Provider: University of Rochester at Coursera [course page]
Lecturers: John Covach
Subject: History + Music
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 2-4 hrs/week over 7 weeks
Completion Date: 06/30/2014
Description: In this first of a two-part MOOC series, John Covach teaches us the origins of rock from the 1930’s to the 1970’s and the issues faced by those within the music industry during this tumultuous era. There were three fortnightly quizzes culminating in a final exam in the last week.
Strengths: First of all, I suppose that I should offer the disclaimer that I spent a lot of time listening to the music mentioned during this course due to my father’s eclectic tastes. Some of my best childhood memories were at times spent listening to music. Those were great times, each made more vivid by music. I am a music appreciator by nature, which is part of the draw to this course in the first place.
This course deals with the history of music in a predominantly chronological fashion. Mister Covach, a rather likeable chap, and manages to energise the student watching the lecture videos even further. We are encouraged to seek out the music being discussed, and he also offers some complementary videos explaining some music fundamentals (rhythm, melody and harmony) via a short youtube playlist.
As for the material, though the lectures discuss many of the artists, we see how music changed on account of marketing and due to world events such as the world wars. We are given the clear indication that Rock was a genre that evolved out of other genres, such as R&B, Country and Western, Folk, Soul, etc… Rock, just like these other genres is a product of the environment, but heavily affected by marketing in the new world of radio and television.
Weaknesses: I did not receive any hidden messages from Satan whilst studying this course. What’s up with that? 😀
Conclusion: John Covach presents this course with an enthusiasm unseen in many of the lecturers I’ve watched of late. His passion for music and music history shows in the release of not only this two-part MOOC series, but in an upcoming course The History of the Beatles starting on Coursera next week. (I am enrolled in that course as well.) The energy in his delivery of the material is not only energised but interesting as well. We are able to draw connections between many of the events mentioned and see a definite cause and effect.
This course also offers some insight into the current state of the music industry, where we see traditional labels going up against Indie labels. Though it is not quite the “history repeats” scenario due to the arrival of the internet, we do see some similarities in marketing. There is this rather bizarre focus on “good and clean-cut” versus the “bad boy”, which is in conflict with the reality of human nature. That being said, conflict sells records.
If you are interested in music history, then I highly recommend this MOOC. I also recommend History of Rock, Part Two and The History of the Beatles over at Coursera. If you are looking for a course in basic music theory, then The University of Edinburgh MOOC Fundamentals of Music Theory goes live on Coursera on July 14. Saylor Academy also has some courses on Music History and Theory. Folks may also be interested in some music-related courses over at EdX.