History of Popular Music

Curriculum Guideline

Effective Date:
Course Code
PEFA 3136
History of Popular Music
Performing & Fine Arts
Language, Literature & Performing Arts
Start Date
End Term
Semester Length
Max Class Size
Contact Hours
Method Of Instruction
Methods Of Instruction
  1. Lecture and class discussion, with focus on active listening to music;
  2. Viewing of video programs on music;
  3. Attendance at live concert performance(s);
  4. Collaborative learning through student presentation(s).
Course Description
This course traces the development of popular music styles and genres from the roots of rock ’n’ roll to the present day in both sonic and social contexts. We explore how popular music has both reflected and influenced major social changes, also identifying musical elements that define individual popular music genres, and how those elements have changed over time.
Course Content

Selected case studies for each decade, drawn from the following styles, artists and events:


1. Roots of Rock ’n’ Roll to 1950

Delta Blues; Gospel; Country; Ragtime & Dixie; The Musical Legacies of Slavery; The Depression; Great Migration & the Spread of the Blues; Electric Blues

The Legacy of Tin Pan Alley and the Music Industry Business Model


2. 1950s

Rock ’n’ Roll; Rockabilly; Skiffle; Country; Rhythm & Blues 

Post WW2 Affluence and the Emergence of the Teen Market


3. 1960s

Folk Revival and Protest Songs; The Rise of the Canadian Singer-Songwriter; The British Invasion

The Civil Rights Movement; From Race Records to Motown; Counterculture and Psychedelia; Drug Culture; Pop Art and the New York Scene; Hippies & Beatniks


4. 1970s

The Art of the Mixing Board (Dub); Funk; Jazz Fusion; Disco; Rock Music (Glam, Prog, Metal); Punk; New Wave 

Challenging Gender Stereotypes; Punk and the Birth of the Indie Scene; Disaffected Youth; Independent Record Labels; Rock Against Racism


5. 1980s

Hip Hop; Rap; Electro; Jamaican Dancehall; Indie; Mainstream Pop; Synth Pop

Digital Technology; Cell Phones; MTV


6. 1990s

Grunge; Britpop; Tribute Bands; Urban; Trance; Acid House; Jungle; Drum & Bass; Trip Hop; Pop Punk; Nu Metal; Trance; Techno; Canadian Singer-Songwriters

Napster; Globalization; Digital Recording; The Industry Fights Back


7. 2000s

Nu-Metal; Post Grunge; Singer-Songwriter; Alt Country; Unplugged

Digital Distribution; Bedroom Producers; The DIY Industry; The Impact of Declining Album Sales


8. 2010s

Dubstep; EDM in North America; Indie; Pop

Streaming; YouTube Hits; Synchronization and New Business Models

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course the successful student will have developed:

  1. Awareness of the social factors affecting the development of popular music (e.g. technology, migration, economics and demographics) and of the role of popular music in driving social change;
  2. Vocabulary to describe musical and sonic characteristics of popular music and evolving production techniques;
  3. Critical listening skills, enabling detailed discussion of production values, aesthetics and song structure.
Means of Assessment

Annotated Timeline with Playlist 10%

Reviews of Live Concerts/Videos 30%

Presentation 25% 

Weekly Listening and/or Reading Quizzes 20%

Final Examination 15% 



Textbook Materials

A recent edition of a text such as:

Szatmay, David P.  & Ripley, Lynsay. Rocking in Time: A Social History of Rock’n’Roll. Canadian Edition. Pearson.


PEFA 1136 or by permission of instructor





Which Prerequisite