All Articles

ISU students all shook up and come together to learn about music, culture in History of Rock ‘n’ Roll course


David Stuart

AMES, Iowa – The classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes of Elvis Presley blare over the intercom as students file into the Music Hall auditorium. Fingers snap, feet tap and voices sing along to “Hound Dog” as students find their seats. This is how music professor David Stuart greets his students in Music 304, “History of American Rock ‘n’ Roll,” at Iowa State University.

“From rockabilly to MTV, we cover it all,” said Stuart, a passionate musician who holds a special place in his heart for rock ‘n’ roll. During the spring of 1981, Stuart was approached to start a course at Iowa State that focused on the Beatles era. Two years after the course was in session, ideas started to form about turning the class into a history of rock ‘n’ roll course.

“Rock was coming into its own in the late ’70s and early ’80s, so by this time, rock ‘n’ roll was becoming widely accepted and embraced by the academic community,” said Stuart. The class has gone through minor changes since the mid-1980s, including the addition of a two-week interlude focusing on the British Invasion, when bands like the Beatles and Rolling Stones gained rapid popularity in the United States.

The course is in ISU’s Department of Music and Theatre, an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Course organization in Music 304 differs from most chronological history classes. “Since so many artists bleed over from decade to decade, we decided to focus on three major song forms for the class framework – the blues, folk music and ending with pop,” said Stuart. “I try to organize the class this way, so I can teach people about artists they have never heard of before in all styles of rock.”

Stuart said the course teaches students about cultural and musical history and how that has influenced the nation. “Music has always been a part of people’s social experience. And during the civil rights and Vietnam War eras, protest songs helped galvanize and unite the public.”

Lindsay Kayser, a junior in advertising at Iowa State, enrolled in the course after taking Stuart’s introduction to music listening class. Kayser is a huge fan of the Beatles and grew up listening to her parents’ rock music such as Fleetwood Mac, Bon Jovi and Journey.

“I’m excited to get to the two-week British Invasion lectures and learn supplementary material to what I already know,” said Kayser. She recommends the class to anyone who is interested in music. “Country and jazz music were major influences on rock ‘n’ roll, so students can get a better understanding of how rock came into the scene with those factors.”

Matt Cooper is another student in the class and an avid rock music listener. “What I find most exciting about the course is getting to listen to music during the class,” said the senior in economics. With this learning technique, he said he is able to get a deeper understanding of where music comes from and how it is structured.

The class, which has grown annually and has almost 200 students enrolled this semester, features a special textbook co-authored by Stuart, “From Bakersfield to Beale Street, A Regional History of American Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The text is now in its third edition as an e-book.

Stuart enjoys the interplay between students throughout his course, as well as the amount of information he learns from them. “Students don’t think they have anything to teach me, but there is always someone in the class that knows more about a topic than I do. It’s a great thing.”

About Liberal Arts and Sciences
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a world-class learning and research community. Iowa State’s most academically diverse college, LAS educates students to become global citizens, providing rigorous academic programs in the sciences, humanities and social sciences within a supportive personalized learning environment. College faculty design new materials, unravel biological structures, care for the environment, and explore social and behavioral issues. From fundamental research to technology transfer and artistic expression, the college supports people in Iowa and around the world.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

David Stuart, Music Department, (515) 294-2924, (
Paige Berg, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communication, (515) 294-0461, (
Steve Jones, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communication, (515) 294-0461, (