Dissertation Index

Author: Nobile, Drew F.

Title: A Structural Approach to the Analysis of Rock Music

Institution: CUNY Graduate Center

Begun: February 2012

Completed: December 2013


This dissertation situates itself in the middle of an ongoing debate about the applicability of Schenkerian analytical techniques to the analysis of pop and rock music. In particular, it investigates ways in which the standard conceptions of voice leading, harmonic function, and counterpoint may be updated to better apply to this new repertoire. A central claim is that voice-leading structure is intimately related to formal structure such that the two domains are mutually informing.

Part I of the dissertation focuses on harmonic and melodic theory. Chapter 2, “Harmonic Syntax,” advocates for a conception of harmonic function based on syntax and form rather than the identity of specific chords. In this conception, chords other than V, such as IV, II, flat-VII, or even some versions of I, can often be said to function syntactically as the dominant. Chapter 3, “The Melodic-Harmonic Divorce,” explores contrapuntal paradigms in which the domains of melody and harmony seem to be operating independently. This chapter outlines three types of melodic-harmonic divorce: “hierarchy divorce,” “rotation divorce,” and “syntax divorce.” Part II of the dissertation aims to devise voice-leading models for full song forms. Chapter 4 focuses on AABA form, Chapter 5 on verse—prechorus—chorus, and Chapter 6 on verse—chorus forms. These chapters demonstrate that these common forms are associated with general voice-leading structures that act in dialog with the specific voice-leading structures of songs that exhibit these forms. This part of the dissertation is largely analytical, and has the secondary goal of demonstrating a Schenkerian analytical methodology applied to rock music.

Keywords: Rock music, popular music, Schenkerian analysis, form, voice leading, syntax, harmonic function, counterpoint


Chapter 1: Introduction
The Structure of the Dissertation
On Pop, Pop/Rock, Pop-Rock, Pop and Rock, and Rock Music
Transcriptions and Graphs
Form: Terminology

Part I: Harmonic and Melodic Theory

Chapter 2: Harmonic Syntax
Function as Chord Identity: the Riemannian Tradition
Towards a Syntactical Definition of Function
The Functional Circuit
Cadences and Closure

Chapter 3: The Melodic-Harmonic Divorce
Type 1: Hierarchy Divorce
Type 2: Rotation Divorce
Type 3: Syntax Divorce
Looseness and Tightness

Part II: Full Song Forms

Chapter 4: AABA and srdc
Model 1: d contains PD—D; c returns to T
Model 2: d contains PD; c contains D—T
Model 3: d begins with a neighboring chord
Small aaba

Chapter 5: Expansion of srdc into Verse—Prechorus—Chorus
The PD—T|PD—D Schema
Phrase Rhythm
Bridge Sections: “PrivateEyes”
Expanded Verses
aaba Structures of Verse—Prechorus—Chorus Songs
The Structural Importance of the Prechorus

Chapter 6: Verse—Chorus Forms
Sectional Verse—Chorus Form
Features of Sectional Verse—Chorus Forms
Analytical Interlude: Minimal Verses
Continuous Verse—Chorus Form
The Grand Neighbor Chord


Drew F. Nobile
University of Chicago Department of Music
1010 E 59th St.
Chicago, IL 60637

Office phone: (773) 702-8009

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