Greetings Diploma Music Folk!

This post presents a few teaching ideas. This base idea involves using popular (current top-forty) music and could serve as a doorway into the Listening Paper, Musical Links Investigation, and/or the Extended Essay. It also could be used to begin a ToK conversation concerning the concept of ‘popular music’ as a cultural definition (using other ‘popular’ songs from different musical genres and cultures).

This lesson incorporates the following Learner Profile attributes: Reflective, Risk-takers, Communicators, Thinkers, Inquirers; This lesson involves the following Approaches to Learning: Thinking skills (Metacognition, Reflection, Critical thinking, Creative thinking, & Transfer), Research skills, Communication skills, and Self-management skills.

Interested in learning more about this lesson idea? Please read on!

Whenever I start the academic year in DP Music, I like to have students bring in pieces of music that they like and know well. I challenge my students to bring in a piece that truly represents them and their identity (risk-takers). Typically, students to bring in popular music.

This brief (short) unit starts with a ToK-based discussion that focuses on the concept of ‘popular’ music throughout time. The discussion opens by listening to the number one/top song on the international top forty charts. (At the time of the writing of this blog, the number one song was ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke.)

The conversation could then move into ‘what defines popular music?’ and/or ‘to what extent has popular music changed/evolved over time?’ or ‘to what extent does society impact popular music?’ I would select one song from a variety of non-western musical cultures. For purposes of example, I selected India (Bollywood) – 1234 Get on the dance floor by Chennai Express.

Depending on the nature of your class and where the discussion is moving, a teacher could use both YouTube videos (links are listed at the end of this post) to frame a conversation about similarities and differences between the two ‘popular’ pieces (ATL – Thinking skills & Communication skills, LP – reflective, communicators, & Thinkers). A piece of music from a western genre (e.g. classical opera) could be used as a discussion of ‘popular’ across time.

The next step is to have students complete a detailed analysis of Blurred Lines.

For this, I would suggest having the students complete most of the work in class (LP – Communicators, Thinkers, Inquirers; ATL – Thinking & Research), working in small groups (ATL – Communication, & Self-management) under the guidance of the teacher.

A brief analysis is provided below (using the timings of the Youtube link listed under resources):

4/4 time
G major
Functional tonic/dominant harmony
English text
Male vocals (lead), female backup vocals, electric guitar/keyboard (?), electric bass, drum set

0:00 – 0:22 – Introduction (1 measure + four measures antecedent + four measures consequent)

0:22 – 0:28 – Verse 1 antecedent phrase – tonic (four measures)

0:28 – 0:36 – Verse 1 consequent – begins in dominant (four measures)

0:36 – 0:44 – Verse 1 antecedent phrase – tonic (four measures)

0:44 – 0:52 – Verse 1 consequent phrase – begins in dominant (four measures)

0:52 – 1:24 Chorus 1 – the chorus is comprised of two repetitions of the same antecedent & consequent phrase structure (4+4)+(4+4)
The phrase ‘Blurred Lines’ occurs on the second repetition of the chorus (1:08)

1:24 – 1:56 Verse 2 follows the same structure as verse one (with different text)

1:56 – Chorus 2 follows the same structure as chorus 1

Verse 3 and Chorus 3 are the break-down sections but the phrase structure stays the same.

Contextual –
“As the son of vocalist Gloria Loring and Growing Pains’ Alan Thicke, Robin Thicke grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles during the ’80s and ’90s. Thicke credits his dad for motivating him to immerse himself in all kinds of pop music. The elder Thicke is popular for writing the theme songs for The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes, so naturally Robin had his head in music. He was an average student; by 13, he was writing songs. Three years later, he befriended the president of Bad Boy Entertainment, André Harrell, and struck a deal with Interscope. Thicke began writing hits for the likes of Christina Aguilera, Mya, Brandy, Marc Anthony, and Jordan Knight. Still, this artist in the making was dying for his own chance. By 2000, Thicke, who was in his mid-twenties, made his dream come true. Thicke issued his debut album, Cherry Blue Skies, in fall 2002.” (retrieved from – on 3 September 2013)

Once the analysis was completed, students would be expected to create and then share their own listening paper responses for Blurred Lines (written in complete paragraphs).

Once students are somewhat comfortable with musical analysis (this will vary depending on your students) they will be asked to apply their independent analysis skills (LP – Risk-takers & Thinkers; ATL – Thinking, Communication, & Management) by creating an individual presentation using a self-selected piece of music. Students would also be expected to select a piece that truly represents them at this stage in their lives (stage of development).

Each student would be expected to lead the class in a discussion (7-10 minutes with at least 5 minutes of analysis) concerning the analysis of their piece and why that piece representative of them (risk-takers). Students would also be expected to prepare a brief handout/website/blog (etc.) to document and share their analysis.

To extend this assignment to the listening paper – section C, students could analyse and then compare ‘1234 get on the dance floor’ to ‘Blurred Lines’.

Class discussions should focus on why these two songs would be good to compare (strong musical links) and what is a reasonable level of detail needed for the listening paper.

To extend this assignment to the musical links investigation and the extended essay, students could analyse and then compare ‘1234 get on the dance floor’ to ‘Blurred Lines’. Using these analyses, students would present detailed comparisons (links) and some contrasts between the two pieces. Students would also need to discuss if these pieces would be suitable for a strong MLI and/or EE.

Thanks for reading!


Blurred Lines

[youtuber youtube=’’]

1234 Get on the dance floor

[youtuber youtube=’’]

Alan Thinke biographical information

Image: Retrieved on 29 August 2013 from,1274706056,1/stock-vector-pop-music-word-cloud-53764567.jpg