Examiner Shares Six Popular Songs Great for Teaching Theory

Six Amigos

Looking to make your music theory lessons more exciting? Adjudicator Pete Zarins believes teachers should look beyond the classical canon and consider the many teaching opportunities that can be found in indie rock, jazz, country, and hip-hop. He shares six of his favorite examples below.

Danny Michel – What Colour Are YouThis sunny, clever, and thought-provoking song offers examples of some central features of pop music: syncopation, ostinato rhythms, ostinato harmonic patterns, pedal points, sequences, imitative motifs, and counterpoint.

Macklemore – Thrift Shop: You’ve probably heard this recent hit – a ringtone favourite – many, many times. Embrace tunes like these! Having students listen to the recurrent rhythmic motifs while seeing them notated will be of tremendous benefit to them.

James Bond Theme: Cinema has produced marvelous songs, and this iconic theme has proven to be a popular choice for recitals and Music Development Program assessments. It also provides a great opportunity to learn about intervals. The bassline and melody use a combination of familiar and unusual intervals (augmented 5ths and chromatic semitones), which should be familiar to all students.

George Jones – Don’t Stop the Music: I am an unashamed fan of country music. I love the melodies, the stories, the heartache, and the simplicity belying its sophistication—some of it sounds like Schubert! This terrific country waltz allows teachers to focus on melodic decorations like passing notes, appoggiaturas (grace notes), and escape notes.

Scott Joplin – Maple Leaf Rag: Hard to believe a piano piece from 1899 is one of the most-used popular selections in the Music Development Program curriculum. This work is an ideal study of symmetrical phrasing, subdominant key relationships, chromatic passing notes, and secondary dominants.

Miles Davis – So What: This gem from his landmark album Kind of Blue contains blue notes; walking bass; added second, fourth, and sixth chords; and quartal harmony. Students of all theoretical subjects will benefit from and enjoy this classic recording.

Good luck to students taking their theory examinations on August 9 and 10!

Mark your calendar: Registration for Winter session assessments begins in September.

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