Listening for form in popular music
Listening for form in popular music

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Listening for form in popular music


This free course, Listening for form in popular music, explores form, or how music is organised in time. You will study the form of several popular songs, including ‘Be My Baby’, ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘Midnight Special’ and ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’. You will look at three strategies for communicating form – through the use of specialist terms (such as ‘chorus’ and ‘bridge’), alphabetic designations (for example AABA), and visual diagrams. You will also learn to hear and represent form yourself. Along the way, you will consider how the form of a song works together with its lyrics to create meaning.

You do not need to play an instrument or sing or have any prior musical knowledge to be able to complete the course. However, in order to get the most out of it, you will need access to six recordings and a media player that allows you to keep an eye on track timings while you listen. These recordings are listed below and are available to purchase or stream from a range of providers.

Song title Performers Album Length
1 ‘Be My Baby’ The Ronettes Be My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes 02:41
2 ‘Midnight Special’ Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry Midnight Special 04:05
3 ‘Suspicious Minds’ Fine Young Cannibals Fine Young Cannibals 03:59
4 ‘Hang with Me’ Robyn Body Talk Pt. 2 04:22
5 ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ Nat King Cole The World of Nat King Cole 02:56
6 ‘Fiddle Blast’ Aly Bain, Jenna Reid, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Stuart Duncan Transatlantic Sessions 4: Volume 1 04:53

Be sure to work with the correct versions of the songs, some of which exist in different versions or have been recorded by more than one performer. You can confirm that you are working with the right recordings by checking them against the titles, performers, albums and track lengths above.

You will frequently be asked to listen to what happens at particular moments in these songs, referring to specific track timings. Note that these may differ from those on your recordings by one or two seconds, depending among other things on your media player.

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course A234 Understanding music [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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