My yearly lecture on the relationship of the elements of music and musical form took a different approach this year. The lecture began by playing a number of examples taken from the current UK top 10 – that adhere to ‘the rule of 4′ (where the verse and chorus consist of multiples of 2/4): These songs included ‘All About the Bass’ by Meghan Trainor, ‘All of Me’ by John Legend, ‘I’m Not the Only One’ by Sam Smith and ‘Bang Bang’ by Jessie J. It is interesting to point out how the ‘formulas’ of these songs link to the past (For example ‘Your Song’ by Elton John and ‘We’ll Meet Again’ by Vera Lynn both use exactly the same structure), but create an expectation in the listener – who intuitively knows when specific sections are coming (do you agree?). The lecture then proceeded to discuss how some music carefully breaks these rules: the examples are countless – but I used ’20 Years’ by The Civil Wars and ‘Yellow by Coldplay’ as examples. I could just as easily have used a Motown track from the 60s – or just about any track by  mr Zappa! We then continued to discuss how the elements can be used to create interest when the form is basic on the surface – for example listen to ‘Sloop John B’ (1966). The lecture then linked how tracks such as ‘Stand by Me’, ‘Creep’ and ‘All Along the Watchtower’ all use the same chords for all of their ‘sections’. This obviously places a responsibility on the songwriter/arranger to ensure the other elements create interest. We then listened to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ as an example of a piece of music that simply changes meter between sections. So – the task for this week if for students/anyone to provide examples of all of this -

  • Examples of pieces of music with unusual bar numbers between sections
  • Examples of how rhythm delineates form between sections
  • Examples of  pieces of music which has the same chords for both verse and chorus
  • Examples of texture/instrumentation delineating form
  • Examples of how meter delineates form between sections

I am particularly interested in the following challenge – does a piece of music exist which has the same melody for the verse and chorus?????????

Finally – how does all of this link in to Adorno’s idea of ‘Standardisation’ (for those of you that are aware of it)? Does the ‘production line’ mentality of popular music pressure songwriters to stick to these ‘rules’. More significantly – does listening to music like this encourage us to sit in our chairs and watch XFactor – not using our intellect to question the world we live in etc etc etc etc????

Like I have done for the last few years, I gave my annual lecture to my musicology class regarding the ways that the Elements of Music (EOM) can be a good starting point for analysis. In the UK, the EOM have been conversation points since the National Curriculum impacted music education in the UK during the mid 1980s – so most students starting higher education music courses in the UK are aware of them. Many students report during their school years that they learn to identify what the elements are – and then pin some sort of emotional response to them. Crude I know – but one of the ideas behind the National Curriculum was to bridge the gap between music and emotional response. As I mentioned in a post a couple of years ago – I find a useful starting point is to build upon this preexisting awareness, by initially giving students a list of elements to consider – such as the following

  • Melody
  • Harmony
  • Lyrics
  • Form
  • Texture
  • Tempo
  • Metre
  • Timbre
  • Dynamics
  • Mix
  • Groove

I then play a variety of music – and ask them to prioritize what they consider the most important elements are. It is here that the interesting debate starts – as this activity highlights the polysemic nature of music – where students can consider, and rationalize their own reasons behind their choices. What is particularly fascinating is considering something like tempo in a mid 70s disco track (For example ‘Car Wash’). The tempo sticks to around 120 bpm throughout – so does this mean that this element would be given a low priority? I find many students would say it is not important -as it adds no interest to the piece – while others suggest that the tempo is vital to the ‘dance feel’ of the song. If it was speed up or slowed down – it would be more difficult to dance to – so tempo is therefore given a high priority. This is the type of debate that can go on – but to me what is important is the ability to rationalize the reason behind your choice – whatever it is.

This year, for the first time, the conversation also turned to some elements being deliberately made simple so that other elements can stand out. In effect they sacrifice their dominance for the good of the other. For example, when listening to a solo Bob Dylan piece, it could be argued that the musical texture is simple/one dimensional in terms of elemental importance – but what would happen if Dylan’s lyric was juxtapositioned against complex harmonies, changing textures and fluctuating tempos? Would his lyric still impact us the way it  currently does?

I am interested in any thoughts/examples of this anyone can offer…..

Well – its been a very long time since my last blog. Moving house got the better of me – so had no choice but to give in to the pressures :) Anyway, I have just given a presentation at a conference in Isnabruck Germany – the details are available here

The presentation is slightly rough around the edges in places – but gives a taster of some of the ideas I am experimenting with for my forthcoming book on Sting. I have to say – it has been so gratifying having the opportunity to go back to my hometown of Newcastle to speak to the many people who still remember Sting as ‘Gordon’. After spending so much time focusing on a guy who I had little in common with in terms of location (Frank Zappa) – by examining Sting’s relationship with Newcastle – I am also examining my own! Very Therapeutic :) Anyway the video is copied below – work in progress


Just a quick update of some of my activities over the last month or so. So –  not in any particular order – here goes.

