are in tune with, and engaged with, and more actively listening to, a wider variety of music today than students of any other generation. The ubiquitous access to music from such a wide range of sources is here and now. Students are real connoisseurs and lovers of a variety of music. Why not tap their access and love of music to create music classes that are relevant and might help them listen more critically in the future? (If your answer to this question is: “because I have no clue on how to teach the stuff they are listening to” – then this session is for you!)

The “How” is easy too, once we realize that our musicianship training as music educators puts us at a real advantage and provides all the tools we need.

Our musicianship training as music educators puts us at a real advantage and provides all the tools we need.

Both of us learned this firsthand when we were thrust into teaching situations that presented us with the opportunity to learn more about the music our students listened to and then work with these students to creatively engage and listen more deeply to this music. In addition, both of us were also able to teach concepts about music through these musics.

Popular Music

In our session we will:

  • Share our experiences, curriculums and music files from our different teaching situations.
  • Offer a technique (the CLAP method) for approaching music that we might not know but want to teach to students.
  • Discuss ways to integrate these lessons with the new 2014 Music Standards
  • Actively engage in curriculum writing and brainstorm among all participants.

What do you wonder? What do you want to learn about popular music teaching? Bring your questions. Bring your dilemmas. And bring your open mind to learn ways to enhance your school music programs with popular music! (Oh yes, and please bring your cell phones to for some interactive technology activities). Participants will have the opportunity to revise current unit/lesson plans, receive feedback about curriculum design, and practice mini teaching demonstrations with feedback.


About the authors:

NAfME member Emily Cleghorn is the music teacher at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago, Illinois, where she teaches general music classes and is developing the high school’s inaugural performing arts program. Prior to her arrival in Chicago, she taught middle school band in Palm City, Florida, for five years. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree in music education from University of Miami (Florida) and a Master of Music degree in music education from Northwestern University.

NAfME member Maud Hickey is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of Music Education at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Her research interests include creative thinking through music composition and improvisation, and she has taught music composition and improvisation to children of all ages. Recently her work has led her to music composition projects with juveniles in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center on hip hop and rap music.

Emily Cleghorn and Maud Hickey will be presented on their topic “I don’t know anything about popular music! How (why) can I teach it?” at the 2017 NAfME National Conference last November in Dallas, TX. Registration opens soon for the 2020 NAfME National Conference, taking place in Orlando, Florida, November 4-8.

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