Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

3 hours per week for twelve weeks or equivalent.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Music is a powerful expression of ideas and the music we listen to shapes our identity. This is particularly true in the genre of popular music and the expression of lyrics through popular song. It’s important therefore that musicians understand the history and influence of popular music over time.  This unit examines the development and construction of popular songs drawn from various historical periods and addresses the social and political contexts in which popular music is, and was, situated. Students will develop skills in literary and musical analysis in order to arrive at an enhanced understanding of some of the most widespread and distinctive aural patterns in the history of human culture.

The aim of the unit is to assist students to develop skills in textual and musical analysis as a foundation to understanding the diversity of expression in popular music.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Familiarity with a range of popular songs in English from over several historical periods (GA5, GA8, GA9);

LO2 - An understanding of the historical context of the songs studied in relation to the disciplines of music and literature (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9);

LO3 - Skills in the critical analysis of popular songs (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8);

LO4 - Skills in the musical analysis of popular songs (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8);

LO5 - An understanding of the genre of popular song in relation to its historical and cultural context (GA1, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9).

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


A study of representative works from a range of periods and styles. Works studied may include selections from:

medieval secular song, Child and Border Ballads, parlour songs, vaudeville songs, protest songs, political songs, Gospel songs, Christian popular music, country music, social satire, and contemporary popular music.


Studies will focus on the works in relation to their social and cultural context and may be grouped under themes such as:

  • strange encounters and abductions to Faerie, work, love, women soldiers, soldier songs and reflections on war/battle, conscript songs, prison and transportation songs, treacherous women & treacherous men, trains and other forms of transport, lullaby and other home songs.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

The unit is designed to promote understanding of the context and development of popular music throughout history. The learning and teaching strategy encourages critical and reflective thinking, and assists students to develop values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline of music and in particular, what is known as popular music. Repertoire and scholarly ideas are shared with students in the context of formal lectures (which may be in the form of online lectures) and students are required to work independently and collaboratively to evaluate research and examples of music practice in context. The exploration of popular music is organised around relevant historical and social themes and opportunities for practical performance of examples of popular music are offered. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

Three assessment tasks have been developed to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. Assessment one requires students to interpret and comment on music styles and genres in popular music by researching and analysing representative music examples. Assessment two requires students to express their understanding of the fundamentals of musical and textual analysis. Assessment three applies the knowledge and skills developed in earlier assessment and requires students to demonstrate their ability to research and report on issues related to the development and transmission of popular song.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Critical analysis of selected songs


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

In-class or online test/worksheets


LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Written tasks: research and reflective case studies


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Barnet, Richard.D., Nemerov, Bruce. and Taylor, Mayo. The Story Behind the Song: 150 Songs that Chronicle the 20th Century. Westport, CONN.: Greenwood P, 2004.


De Clercq, Trevor. "Popular Music Analysis Too Often Neglects the Analysis of Popular Music." Popular Music 39, no. 2 (2020): 339-44.

Fumerton, Pamela, Guerrini, Anita. with McAbee, Kris. (Eds.) Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500-1800. Farnham: Ashgate, 2010.

Gammon, Vic. Desire, Drink and Death in English Folk and Vernacular Song, 1600-1900. Aldershot, UK, Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2008.

Häger, Andreas, (Ed.) Religion and popular music: artists, fans, and culturesB. Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

Quiller-Couch, Arthur. Ed. The Oxford Book of Ballads. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1910.  

Moore, A.F. Ed., Analysing Poplar Music. Cambridge UP, Cambridge: 2003.

Shuker, Roy. Understanding Popular Music Culture. Fifth ed. Routledge, 2016.

Thomson, Graeme. I Shot a Man in Reno: A History of Death by Murder, Suicide, Fire, Flood, Drugs, Disease, and General Misadventure, as Related in Popular Song., New York: Continuum, 2008.

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