Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Phrase Structure, Hypermeter, and Closure in Popular Music
by Robins, Jeremy M., Ph.D., The Florida State University, 2017, 202; 10262010
Abstract (Summary)

Phrases in common-practice music are traditionally defined by harmonic processes, particularly goal-directed progressions to tonic. In popular music, however, harmonic motion toward a tonic is not always present, making traditional approaches to phrase segmentation problematic. The goal of this dissertation is to provide a systematic methodology for addressing phrase segmentation and closure in popular music, particularly in the absence of goal-directed harmonic motion. Additionally, I aim for simplicity of application and consistency of results.

Because contemporary popular music is heavily focused on vocal melodies and lyrics, it is important to use a methodology that privileges melodic activity in classifying formal structures. My methodology for phrase segmentation is based on patterns of melodic repetition, particularly in reference to recurring quadruple hypermeter. With a consistent method for segmenting phrases, cadences can be identified and classified, allowing for comparison of closure in popular songs.

This research aims to engage the musical syntax of popular music on its own terms while drawing on the rich resource of common-practice analytical methodologies. There are many theoretical concepts and terms that carry into popular practice such as periods, sentences, and cadences; however, the transfer is not always exact, resulting in some concepts that are loosened or expanded, such as allowing subdominant (IV) and subtonic (bVII) harmonies to support half cadences. New categories of phrase structure and cadences are also necessary to accurately describe popular music, specifically rotated phrases, rotated subphrases, and submediant cadences, none of which have established analogues in common-practice scholarship. In rotated phrases and subphrases, lyrical content is displaced from melodic repetition, creating formal ambiguity. Submediant cadences occur as part of the submediant double-tonic complex (DTC), where tonal fluidity is created between relative major and minor keys. Songs featuring the submediant DTC fluctuate between the major and minor rotations of a single diatonic collection, allowing cadences that articulate the major and minor modes simultaneously.

This dissertation represents the first step of a longer process of studying, classifying, and presenting the musical syntax of popular music. The methodology has the potential to address the wide spectrum of popular music, and I trust that it will be a useful tool for scholars working in the field of popular music scholarship.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Clendinning, Jane P.
Commitee: Buchler, Michael, Holzman, Bruce, Richards, Mark
School: The Florida State University
Department: Music
School Location: United States -- Florida
Source: DAI-A 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Music
Keywords: Cadence, Form, Hypermeter, Music, Phrase, Popular
Publication Number: 10262010
ISBN: 978-1-369-87002-2
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