Dissertation Index

Author: Geary, David

Title: Analyzing Drums and Other Beats in Twenty-First Century Popular Music

Institution: Indiana University

Begun: August 2015

Completed: December 2019


This dissertation has two overarching goals related to rhythm and meter in popular music. The first is to present new techniques for analyzing drum parts that highlight their artistry, syntactical elements, and balance of regularity and variability. The second goal is to examine eight unique definitions of the word “beat” and their application in popular music analysis. Treating these multiple conceptions interdependently provides a more holistic perspective regarding the repertoire’s temporal organization.

After outlining the dissertation’s two goals in the Introduction, Chapter 1 surveys existing rhythm and meter scholarship as a way to establish the current goals, methods, and terms for temporal analysis. It concludes with a summary of the eight unique definitions of beat. Chapter 2 presents a new method for analyzing primary pulse in popular music based upon three usages of beat. The drum-pattern rate, absolute-time rate, and entrainment rate all assert a primary pulse rate according to a different parameter. My three-part annotative system shows how each conception individually and the relationship between all three conceptions can change from song to song as well as from moment to moment within individual tracks. Chapter 3 traces the historical development of American popular music drumming through five approaches from the early twentieth century through the present: pre-jazz, jazz, funk, rock, and mainstream pop. Comparing these approaches indicates that drum parts often fulfill two musical functions—though through different means and to different degrees. In addition to performing a rhythmic foundation that serves as a temporal cue for performers and listeners, drum parts also include “melodic” elements that contribute to a particular style or individual song’s character. Chapter 4 introduces a new method for analyzing drum patterns and drum pattern changes in twenty-first century mainstream pop hits. The four-part annotative system depicts a drum pattern’s three main musical characteristics—number of layers, rhythm, and instrumentation—and drum-pattern rate, which helps analysts identify how a song’s many drum patterns match the rhetorical function of certain formal areas and how drum pattern changes create a sense of trajectory. The document ends with a brief Conclusion.

Keywords: popular music, rhythm and meter, beat, pulse, drums


Chapter 1: Eight Definitions of "Beat" in Rhythm and Meter Scholarship
Chapter 2: A Three-Part Approach for Analyzing Primary Pulse in Popular Music
Chapter 3: Five Approaches to Popular Music Drumming
Chapter 4: Analyzing Drums in Twenty-First Century Popular Music


David Geary

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