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Young music students rarely see or, better still, hear a connection between the different types of scales, modes, intervals and other compositional techniques such as meter, tonality, and form used in both traditional “Art” music and contemporary “Popular” music. By demonstrating the basic elements of composition used in these different genres of music, similarities and connections can be made that will help reduce the gap or void between “Art” music and “Popular” music.


The student will be able to: 

  1. Aurally and visually recognize pentatonic and chromatic scales.
  2. Recognize how chromatic scales create tension and pentatonic scales create relaxation as compositional techniques used to create tonality.
  3. Aurally recognize the use of mixed or alternating meter as a means of creating variety.


Advance Placement Music Theory Students Grades 11-12. (The lesson could be modified for younger students grades 7-11 if the lesson was only used to recognize the use of mixed or alternating meters as a means of creating variety). [Objective #3]

Time Frame

One class period.


CD player/tape cassette recorder, CD/tapes of “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin and “Variations on a Korean Folk Song” by John Barnes Chance.


A detailed study of chromatic/pentatonic scales and mixed meter should be discussed. This lesson is designed to help supplement and solidify these concepts. Discussion could include how Eastern/Middle Eastern Culture has influenced Western Culture. “Kashmir” was written while Led Zeppelin was in Morocco and the chromatic/pentatonic scales are the predominant scales used in “Variations on a Korean Folk Song”. Both scales however, translate well into Western Civilization throughout music history. American Composer John Barnes Chance’s “Variation on a Korean Folk Song” is a “staple” of contemporary American Band Literature.



  1. Put the following terms and definitions on the board:


    Meter: How beats are organized into units of measure (the opening excerpt or “guitar riff #1” of “Kashmir” is in triple meter. The theme and first variation of “Korean Folk Song” is also in triple meter).

    Polymeter: Two or more different beat organizations occurring simultaneously (the same excerpt of “Kashmir” has the instrumental part in triple meter, but the lyrics are in quadruple meter. The third variation of “Korean Folk Song” is simultaneously in duple and triple meter).

    Tonality: Melodic or harmonic motion that creates tension followed by relaxation. (The instrumental accompaniment in verse # 1 of “Kashmir” is an ascending chromatic scale that creates a forward motion [tension] to the instrumental interlude (chorus) which descends [relaxation using a melodic variation of the pentatonic scale. “Korean Folk Song” uses melodic variation of the pentatonic scale [relaxation] accompanied by sustained drone pitches [tension] in variation #1. This technique is also prevalent in Jimmy Page’s guitar riff #1).

    Theme and Variation: A compositional technique in which a melodic idea (theme) that is altered in various ways such as meter, mode, harmony, rhythm, and/or tempo.

    Riff[Motive]: Terms that represent a melodic idea. 

  2. Play the Riff/Motive from “Kashmir” and have the students keep track of the meter used in the instrumental part of the opening and first verse (1,2,3). Then have the students keep track of the meter of the lyrics in the first verse (1,2,3,4). Then have the students listen and keep track of often the down beats of each meter occur simultaneously [Polymeter] Now play the excerpt from “Variations on a Korean Folk Song” and ask the students to figure out which two meters are occurring simultaneously (1 ,2,3,4,5,6 and 1 ,2) and what instruments are performing in which meter.
  3. Play the same excerpts this time noting the structure of the scales and drone techniques being used to create tonality. You may have to play the scales on a piano or guitar [and/or notate them on the music staff] to help the students listen along with the recordings.

*You will have to play each excerpt several times to point out the metric, polymetric, melodic, and harmonic devices being used.


Have students “conduct” the music in time, in order to demonstrate the feel of the pulse and how the accents work against and with each other to create a mood or effect. Have the students develop their own listening lessons, comparing similar compositional techniques shared by other “Art” and “Popular” music genres of their choice.

Selected Recordings

“Kashmir” recorded by Led Zeppelin (Physical Graffiti, Swan Song Label for Atlantic Records, 1975); Music by Jimmy Page; Lyrics by Robert Plant; Warner Brothers Publishing.

“Variations on a Korean Folk Song” recorded by Kosei Wind Orchestra, conductor Fredrick Fennell (Fredrick Fennell, Crest Records #K0CD3503, 1995); Ludwig Publications. Music by John Barnes Chance, Boosey & Hawkes, lnc., 1967).

Enrichment/Additional Resources

An interdisciplinary unit with Language Arts could include looking through rock windows by analyzing the lyrics.

Contributed by:

Karl D. Robinson
Harrison, OH