Social & Cultural History of Rock & Roll Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Guidelines for Social and Cultural History of Rock and Roll

Mr. Beretsky – Room B-230


Course Description

Social and Cultural History of Rock and Roll is a course for 10th, 11th and 12th grade students. This course will be graded and you will earn 2 ½ credits.  There are no pre-requisites and you do not have to be musically talented


This course seeks to balance understanding the development and significance of Rock and Roll in its historical and social environment with maintaining a focus on listening to the music as the main mode of understanding. Through listening, analysis, discussion, music, and film students will explore the music and the culture and society of the day Class assignments will be organized around song analysis, small group discussions, and in-class activities. The course begins with an overview of ancestors and influences: blues, boogie-woogie, jazz, swing, country & western, gospel and popular music, and the crossover success of rhythm & blues acts that marked the true birth of rock & roll. We will study the musical and social trends of the 1960s, including the influence of the British Invasion, which really signaled the arrival of rock’s second generation, the rock explosion and social upheaval of the late 1960’s, and the changes in Rock & Roll music during the seventies, eighties, and nineties. The course will culminate in an exploration of today’s current musical trends and icons including rap/hip hop.


There are no tests, but there will be required reading assignments, music listening assignments, class discussions, reflections and multi-media presentations.   This course reflects the belief that the Belchertown High School educational community fosters academic excellence and responsible citizenship in a positive, safe and respectful environment in order to develop productive contributors to society.


Topics Include:

  • Tin Pin Alley and the 1950’s
  • The Blues, Rock-and-Roll, and Racism
  • Elvis and Rockabilly
  • The Teen Market – From “Bandstand” to Girl Groups
  • Surfboards and Hot Rods – California, Here We Come
  • Bob Dylan and the New Frontier
  • Motown – The Sound of Integration
  • The British Blues Invasion and Garage Rock
  • British Invasion of America – The Beatles
  • Folk Rock
  • Acid Rock
  • Fire from the Streets
  • Militant Blues on Campus
  • Escaping into the Seventies
  • The Era of Excess
  • Punk Rock and the New Generation
  • I Want My MTV
  • The Promise of Rock-and-Roll
  • The Generation X Blues
  • The Rave Revolution and Britpop
  • The Hip-Hop Nation
  • Metal Gumbo – Rockin’ in the Twenty-first Century
  • The Internet, Jam Bands and Three Shades of the Blues
  • Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes


Student Expectations

Social and Cultural History of Rock and Roll students are expected to enjoy learning about this material and to try and get an appreciation about this type of music which is such an important part of your lives.  Furthermore, there are no tests in this course.   But please be aware that this doesn’t mean you don’t have to do anything!!!


Here are some of the expectations that I have for you:


  • You are expected to take part in class discussions; nothing you have to say is wrong, and as such we will be respectful to each other at all times.
  • You are expected to do the reading assignments (see below).  We will read the entire textbook which is small, with a lot of pictures and only 390 pages.  This amounts to an average for the year of about 4 pages per school night.  This reading will be the basis for class discussion.
  • You are expected to do each song analysis (see below) assignment (there will be about 18 of these for the semester, approximately one per week.) This means listening to the song, reading the lyrics and completing a song analysis questionnaire.  These will also be the basis for class discussion.  You are expected to lead the class in a discussion of two of these analyses for the semester.
  • You are expected to do an oral multimedia presentation sometime near the end of the first term.  You may work with one other person in this presentation.
  • Your final examination will be a longer oral presentation at the end of the second term.  Again, you may work with one other person.
  • You, and your parent or guardian should read this document and must sign and return the attached permission slip

Important Course Considerations

  • Music, including rock and roll, affects behavior in both positive and negative ways
  • If we acknowledge that some aspects of Rock and Roll have good effects on society, we must also acknowledge that some aspects have bad effects.
  • Where is rock and roll headed in the future, louder? more sexually explicit?, more outrageous?
  • Are all rock and roll musicians striving for success?  How does that relate to being commercial?
  • Rock and Roll may be here to stay but individual artist and styles are not.
  • Rock is no longer counterculture, it is culture.
  • The audience for rock is getting both younger and older.
  • Not all music is art, much of it is just product – we will try and distinguish between the two.
  • As we move through the history of rock and roll we find lyrics have become more explicit and deal with themes of sex, drugs, social and political Issues, violent behavior and suicide.
  • Since lyrics are an important part of the course, we need to realize that some (but not the majority of) lyrics are objectionable.  We need to keep this in mind as we choose, analyze and listen to music.

