Exploring Popular Songs

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What Makes a Good Song? - Cover and Homework Activities

What Makes a Good Song? - Popular Songs Case Studies

What Makes a Good Song? - Scheme of Work and Lesson Pathways

What Makes a Good Song? - General Resources

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What Makes a Good Song? - DOITNOW (Starters) and Plenary Activities

What Makes a Good Song? - “DOITNOW” Presentation

Cutting down on printables, file storage and media files, the “new look” Musical Contexts “DOITNOW” What Makes a Good Song? lesson openers Presentation contains  a wealth (only two samples shown here), of effective “DOITNOW’s” when delivering the What Makes a Good Song? unit in just one place - all audio and video files are embedded and there’s accompanying Teacher’s Notes in the “slide comments” section. 

What Makes a Good Song? - Plenary Review Activities

A series of lesson reviews where pupils review their learning and understanding.

What Makes a Good Song? - 5 Minutes Silent Reading

For teachers who prefer to begin their lessons with quiet, focused openers.  All contain “Questions to Think About” which can also be used as Cover or Homework tasks.

1. What Makes a Good Song?

2. Song Structure

3. Lead Sheets

4. Primary and Secondary Chords

5. Song Textures

6. Song Timbres and Sonorities

What Makes a Good Song? - Music Theory and Melodic Dictation

What Makes a Good Song? Theory - Melodic Motion: Conjunct and Disjunct

Exploring melody lines in songs from different times and places in terms of melodic motion and movement using the terms Conjunct (stepwise) and Disjunct (leaps)

What Makes a Good Song? — Melodic Dictation

Treble clef melodic dictation from riffs and melodies of famous popular songs. 

Answers provided.  All of the accompanying audio extracts are provided on the audio file. 

What Makes a Good Song? - Song Structure Resources

This unit consists of a series of short, structured, exploratory and investigatory activities into the genre of popular song in terms of the different structural, textural and elemental components in order to provide a more in-depth answer to the unit’s title: ‘What Makes a Good Song?’

The unit focuses primarily on popular songs and where possible, pupils should be given the opportunity to sing all of the songs explored.

Pupils explore song structure and how a typical popular song is made up of different structural elements before exploring (or revisiting) primary (I, IV, V and V7) and secondary chords (VI), song textures and  instruments, timbres and sonorities used to accompany popular songs.  Hooks are Riffs in popular songs are explored briefly and this provides a good foundation for the future study of the Musical Contexts “Hooks and Riffs” unit that covers the use of Hooks and Riffs in popular music in greater detail. 

Through a series of performing and listening tasks, pupils use lead sheets of popular songs to perform parts from and to analyse musical features from which introduces them to this form of musical notation. 

Two ‘good’ songs have been chosen as case studies within this unit: “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran and “Shotgun” by George Ezra although these can be replaced depending on individual teacher preference.

This is not a “songwriting” unit, but through the exploration and analyses of popular songs, it does provide valuable skills, knowledge and understanding to prepare pupils to create their own complete musical arrangement of a song which is covered within the Musical Contexts “Making Arrangements” unit.

Key Words, Concepts and Musical Knowledge

Popular Song Structure: Introduction (intro), Verse(s), Link, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Bridge/Middle 8, Coda (outro); Strophic, Riff, Hook, Melody, Counter-Melody, Lyrics, Chords and Traids, Primary Chords (I, IV, V, V7), Secondary Chords (VI), Bass Line, Song Textures: Monophonic (Solo), Homophonic (Melody and Accompaniment), Polyphonic; Lead Sheets. 

Music Theory

Primary (I, IV, V, V7) and Secondary (VI) Chords

Links to GCSE Music

Popular Music

Vocal Music

Conventions of Pop





Ed Sheeran - “Shape of You” Songsheet/Leadsheet

Contains Lyrics, Easy Bass Line, Bass Line, Chords, Easy Riff, Harder Riff, Guitar Chords and Melody Line Parts for classroom ensemble performing.

George Ezra - “Shotgun” Songsheet/Leadsheet

Contains Lyrics, Chords, Guitar Chords and Two Riffs from “Shotgun” for classroom ensemble performing.

Analysing the Form and Structure of “Shape of You” and “Shotgun”

Lyrics for structural analysis of both case study songs with answers.

Analysing the Melodies of “Shape of You” and “Shotgun”

Melody lines/Riffs of both case study songs for “Step and Leap” analysis.






Exploring your own Favourite Song

Pupils explore and analyse two contrasting songs by the same artist or group in terms of the Elements of Music and the popular song elements explored in this unit: Structure, Lyrics, Riffs and Instruments.

Also includes a “Full Marks” and “Low Marks” example response with teacher’s comments. 

Can be done without using ICT.

Popular Song Word Search 1

A word search covering key words and terms from the unit.

Can be done without using ICT.

Writing a Punk Song

Staged composition task for pupils to create a punk band and write a set of lyrics to a punk song on subject matter of their choice.

Requires ICT for research.

Popular Song Word Search 2

Another word search covering key words and terms from the unit.

Can be done without using ICT.

Pop Groups and Artists from 1960 Word Search

Another larger word search of notable pop groups and performers from 1960 onwards. 

Can be done without using ICT.







The Drum Kit

Useful worksheet for introducing the Drum Kit and the names of the various parts.

Listening to Riffs in Popular Songs


Audio 1 - Riffs in Popular Songs

Exploring “Praise You”

Card sort to rank features of what makes this a good song and performing the melody and riff to “Praise You”

Audio 2 - “Praise You” - Fatboy Slim

Performing Two famous Riffs from Popular Songs

Arrangements of the riffs from “Bittersweet Symphony” - The Verve and “Glory Box” - Portishead

Audio 3 - Riff Examples

Listening to “Vindaloo”


Audio 4 - “Vindaloo”

Listening to “Wannabe” - The Spice Girls


Audio 5 - “Wannabe” - The Spice Girls






Listening to “Wayfaring Stranger” - Eva Cassidy


Audio 6 - “Wayfaring Stranger” - Eva Cassidy

Listening to “Give Me One Reason” - Tracy Chapman


Audio 7 - “Give Me One Reason” - Tracy Chapman

Popular Song Composing Sheet

Staged process in composing a popular song

Listening to Rock Songs

Listening activities based on 3 different Heavy Metal/Rock Songs

Audio 8 - “One” - Metallica

Audio 9 - “The Rain Song” - Led Zeppelin & “Paranoid” - Black Sabbath

Learning about Popular Songs in the 1960’s

Presentation with embedded audio examples of Motown, Soul, Rock and Rhythm and Blues as examples of Popular Songs from the 1960’s







Listening for Riffs in Rap and R’n’B Songs


Audio 10 - 5 Riffs from Rap and R’n’B Songs

Listening to “Jump” - Kriss Kross


Audio 11 - “Jump” - Kriss Kross

Ed Sheeran - “Castle on the Hill” Lead Sheet

Lyrics, Chord Patterns (Ukulele, Guitar and Keyboard Chord Diagrams), Bass Line Riffs & Melody Lines with chords and with and without note names.






Exploring Song Structure Presentation

Introduces pupils to key elements of song structure through increasingly complex analysis and listening tasks including analysis of ‘Scarborough Fair’, ‘Fast Car’ and ‘Stand by Me’.

Contains all embedded media files. 

Exploring Song Structure Worksheet

Contains the song lyrics to all songs explored within the Song Structure Presentation as ‘plan text’ for pupils to analyse and format.