Rhythmic Functions in Pop-Rock Music

Authored by: Nicole Biamonte

The Routledge Companion to Popular Music Analysis

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138683112
eBook ISBN: 9781315544700
Adobe ISBN:


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One of the most striking aspects of popular music is its rhythm, because of the explicit beat layer typically provided by the drums, the use of rhythmic dissonance in multiple layers of the musical texture, high degree of repetition, and brief length of repeated units. Numerous studies on rhythm in popular music have explored the ways in which the layers of a groove—a short repeating accompaniment pattern—interlock, 1 but fewer have considered the trajectories of individual layers. Olly Wilson and Vijay Iyer have described African-American popular musics as rhythmically stratified, but provide only a few brief examples. 2 The same idea underpins some analyses by Jonathan Pieslak in Meshuggah and John Brackett in Led Zeppelin, and a theoretical model has been developed by John Covach. 3 Robin Attas has considered the polyphonic aspects of disco and Motown grooves, but her adoption of Christopher Hasty’s projective model of rhythm renders the analyses information-dense and somewhat difficult to generalize. 4 Much more frequently, the concept of rhythmic stratification has been applied to the music of twentieth-century composers of art music such as Ives, Schoenberg, Bartók, Stravinsky, Cowell, Carter, and Nancarrow, 5 and to a lesser extent, tonal art music. 6

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