Thursday, June 13, 2013

The beat goes online in new course

brian ward (2)

“Rock and roll music has distinct qualities,” says WSU music instructor Brian Ward, above. “A strong beat. Guitar driven. Lyrics about teenage things like love, cars, the birds and bees, drugs …”

He stops. He realizes there are a gazillion exceptions.

“It’s a very loose definition,” he allows. “But people know it when they hear it.”

Recognition is good, but understanding is better. That’s why hundreds of WSU Pullman students have enrolled in Music 262, Rock Music: History and Social Analysis. Both sections of the fall 2013 course in Pullman are already full, and each has a capacity of 250.

“Students sometimes say it’s their favorite class,” Ward says, “because they can listen to music they enjoy.”

This fall, Ward will launch an online version of the three-credit course for WSU’s Global Campus. Students start with the 1920s and end with the introduction of MTV. Coursework includes listening to music, watching videos, writing papers, analyzing recordings and taking “listening exams.” For example, Ward will play a rockabilly song, and ask students to identify a common characteristic of the genre. (No drums.)

More...Musical mix with ‘gospel gravy’

Ward brings a world of knowledge to Music 262. He’s widely known as a jazz pianist, but has also played with symphonies and gospel groups, world-beat pioneer Obo Addy and Cuban conga player Bobby Torres. He’s an arranger for Grammy-winning singer and jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding and has toured with Portland blues legend Curtis Salgado. One reviewer described his album “Wonderbread” as a mix of “jazz, funk, R&B, soul and Afro-Cuban flavors, all slathered in a gospel gravy.”

Students more willing to solo

As a musician, and as a faculty member, Ward is accustomed to a live audience. But the online audience at the Global Campus also has advantages.

Online students feel freer to share opinions and ideas, he says, because they don’t suffer from the stage fright of having to speak in front of peers. “Online discussion boards are terrific—they really help each other figure things out.”

Maybe, as a group, his students will come up with a better definition of rock music. But Ward says that would be—in several ways—academic.

“In music history, we’re always looking back, trying to define things,” he says “But at the time, musicians just play what they want to play. They don’t care what it’s called.”


  1. This is amazing!! Online education can always use more humanities-based courses! I'm absolutely excited for this class, and I am not even a music major!

  2. Brian Ward is an amazing instructor! This should be a really great class!