Popular Music Education and Modern Band

Scott Burstein, Little Kids Rock
Bryan Powell, Amp Up NYC

The use of popular music instruction in the American public school system has moved out of the shadows towards being not only an accepted part of the curriculum but a fait accompli. An ever-rising body of academic work promotes the need for inclusion of popular music instruction in pre-service music education programs (Jones, 2008; Mantie, 2013; Wang & Humphreys, 2009). The National Core Arts Standards (NCAS, 2014) describe music choices based on creativity and improvisation, as well as a focus on iconic notation alongside standard notation. Additionally, the NCCAS calls specifically for the inclusion of guitar as an instrumental choice. The College Music Society Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major also pointed to the need for an expansion of traditional music departments to give students options in modern music career development, pointing often to the inclusion of popular music from a compositional, improvisational, and a general broadening of cultural understanding standpoint. (Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Maker, 2014) As Popular Music becomes more prevalent in the classroom, there are many difficulties that arise when trying to define and demarcate its boundaries, as well as a clear lack of opportunities for studying techniques in pre-service education programs in the United States. With the growing number of popular music education programs in K-12 settings (Powell, Krikun, & Pignato, 2015), it becomes increasingly important to train both future and current music educators in popular music pedagogies. This presentation will examine the training mechanism of a large popular music education non-profit that has trained over 2,000 public school teachers in the United States to incorporate Modern Band into their music classes.

Modern Band is a genre-based program that focuses on commercially relevant music of the past fifty years, specializing on student-driven musical choices and a relatively fixed instrumentation of guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals, and technology. Like its counterpart ‘jazz band’, which entered the lexicon through stage band, ‘Modern Band’ is a name that sums up the multitude of popular music styles and choices that are typically grouped through instrumentation unfamiliar to the traditional streams of music education: marching band, concert band, orchestra, choir, and jazz band. By discussing many core values of Modern Band such as Music as Language, approximation, affective filter, composition, and improvisation, the presenters will show the practical application and impact in music teacher education.

The presenters will address music teacher preparation and professional development (ASPA # 3), professional development for both beginning and experienced teachers (ASPAs #6 and #7) and teacher retention through reexamining current music education curricula (ASPAs #12 and #1). This presentation will include videos of K-12 Modern Bands in action, as well as narratives from pre-service, beginning, and veteran teachers who have gone through the Modern Band training. Implications for the field of music teacher education include examining best practices for popular music education, as well as examining issues of agency, hospitality, and inclusivity in music education classrooms.


Jones, P. (2008). Preparing music teachers for change: Broadening instrument class offerings to foster lifewide and lifelong musicing. Visions of Research in Music Education, 12, 1–15.

Mantie, R. (2013). A comparison of ”popular music pedagogy” discourses. Journal of Research in Music Education. 61: 334

National Core Arts Standards (2014). Accessed from nationalartsstandards.org

Powell, B., Krikun, A., and Pignato, J. (2015). Something’s happening here: Popular music education in the United States. Accepted for publication in @IASPM Journal Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Maker (2014). Accessed from http://www.music.org/index.php?option=com_newsfeeds&view=newsfeed&id=2:events&catid=46&Itemid=203

Wang, J. C., & Humphreys, J. T. (2009). Multicultural and popular music content in an American music teacher education program. International Journal of Music Education, 27, 19–36. doi:10.1177/0255761408099062