Firstly, last weekend I contributed to a radio show on The Alarm’s Mike Peters – specifically the song ‘A New South Wales’. For those of you who are interested – it is available on I Player for the next few days

They Write the Songs Episode 4: Broadcast on Saturday March 8th 2014 at 1.30. Hosted by Alan Thomson

Apart from sounding like a thoroughly nice guy – I was really interested in the way that Peters was interested in returning to his Welsh Identity – and done so from taking a break from international touring to simply spend time in his homeland. Strangely – a paper I had published a while back on Welsh Identity in Popular Music missed out The Alarm – and I apologise for that – they should have been included. Unlike my main work at the moment which is focusing on Sting (see below), Peters seemed to go through this process at a relatively young age – but the process of songwriters/artists returning to their roots, and the impact this has on perceived authenticity interests me greatly.

The larger project I have been involved in over the last few months is putting together a proposal for a monograph on my fellow Geordie – Sting. The good news is that I have had a publisher agree to the book – Reaktion. I am really interested in putting together a book that not only resonates in  some way with my own homeland of Newcastle – but also attempts to bridge the general readership/academic divide. So the number of ‘big words’ will be greatly  reduced in this – watch this space! Although I can not start the book until the end of June because of other projects  – I did manage to get to Ireland in February to discuss some of the ideas at a conference at The University of Ireland. Although not greatly produced – I have put together a screen-cast of the presentation below. Note – there is a section in the middle where You Tube cuts out a short audio sample I played – so you will need to fast forward here to around 15:28. If you wish to listen to the song beforehand – you can access it here.

The other main project I am involved in at the moment is researching interdisciplinary pedagogical strategies in Music, Dance and Drama. The project is funded by the Higher Education Academy

I will not post any details of this at the moment, but if you are involved in interdisciplinary higher education in either the UK or Internationally – you can assist by completing an online questionnaire

This week was the first of a series of lectures on how music REFERS meaning.  What I am interested in is any examples of how music imparts meaning using – Saussures simple dyadic model as a starting point. The question is – How does the musical signifier relate to the signified in music? As you will see in the powerpoint – I try and differentiate between the often connotative power of music – and the denotative impact of image and text. However, I do accept that if we take at face value some of Tagg’s thoughts in his new book – the meaning that music pervades can actually be considered more precise than words – an example of which I will refer to below.

In order to get students to consider some of these ideas – I initially asked them to listen to extracts of the following two pieces of music – annotating the feelings the music had on them.

After asking them to document some of the emotions and impacts the music had – I then played the following two videos.

The Goricki piece was particularly interesting. Many students stated the obvious descriptors such as ‘sad’, ‘disruptive’, ‘melancholic’ etc. Then came one answer that at first instance appeared off the wall – ‘Disney’ ! At first call – it appears that this is not an accurate descriptor. Then – one student pointed out the fact that Disney is often cited as a Nazi sympathizer – it all then begins to make sense!! As Tagg suggests far more eloquently that me – it is not the music that is conveying ‘vague’ meaning – but the words we use to describe it. It is therefore not as polysemic as we think.

Anyway – read through this – give it some thought – and message me/leave comments as usual if of interest

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”https://www.slideshare.net/carrp/session-5-the-reception-of-music-part-1&#8243; title=”Session 5 the reception of music part 1″ target=”_blank”>Session 5 the reception of music part 1</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/carrp&#8221; target=”_blank”>Paul Carr</a></strong> </div>

Vertical Melodic Analysis

Where as my blog last week focused on horizontal  melodic analysis – this session concerned the vertical movement of melody. More specifically, the session was related to how tension and release operates when specific note types come up against a chord. These paradigms are achieved via the following techniques.

•Chord Tones: (CT) – short or long duration,. Essentially notes in the chord
•Colour Tones: (ct) ( most common 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, Sharp 11th) Usually long in duration
•Passing Tones : ( Not chord tones and Always Short). Consists of two types:
•Accented Passing Tones (APT) On the Beat
•Unaccented Passing Tones (UPT) Off the Beat
•Colour tones and to a lesser extent accented/unaccented passing notes provide Tension
•Chord tones provide the Release

As with horizontal analysis – it is possible to engage with these techniques either aurally or visually via notation. When using the later – an indicative example could be as follows. Note – this example also has some notes that relate to horizontal analysis.


What I have not mentioned here is how to discuss the tension and release. It could range from color coded notes – which could then be backed up with more in depth discussion.

So – as last time, I am interested in comments. This is also something that will result in a published paper at some point relatively soon.


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