Analysing the Product of Recorded Musical Activity

Authored by: Simon Zagorski-Thomas

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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This chapter is part of a developmental process that I am undertaking within a larger ­community of scholars under the banner of “21st Century Music Practice.” 1 My aim within the community is to develop a theoretical model for musical analysis that is useful for the teaching of musical practice—particularly the practices that we lump together under the term “popular music.” 2 The teaching of popular music practice has been constricted by the hegemony of musical notation. This is not to say that students should not learn notation or that it is not useful in the popular music context, but that musical thought is shaped by the representational system that it uses and there is a dissonance between many of the practices of popular music and the ways in which notation encourages us to think about music. In particular, some of the assumptions that are inherent in our educational approaches, our cultural representations of music and our intellectual property laws are built upon the ideology of notation. That composition is more important than performance, that music is made of fixed discrete pitches, that an instrument produces a single timbre, that rhythm is perceived in relation to a fixed metrical grid and that musical structure should be determined in advance of performance. 3 In some ways, this project might also be characterised as building an analytical system aimed at performance rather than composition but, as the title suggests, in this chapter I am limiting myself to the analysis of recorded music. Of course, I incorporate aspects of both performance and composition, but it also should be remembered that the project makes a schematic (i.e. limited or reduced) representation of the “original activities:” the visual element has been removed; the sound coming through speakers or headphones has a very different spatial character than a “lived” experience; and the recording involves some form of editorial process. 4 The aim is, therefore, to develop an analytical process based on music theory that embraces some important features of popular music.

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