Dissertation Index

Author: McCandless, Gregory R.

Title: Rhythm and Meter in the Music of Dream Theater

Institution: Florida State University

Begun: August 2008

Completed: January 2010


This dissertation examines the compositions of the American progressive metal band Dream Theater from a music-theoretical perspective. Specifically, this project identifies the primary stylistic elements the band employs in its compositions, focusing on the complex rhythmic and metrical patterns that characterize its music in particular and the subgenre of progressive metal in general. In doing so, it isolates the musical elements that have helped differentiate Dream Theater from other progressive rock and heavy metal bands, and have provided me with complex—and often surprising—experiences of temporality. Additionally, this dissertation analyzes the ways in which rhythmic and metrical phenomena contribute to formal delineation in the band’s music.

The research in this dissertation proceeds from a brief history of Dream Theater into a two-part analytical discussion. First, I identify the band’s most salient musical traits, making connections between each trait and progressive metal’s parent styles of progressive rock and heavy metal. I argue within this part of the discussion for the band’s sound to be metaphorically conceptualized as possessing a structural core of progressive rock and a stylistic periphery of heavy metal. Second, I proceed to an in-depth examination of the most commonly-encountered rhythmic and metrical complexities in the band’s music. In order to describe how these phenomena typically function within an overall work, I examine two compositions in their entirety, including “Sacrificed Sons,” which is one of the most metrically-complex songs in the progressive metal style.

This project’s secondary aim is to more aptly describe the nature of meter in contemporary music. As such, my analytical techniques—many of which are adapted from the contributions of Justin London, John Roeder, Gretchen Horlacher, and Christopher Hasty—are often non-standard, as I endeavor to reconsider—and in some cases, redefine—some terminology that I consider to be problematic. This dissertation also introduces new terms and concepts, in order to explain rhythmic and metrical phenomena that either haven’t been addressed at all in the scholarly literature or have been discussed only in passing.

Keywords: Dream Theater, Meter, Progressive Rock, Heavy Metal, Popular Music Analysis, Liquidation


Chapter 1: An Introduction to Dream Theater
Chapter 2: Review of Literature and Analytical Methods
Chapter 3: Dream Theater's Sound Part I: General Stylistic Traits
Chapter 4: Dream Theater's Sound Part II: Rhythmic and Metrical Complexity
Chapter 5: Complete Musical Examples
Chapter 6: Postlude and Conclusions

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