Teaching (and Studying) the Music of the Grateful Dead

Brian Felix
University of North Carolina at Asheville
Asheville, NC, USA


This article aims to provide answers to two questions: why teach about the music of the Grateful Dead, and how to do so? In an effort to engage the former, this article examines the ways that the Grateful Dead provides a rich and unique case study towards a deeper understanding of American popular music. The contributing factors are their distinct brand of eclecticism, career-long commitment to extended musical improvisations, and the depth and durability of their songbook. In order to answer the latter question (how?), I provide a framework for approaching the Grateful Dead’s voluminous output from a musical perspective, using their shifting personnel (primarily the keyboardists) as markers for understanding the distinct musical attributes of different eras. My hope is that the argument and framework provided here will assist anyone who is looking to teach or study the music of the Grateful Dead.

Keywords: Grateful Dead, eclecticism, improvisation, songbook, jazz, rock, ontology

Author Bio

Brian Felix is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Music Department at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he teaches classes on jazz theory and improvisation, jazz history, keyboard skills, music business, the Beatles, and the Grateful Dead. Felix holds a B.A. in Music from Rutgers College, a M.M. in Jazz Performance from DePaul University and a D.M.A. in Jazz Performance from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. His research interests include jazz and improvised musics, the Grateful Dead and the Beatles. His work has been published in the journal Jazz Perspectives and he is the co-author of Interactive Listening: A New Approach to Music. Felix is also a professional keyboardist—he was co-leader of OM Trio, an acclaimed jazz-rock group that toured internationally between 1999-2004. He continues to perform professionally in Western North Carolina with his Fly Casual organ jazz group and others. Website: www.brianfelix.com.

Reference Citation


Felix, Brian. “Teaching (and Studying) the Music of the Grateful Dead”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 9, no. 1 & 2, 2022. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-1-and-2/teaching-and-studying-the-music-of-the-grateful-dead/.



Felix, B. (2022). Teaching (and studying) the music of the Grateful Dead. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, 9(1 & 2). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v9-issue-1-and-2/teaching-and-studying-the-music-of-the-grateful-dead/.


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