Course Objectives

The Student will be able to:

  • Answer the essential question:  How has Rock & Roll reflected and been influenced by major social and cultural changes during the last fifty five years?
  • To classify the subject of a song into cultural/social categories such as environment, peace/antiwar, sports, social upheaval, justice/injustice, civil rights, economics, gender roles in society, romantic love, sex, alienation, rock music, introspection, counter culture, etc…
  • To demonstrate an awareness of the major factors involved in the development of Rock and Roll from its roots to the present.
  • To acquire useful and relevant information by making connections between the artists a musical genres of yesterday and today.
  • To develop the necessary skills to gather further information about musical topics of interest.
  • To think critically about information sources, both primary and secondary, recognizing bias and viewpoint and separating fact from fiction.
  • To respect and appreciate one’s own musical culture and interests as well as those of others.
  • To develop an aural awareness of the changing sounds of Rock and Roll over time.
  • To recognize themes of violence, misogyny, and homophobia in music



Current Textbook:– Pearson Prentice Hall – (Rockin in Time (7th Edition) by David P. Szatmary, Published July, 2009)

Internet Access

I have a homepage on the Internet.

This page will contain a course specific section on which I hope to put all homework assignments, projects, a copy of the course syllabus and links that will be helpful and interesting to you.  Be sure to visit this page regularly.  Email can be sent to me at  My homepage also has valuable links to other resources you need in this class.


You are expected to bring the following materials to class every day:

– A binder with sections and lined paper

– A pen or pencil for jotting down notes

– Textbook – covered at all times


General Classroom Behavior

  • You are expected to respect and value yourself, your school environment and the diversity of the BHS community.
  • You are expected to contribute to classes and work cooperatively whenever the situation requires.
  • You are expected to come to class prepared and you are responsible for all missing work
  • Bullying of any kind is not permitted in this classroom
  • You are expected to use pencil and show work for all mathematics on homework, class work, projects, tests and quizzes
  • You are to be in your assigned seat when the bell rings.  Otherwise you are late which may result in a detention.
  • You are expected not to talk while I am speaking or interrupt while other people are speaking.
  • There will be no getting out of your seat or speaking without permission.  If you want to speak or get of your seat during class, raise your hand and wait to be recognized.
  • There will be no leaving the room except for emergencies, which should not occur often.
  • If you need to leave the room, just take the pass and leave as quietly as possible.
  • Books should be covered at all times.  If you lose your book, report it to me immediately.
  • The bell does not dismiss the class.
  • No eating or drinking in the classroom.
  • The Pass is to be used only in an emergency

Semester Grading Policy

Your grade comes from point values assigned to tests, homework, cooperative group activities and Internet projects.  Quarter grades will be calculated by dividing the total number of points that you have earned by the maximum number of points that you could have earned and calculating a percent.  For example if you earned 600 points out of a possible 800 points, then you get 600/800  = 75%.

Reading Questions for about 15%, Song Analysis 30%, Song Analysis Presentation 15%, Class discussion 20%, Midyear Presentation or Work on Final Presentation 20%


Quarter 1 – 40%                                                          A 90 -100

Quarter 2 – 40%                                                          B 80-89

Final Exam – 20%                                                       C 70-79

D 65-69

F 0-64

Reading Assignments

You are expected to read the entire textbook over the course of the semester.  I will distribute discussion questions for each of the 22 chapters as we read the book.  At the end of each chapter, I will collect and grade your responses.  There are two types of questions in each discussion set.  The first type are generally fact finding questions, I expect you just jot down the answer as you read.  The second type is an analysis question to be answered at the end of the chapter in a couple of sentences.

Song Analysis

You are expected to do one song analysis per week.  An analysis consists of going to the website and listening to a song in the assigned playlist, then completing a seven question form and attaching lyrics (edited for language).  You may pick in song in the assigned playlist(s) or any song of the same time period by an artist in the playlist or by another artist as long as it is from the same time period.  See Links in my homepage


Song Analysis Discussion

We will use the song analysis as a basis for discussion in the class.  Once during each semester your song analysis will be the basis of discussion.  You are expected to lead the discussion and make sure that an edited copy of the lyrics and the song can be played for the class.  That is try to have the radio edit of the song and make sure you have edited the lyrics for language.


First Term Project

Near the need of the first term you are expected to give a multimedia oral presentation to the class.  You will be able to work with one other person on this presentation.  I do not have the completed details work out at this point, but it will probably be a biography or genre project.

Final Project

There is no final exam for this course, but there will be a final project. This will also be a multimedia oral presentation, which will require more preparation time then the first project. You will be able to work with one other person on this presentation.  You will be given some time in class to prepare for it, but you are expected to do most of the preparation on your own.  Presentations will take place near the end of the second term and extend in to the Midyear exam period.  Your presentation will reflect open the ways rock and roll has influenced and been influenced by one the following cultural/social categories: environment, peace/antiwar, sports, social upheaval, justice/injustice, civil rights, economics, gender roles in society, romantic love, sex, alienation, rock music, introspection, counter culture or another classification that you and I have agreed upon.  I will give you more details about this project as we get into the second term.


Make-up Work

If you miss a song analysis or a homework assignment (posted on my homepage) for any reason, you are expected to make it up. Generally, you will be given up to one week from the day you return to make up that assignment.  For example, if you are out of school on Monday and return on Tuesday, you have until the following Tuesday to make up your work.  Incomplete work, for any reason, will count as a 0.

Extra Help

If you are having trouble with any material, you are expected to seek extra help from me.  I will be available after school in room B-230 from Monday to Thursday and before school by appointment on any school day.