Course description

Seminar  4206-901 (Mondays 12-2 PM Room 3228)

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: 25% (2% per week)

Midterm Assignment: 30%

Analytical Presentation: 35%

Final Analytical Paper: 10%

Prerequisites:  Minimum of two years of music theory

Syllabus (subject to change)


Week 1 (Jan 9): Introduction to Song Forms; What is form in music?

Week 2 (Jan 16): How does traditional music theory help in describing current music?

What is harmonic analysis? Details of Text Setting

Week 3 (Jan 23): Genres: What are they, and why do they matter for musicians now?

Week 4 (Jan 30):  Where does transcription and conventional notation fit in?  The Song versus a particular performance of the song (What is the fundamental text?)

Week 5 (Feb 6 ): 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

Feb. 13 is Family Day in BC (VCC is closed)

Week 6 (Feb 20): Midterm Assignment due; Words, music meaning


Week 7 (Feb 27):  Spectral analysis.

Analyzing rock music – 500 greatest songs; new directions in jazz

Week 8 (March 6): Sound Synthesis.  Electronic music – Aphex Twin to John Hopkins; the singer songwriter phenomenon – Dylan to Regina Spektor

Week 9 (March 13): More Synthesis

Week 10 (March 20): Presentations

Week 11 (March 27) Presentations

Week 12 (April 3) Presentations

FINAL E-Document DUE ON April 10 AT 09:30