Dissertation Index

Author: Osborn, Brad T.

Title: Beyond Verse and Chorus: Experimental Formal Structures in Post-Millennial Rock Music

Institution: University of Washington

Begun: February 2009

Completed: June 2010


Rock songs are generally considered formally simplistic, based around alternation of verse and chorus, the latter functioning as the song’s selling point—an easily identifiable advertisement for the song-as-commodity. However, many rock songs composed in the last ten to fifteen years are not structured in this way. Pieces composed by artists in the genres known as “post-rock,” “art rock,” “math-metal,” and “neo-prog” often feature forms that, instead of treating a repeated chorus as the dramatic high point, emphasize a single moment of climactic material at the end; and some present new material from beginning to end, resulting in an entirely through-composed formal structure.

This dissertation explores the link between these post-millennial experimental rock genres and the experimental song forms used by artists in those genres. Chapter One includes a literature review, identifies a mode of thought I call the “Verse/Chorus Paradigm,” and then presents a concise rock historiography that casts certain artists and genres on either side of that paradigm, either as conventional or experimental. In Chapter Two, I suggest revisionist theories of conventional rock form, present new models of climaxes and endings, and define experimental formal structures that will be used throughout the analyses in later chapters.

“Terminally-Climactic Form”—a formal type I have identified throughout post-millennial rock music—is the topic of Chapter Three. In this form, a single moment of new material at the end acts as the song’s focal point, rather than the chorus, the de facto focal point in conventional rock. I construct archetypes and provide analyzed examples for three classifications of Terminally-Climactic Form: two-part, three-part, and extended. In Chapter Four, I explore the more radical departure from conventional rock forms made possible by through-composition. Toward this aim, I construct a genetic taxonomy of four through-composed types based on an analogy to formal alleles; just as in Chapter Three, each of these types is supported with analyzed examples from the post-millennial experimental rock corpus. My dissertation concludes by considering some formally ambiguous pieces, and suggests how my formal theories might be adapted to analysis of more familiar, conventional rock music.

Keywords: Form, Rock Music, Terminally-Climactic Forms, Experimental Rock, Through-Composed Forms, Post-Rock, Math-Rock, Art Rock, Progressive Rock



List of Figures
List of Musical Examples

Chapter One: The Verse/Chorus Paradigm Within an Experimental Dialectic
The Verse/Chorus Paradigm in Scholarly Works
The Verse/Chorus Paradigm in Textbooks
The Verse/Chorus Paradigm in Non-Academic Sources
Notable Exceptions to the Verse/Chorus Paradigm
The Experimental Dialectic
Four Experimental Genres

Chapter Two: An Experimental Rock Form Theory
Autonomous and Non-Autonomous Conventional Structures
Unconventional Sections in Experimental Rock
Sectional Climax in Rock Music
A Genetic Model for Ending Function in Rock

Chapter Three: Terminally-Climactic Forms
Pre-1990 Antecedents for Terminally-Climactic Forms
Two-Part Terminally-Climactic Forms
Three-Part Terminally-Climactic Forms
Extended Terminally-Climactic Forms
Detailed Analyses

Chapter Four: Through-Composed Forms
One-Part Monothematic Forms
Multi-Part Monothematic Forms
One-Part Polythematic Forms
Multi-Part Polythematic Forms
Terminal Climaxes Within Through-Composed Forms



Appendix A: Selected Post-Millennial Experimental Rock Artists
Appendix B: Rules and Preferences for Formal Labels
Appendix C: Selected Post-1990 Terminally-Climactic Songs
Appendix D: Artist Interviews



Brad Osborn

Address (Permanent)
Brad Osborn
6254 Tracyton Blvd NW
Bremerton, WA 98311

Address (2010–11 Academic Year)
Brad Osborn
Rhodes College
Department of Music
2000 North Parkway
Memphis, TN 38112

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