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What to Listen For in Rock

What to Listen For in Rock: A Stylistic Analysis

Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    What to Listen For in Rock
    Book Description:

    In this concise and engaging analysis of rock music, music theorist Ken Stephenson explores the features that make this internationally popular music distinct from earlier music styles. The author offers a guided tour of rock music from the 1950s to the present, emphasizing the theoretical underpinnings of the style and, for the first time, systematically focusing not on rock music's history or sociology, but on the structural aspects of the music itself.What structures normally happen in rock music? What theoretical systems or models might best explain them? The book addresses these questions and more in chapters devoted to phrase rhythm, scales, key determination, cadences, harmonic palette and succession, and form. Each chapter provides richly detailed analyses of individual rock pieces from groups including Chicago; the Beatles; Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; Kansas; and others. Stephenson shows how rock music is stylistically unique, and he demonstrates how the features that make it distinct have tended to remain constant throughout the past half-century and within most substyles. For music students at the college level and for practicing rock musicians who desire a deeper understanding of their music, this book is an essential resource.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12823-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. introduction
    (pp. ix-xviii)

    In the 1980s and 1990s, after two and a half decades of resistance, American colleges and universities at last moved toward accepting rock as a legitimate subject of study. As late as 1976, Robert Pielke, author ofYou Say You Want a Revolution,requested permission from George Mason University to teach a multidisciplinary course in rock and was turned down. In just a few years, however, Pielke began seeing attitudes and policies change. Of rock’s eventual recognition, he explains: “The significance of rock music as a cultural phenomenon has long been recognized even by its most ardent detractors. Thus the...

  4. 1 phrase rhythm
    (pp. 1-28)

    Because musical pitches function in time, it is difficult to discuss the function of tones or harmonies without an understanding of the temporal framework of a style. So we begin this study of rock by establishing some stylistic norms of its phrase rhythm. This chapter answers the following questions: (1) Typically, how long is the shortest formal unit larger than a measure (i.e., how many measures usually group together) and (2) how do vocal phrases lie within these formal units?

    Rock borrows standard structures from earlier song styles, although it often alters and combines them in new ways. The purpose...

  5. 2 key and mode
    (pp. 29-52)

    In 1978 I joined a dance band that I played with for about four years. I had never rehearsed with the members or even heard them before playing my first job with them. They had no written music, so all evening, every time the leader called out a new song, I turned to the bass player for a little information. He’d tell me, “This is a disco tune in C,” or “We do this one in Eȴ.” Then the drummer would count off, and we’d begin. But I was amazed (and not a little embarrassed) at how often I started...

  6. 3 cadences
    (pp. 53-72)

    The wordcadencecomes from the Latincadere,meaning primarily “to fall.” Since the fall of a thing often indicates its end,caderewas used sometimes figuratively to mean “to end” or “to close.” We speak, for instance, of the fall of Rome.

    The English wordcadencedraws upon both senses when it refers to the fall of the voice at the end of a sentence.¹ Because the first clearly documented musical phrases of Western history—the chants of medieval monasteries—were conceived as stylized speech patterns, both these definitions come into play again: a fall in pitch generally marks...

  7. 4 chord type and harmonic palette
    (pp. 73-99)

    Tone systems used in melodies and tone systems used in harmonies are not necessarily the same. Although we have seen that chromaticism occurs in melodies only as an embellishment of a basic diatonic system, all of rock’s harmonic systems have at least some potential for chromaticism—and some have a great deal.

    In traditional tonal music, chord quality generally depends on tone system: some chords are major and some minor because of the way they lie in the scale. In rock the situation is generally reversed: although some pieces seem to use chord qualities chosen to fit a certain scale,...

  8. 5 harmonic succession
    (pp. 100-120)

    The patterns of harmonic succession in rock are grossly misunderstood. “It’s just the same three chords” is uttered so frequently—as both praise and condemnation—that it has become a cliché.¹ This chapter will disprove that statement.

    Music theorists are rarely guilty of making this statement. But if printed literature (and personal experience) is at all representative, most music theorists do hold another unfounded assumption, namely, that rock follows the standards of the common practice with regard to harmonic progression. Many writers confess this belief. Benward and White, for instance, state that “most jazz and popular music is structured around...

  9. 6 form
    (pp. 121-143)

    The study of form deals primarily with the means of separation and contrast by which portions of a piece are made to sound distinct from one another, and with the order in which these portions are presented or repeated. In other words, theories of form seek to identify the features that prompt the perception of formal units (why does the first section seem to end here, and why does the following portion seem distinct enough to call it a second section?) and to recognize standard orders of those units (antecedent and consequent phrases in a period, for instance, or the...

  10. 7 analyzing a hit
    (pp. 144-182)

    In the first chapter ofExplaining Music,Leonard Meyer distinguishes between two approaches to musical analysis: “style analysis,” a process that “discloses and defines those probabilities—those rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, and textural relationships—which are characteristic of the music of a particular period, a form, or a genre”; and “critical analysis,” a process that “seeks to understand and explain what is idiosyncratic about a particular composition.”¹ The second is the most naturally beneficial; since we are almost all interested in music because of particular compositions, understanding Music without understanding individual pieces seems to miss the point. As Meyer points out,...

  11. exercises
    (pp. 183-194)
  12. select discography
    (pp. 195-196)
  13. musical references
    (pp. 197-218)
  14. notes
    (pp. 219-228)
  15. glossary
    (pp. 229-244)
  16. index
    (pp. 245-253)