Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2017-2018 (archived)

Module MUSI2671: Studies in Popular Music

Department: Music

MUSI2671: Studies in Popular Music

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2017/18 Module Cap Location Durham


  • MUSI1261 Historical Studies 1 OR MUSI1251 Introduction to Ethnomusicology


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • Through critical study of diverse popular musical genres, styles, and artists, students will gain a well-informed understanding of popular music studies, covering a variety of issues in musical form and style as well as in popular music’s relation to society in a variety of cultural contexts. At the same time, students will formulate their own well-reasoned opinions regarding the effectiveness and limitations of existing approaches to researching popular music.


  • The course is organised thematically, with each lecture, seminar, and assignment focussing on specific research areas that are well-represented in popular music studies. The following are examples of the kind of issues that may be covered: form in Anglo-American popular music, music and subcultural style, recording technologies and mediation, sampling, music and the moving image, the music business, the performance of gender and sexual identity, the ‘Black Atlantic’, ‘World Music’, and music in Diasporic communities. Examples of styles that may be discussed include: rock, blues, music hall, rap, heavy metal, outsider music, and popular music from non-Western countries. Throughout the course, students are encouraged to interpret critically the textual and musical content of diverse examples, relating musical features to other forms of cultural expression (in literature and film for example), and, crucially, questioning the interpretations and methodologies proposed in scholarship. In addition to identifying defining formal and stylistic features of a diverse selection of popular music genres, students are encouraged to isolate the ways in which artists use music to affirm or challenge values, reinforce or blur category boundaries, and precisely communicate individual and group identities. Following on from this, students are invited to question the application and meanings of genre labels and colloquial classificatory terms such as ‘folk’, ‘pop’ and ‘classical’. Finally, in assessments and presentations, students critically test research theories and methods by applying them to their own choices of genre, artist, or song – ideally also incorporating their own original research into listeners’ responses.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students should acquire broad knowledge about diverse popular music forms, deeper knowledge about several focal forms, and working knowledge of theories and methods proposed within the academic field of popular music studies.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students should learn how to appraise existing scholarship in the field of popular music studies, critically interpret popular music recordings, and convincingly identify links between the two. They should also develop the ability to locate their own research projects within this framework.
Key Skills:
  • The module will establish and embed a critical approach to the study of popular music, while developing practical skills in analysing and commenting critically on a wide variety of music.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • This course will involve a combination of lectures and seminars. Complex ideas, essential historical and cultural background, key dates and influential figures will be introduced in the lectures, which will also incorporate time for group discussion. In the seminars, which will be interspersed throughout, students will have a chance to discuss set readings and musical examples relating to the previous lecture – thereby continuously consolidating and refining ideas as the course progresses. The assignments then go on to encourage the students to apply these ideas to musical forms of their own choice, promoting a deeper working knowledge of popular music.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 19 Weekly 1 hour 19
Seminars/Tutorials 6 Spread over three terms 1 hour 6
Reading, listening and preparation 175

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
2,000 word essay 2,000 words 100% yes
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
3,000 word essay 3,000 words 100% Yes

Formative Assessment:

Short written assignments involving musical analysis and commentary and/or seminar presentations, serving as preparation for summative assignment.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University