Because of their structural simplicity and accessibility, popular songs are a practical resource for teaching fundamental concepts of music such as meter, rhythm, melody, harmony, verse-chorus structure, and melody-accompaniment texture.
Various dance genres represented in IN Harmony's sheet music make clear examples of different metrical divisions. Waltzes, mazurkas, marches, two-steps, and jigs all offer strong metrical impulses, and discussing how the dances or movements are executed can clarify concepts such as downbeat and pickup, as well as number of beats per measure.
Isaac Doles, "The Air Ship Waltz" (1891)
Felix Kraemer, "Mark Twain Mazurka" (1880)
M. Irving, "Benjamin Harrison's Grand March" (1888)
Eubie Blake & Noble Sissle, "Bandana Days: Novelty Fox Trot Song" (1921)
Chas. W. Wright, "The Baldwin March" (1899)
Roy L. Burtch, "Little Rogue's Asleep: Cradle Song" (1890)
Ragtime music is characterized by syncopated rhythms, which contrast with its straightforward "boom-chuck" accompaniment figures derived from marching music. Sheet music in this genre is also excellent for introducing the concepts of piano rolls as a means of dissemination and recording, and how performance may differ from notated music.
The early twentieth century to about 1930 marked the peak of popular song dissemination through sheet music, before radio became the primary force for marketing songs. While song publishers existed in major cities throughout America, the most important place for popular song publication was New York City, in the center known as Tin Pan Alley. This was not a specific street, though publication houses did tend to cluster around the same areas; the name "Tin Pan Alley" reputedly came from the cacophony produced by the sounds of "song pluggers" (hired pianists) simultaneously playing the newest songs in each publisher's shop along the same few blocks. In addition to stand-alone songs from hit songwriters, these songs also included the latest dance crazes, as well as selections from popular musicals, revues, and operettas. Many of the famous names in American popular song and musical theater got their starts as song pluggers or were later published by Tin Pan Alley publishers; these include George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and others. Tin Pan Alley now refers to the songs from this era and these publishers.
The popular songs of Tin Pan Alley codified a specific song form: verses with a 32-bar AABA refrain.
Many of the songs already listed fit into the Tin Pan Alley context, and instructors and students may benefit from browsing the collection limiting the genre to "song" and the dates to between 1900 and 1929 (notice that the highest concentration of songs in the collection appear in these years.) Following are a few examples from those three decades.
Morris Manley, "Automobiling with Molly" (1905)
Albert Von Tilzer, "Take Me Up With You Dearie" (1909)
Irving Berlin, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (1911)
Albert Gumble, "Alexander's Band is Back in Dixieland" (1919)
Harry Von Tilzer, "Good-Bye Boys" (1913)
King Zany & Mac Emery, "All She'd Say Was Umh-Hum" (1920)