The Elements of Music: How can we use them to discuss ‘interest’ in a piece of music?

This post concerns the elements of music, and the ways in which they are prioritised to indoctrinate interest in a piece of music. How can we use the elements that for most are so familiar, to begin to analyse popular music? This is an introductory session which covers some of the basics. What are the basic elements (which many were introduced to in primary school), and how can we use these to consider popular music analysis? Unlike the ways it is sometimes taught in schools (as a recommendation of the National Curriculum in the min 1980s), this session considers more formal analysis: what is actually going on in the music?

A more subjective perspective is how important the elements are to the song?? This of course depends on how one regards an element. For example – a song with a one chord progression could be deemed as resulting in the ‘harmony’ not being considered an important part of the song. However, an alternative perspective could be that the single chord is an essential factor in the formation of the style of the song. The session provides a couple of indicative examples, via the songs ‘Car Wash’ and ‘Victory Dance’ (by My Morning Jacket), where this sort of discussion takes place. How important are elements such as dynamics, harmony, texture, tempo, form and rhythm (groove), and how can this perspective differ from person to person?

Students are encouraged to give each element a score form 1 to 10, with 1 being ‘important’ and 10 being ‘not important’. The students provide some interesting perspectives, as they are encouraged to rationalise their answers – sometimes not agreeing with each other (or me), highlighting the importance of subjectivity to music analysis. The ways in which some elements are compromised in order to highlight others is also discussed in the 2nd song. Using this approach – the importance of the reliance of the elements of music to each other is considered.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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