Musical analysis is something we do when we want to understand music better, whether for appreciation or learning to perform or emulate a certain piece or composer. Western Music Theory has long disregarded music that doesn’t fit inside its predetermined box. I grew up in this environment and studied primarily pitch analysis, specifically chord analysis. My dissertation is all about chords! I play cello and piano, I love chords!
However, as a personal project to learn about more different types of music, and encourage myself to re-examine my approach to analysis, I’m starting an analysis project where pitch is not the focus. I’m hoping to look mostly, if not entirely, at music by composers other than dead white cishet dudes.*
My analytical approach will start with Form, which I feel is the most important part for studying a piece to learn to play it (or compose a similar piece). I’m planning to not depend on printed scores but first just listening, a major challenge for me which should help me get away from a pitch focus. The Form could be described by all sorts of musical variables: texture (number of instruments/tracks), volume, melody, rhythm, articulation, and more. Depending on the context, I might try using some of the ideas of Expression Parameters** to talk about what different types of musical expression feel most stable or unstable.
Once we have a form scaffold to hang other observations on, I’m hoping to analyze how various musical expressions provide emotional impact. Why does this music make me want to listen again? What makes it special? Something I noticed this summer as I tried my hand at writing in a punk style (demo album here) is that music is more impactful if it complex in a limited number of expressions. If music is complex in text or ideas that the text is trying to convey, it might mean the pitch, rhythm, or instrumental texture should be simpler to not get in the way.
I might still do a little bit of pitch analysis, especially if it seems relevant, but I might not need to talk about pitch to understand why a piece is moving. If I do need to talk about pitch, I’m working with an update to my Functional Analysis system that focuses on context to identify the principle chords/pitches instead of always assuming the next-most-important chord after tonic starts on the fifth scale degree. Or maybe I’ll have to look up completely-unfamiliar-to-me analytical frameworks and learn something new!
I’m mostly posting this to remind myself to work on this project a little bit every week. I don’t know how fast I’ll finish any given analysis, but I’ll certainly post as I finish each one.
* Thanks to Phillip Ewell for helping drive this conversation in the Music Theory field this summer.
**To read more about Expression Parameters: https://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.14.20.3/mto.14.20.3.ewell.php
Leave a Reply