Critical Listening and Students: Popular Music and Form

In preparation for a musicology lecture this week, I began to think about the importance of students having an awareness of the general conventions in popular music. Factors such as an awareness of the commonality of eight bar sections (verses and chorus) throughout the decades (or even centuries), leads to the ability to when these ‘rules’ are broken. I would also argue it improves one’s perception as a songwriter – as it is possible to manipulate the ‘horizon of expectations’ of your listeners. As stated in my last post, it seems obvious to me that nearly all of the current top 10 is made up of 4, 8 and 16 bar sections – and there appears to be a general lack of experimentation with uncommon time signatures. I would therefore be really interested in any examples of chart hits that incorporate time signatures other than 4/4 or 3/4. Where are the modern day versions of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ (7/4) or Jethro Tull’s ‘Living in the Past’?  If any examples are found – I would be interested on how the time signature assists the general flow of the song – or is it simply there to be ‘cleaver’? Here is a spotify list of some of the best examples out there

When finishing my lecture, I asked the students to split into groups and consider the following traits for the current UK charts – between positions 11 – 20.

  • How does Rhythm help delineate musical form?
  • How does harmony delineate musical form? – does is stay the same or change between sections – what are the impacts of this?
  • How does melody delineate musical form? So far I have only found one example (Thanks to Joe Bennett) of a song that has the same melody for the verse and chorus – ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ by Billy Ray Cyrus.

  • How does metre delineate musical form? Are there any modern day chart examples of songs like ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’?

  • In what way does texture delineate musical form? In the modern day pop song – this appears to be one of the most common devices – as factors like harmony, metre and melody tend to stay the same.

This is one of my favourite examples by the Beach Boys

I am also interested of examples of uncommon time signatures and polyrhythm in ‘non chart music. Regarding the latter – what are the modern days examples of songs like Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’ or ‘Kashmir’

To finish – here is a spotify playlist of some music that plays around with all of these devices.

And finally – a podcast of the lecture – although there are a few technological interruptions in there!

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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