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James Brody, University of Colorado music professor.
James Brody, University of Colorado music professor.

Music professor James Brody’s Tuesday lecture sounded more like a song than a lesson.

While explaining what he described as the unusual tempo of the hit Beatles song “Yesterday,” the pitch of his voice rose and dipped to the song’s melody. In class, Brody hums, taps and sings syllables, scatting to students to delve deeper into the music.

“The Beatles stretched boundaries, playing with elements that a lot of other rock musicians didn’t do, like changing meters and playing with the formal structure,” Brody said.

Brody’s class, Music of the Rock Era, is popular among students during the fall, spring and summer semesters, keeping them entertained with analysis of the genre from its origins in the 1950s through more modern and well-known musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and Michael Jackson.

Despite the popularity of the course across campus, Brody said the class is not simply a frivolous elective but has academic merit that helps early students expand their analytical skills.

“This is real meat and potatoes stuff, and some people happen to think of it as entertaining,” Brody said. “It shouldn’t diminish the quality of the course just because they have a chance to get credit for learning something they’re already interested in.”

Brody has been teaching versions of the class since he began at CU in 1986 and co-wrote the textbook, which he said is a unique explanation of the technical aspects of the elements of rock.

“Students already know they like the music so now I’m just going to help them understand why,” Brody said.