Course description

Seminar  4106-901 (Tuesdays, 10:00-12:00, Room 3226)

Theory and Current Music – Instructors-Peter Hannan and Ken Morrison

Can we use music theoretical and analytical techniques to analyze contemporary popular music?  In this seminar, we will use a variety of analytical tools including Harmonic, Motivic, (Schenkerian), Rhythmic/Metric, Textual, Contextual (social/economic), and others to study a variety of contemporary songs.   We will try to balance engaging each song on its own terms and listening to each song through the filters of analysis.   Can we assemble a set of analytical tools to engage contemporary music on its own terms?

Students will be required to study a song and present their analysis to the seminar. Finally, everyone must submit an analysis paper on another song not on the syllabus.


Weekly Participation: 35% (3% per week)

Analytical Presentation: 30%

Final Analytical Paper: 35%

Prerequisites:  Minimum of two years of music theory

Syllabus (subject to change)


Week 1 (Sept. 2): Introduction to Song Forms; What is form in music?

Week 2 (Sept. 9): How does traditional music theory help in describing current music? What is harmonic analysis? Details of Text Setting

Week 3 (Sept. 16): Genres: What are they, and why do they matter for musicians now?

Week 4 (Sept. 23):  Where does transcription and conventional notation fit in?  The Song versus a particular performance of the song (What is the fundamental text?)

Week 5 (Sept. 30): Sound analysis as music theory; The producer as artist: Is the arrangement and performance where the “art” happens?  new ways of writing songs – who is the composer? – the Rihanna method

Week 6 (Oct. 7): How do you, the educated musician talk about music from last week – Katy Perry, Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Messuggah?  When art transcends its original intention


Week 7 (Oct. 14): Analyzing rock music – 500 greatest songs; new directions in jazz

Week 8 (Oct. 21): Electronic music – Aphex Twin to John Hopkins; the singer songwriter phenomenon – Dylan to Regina Spektor

Week 9 (Oct. 28): Minimalists – Steve Reich, Philip Glass; darlings of cultural theory – Madonna etc

Week 10 (Nov. 4): Maximalists – Osvaldo Golijov , Thomas Ades; the future of music theatre – Kanye West, R Kelly

Week 11 (Nov. 11) Remembrance Day (statutory holiday)

Week 12 (Nov. 18): Presentations

Week 13 (Nov. 25): Presentations

FINAL E-Document DUE ON DEC. 5 AT 09:30


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