Rock Band: Bridging the Gap


Rock Band: Bridging the Gap

By NAfME Member Michael Hayden


Would it surprise you that the number of students participating in our school music programs nationwide is roughly 20 percent1? When I first learned this about five years ago, I was absolutely floored that the vast majority of the student population in our secondary schools were not taking music class. Something isn’t working if that large of a percentage are not participating in school music, and steps need to be taken to ensure that all students have access to a music education that meets their interests.

In comes rock band, which was established to serve the other 80 percent of students who are not interested in the current performance ensemble model (band, orchestra, choir). Our ensembles should not be abandoned; however there need to be other opportunities.

Maybe popular music, taught authentically, could help.


Kuzma iStock Thinkstock
Kuzma iStock Thinkstock

So What Is Rock Band, Anyways?


Rock band is a one-semester course designed for students who want to develop music-making skills and music literacy using primarily rock and pop music. It is an introductory level course, so no previous experience is needed.

Some key takeaways from the class are that students:

  1. Learn new musical instruments such as guitar, electric bass, drums, and keyboards
  2. Explore an interest in singing with a group
  3. Deepen understandings of the fundamental elements of music
  4. Study the history and evolution of rock music
  5. Explore live sound reinforcement techniques
  6. Use popular and rock music as the springboard to group music making


Rock band class has four major units that center around a period of music history (roughly following a decade of rock music). Additionally, each unit focuses on a different set of music fundamentals including form, pulse, melody, harmony, texture, and dynamics. Students identify one or two songs from the decade and form small groups (bands) to learn their respective instrumental/vocal parts.

At the end of every unit, students put on a mini rock show for the members of the class in the auditorium. After each rock show, students rotate instruments and continue to build off of the musical skills in the previous unit.


How Are Students Graded? How Do I Track Individual Progress?


The question of how students in rock band are assessed has come up occasionally with parents, administrators, and other teachers. Rock band assessments are opportunities for students to showcase what they have learned in our four main foci of the course.

Rock Band focuses on these four categories:

  1. Elements of Music
  2. Instrumental/ Vocal Exploration
  3. Group Music Exploration
  4. Music Roles in Society

Within the four course categories, rock band has ten overarching learning targets for the semester, all of which align with district music domains and state/national music education standards. My school district music team also uses a proficiency based grading system (4 – 3 – 2 – 1) in which students are working to develop concert mastery.

In rock band, student progress is tracked* through a combination of:

  1. Self-Reflections
  2. Individual Progress Checks (done in person and via video submission)
  3. Daily Downloads (these are individual and small group conversations)
  4. Written reflections
  5. Performance Evaluations (occur at the end of every unit)
  6. Recorded Audio / Video Samples

*Side Note: If you are interested in knowing more about proficiency-based grading in music, please do not hesitate to contact me via email or Twitter. Also, as a member of a Google school district, I also use Google classroom, drive, forms, and docs for almost everything. This has been an amazing tool to help keep student information organized and in one place. If you are interested in knowing more about Google apps in education specifically, please contact me for more information.


Why Should I Be Interested in Starting a Rock Band Class?


Courses in popular music making, specifically rock, pop, and blues, serve as a vehicle for students to learn about music. Rock band more specifically is a great way for students to have a more personalized learning experience. Students choose what, when, and how they learn. My role is to help facilitate conversations and to be a resource, mentor, and when needed, a referee.

Finally, non-traditional secondary music courses open music education to more of our students, the “other 80%” who are thirsty for school music that makes sense to them and teaches them how to make the music they listen to. By offering a music education that mirrors what students experience outside of school we can help connect the school music to adult music making experiences and bridge the gap between what is considered in and out of school music.

1Elpus, K. and Abril, C. (2011). High school music students in the United States: A demographic profile. Journal of Research in Music Education, 59(2), 128-145.

Michael Hayden presented a session on this topic at the 2015 National In-Service Conference.


About the author

orchestra teacher

Michael Hayden is a music educator from Milwaukee, WI. He teaches 6th-12th grade orchestra, digital music production, and rock band for Whitnall Middle/High School, which launched 1:1 iPad programs in 2013. Hayden is passionate about music and technology, especially the new and relevant ways students can create meaningful and unique music compositions using a variety of recording/sequencing hardware and software that are readily available. Additionally, Mike is a frequent presenter at various state and national education conferences in the areas of music technology, secondary general music, composition, technology integration, and personalized learning. Finally, Mike is an instructional technology specialist, serving on various pilot and training teams for his school district.


Twitter @Hayden__Michael


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