Who needs popular music theory?

January 23, 2006

I keep asking myself: is it true? It seems there isn’t any music “theory” about popular music. My colleague David Lefkowitz wanted to write about Cole Porter in his upcoming theory text book, but the cost of reprinting the entire score was prohibitive.

Music majors are made to study analytic methods of approved composers like Beethoven and Haydn and the rest, but why don’t they discuss the song structure of Cole Porter?

No theoretical writing on the melodies of Charlie Parker?

The aesthetic of Led Zepplin?

Or the harmonies of Joni Mitchell or Thelonius Monk?

The counterpoint of Pat Metheny?

The orchestration of Frank Zappa or Ornette Coleman?

The countermelodies of Richard Rodgers?

Hell, music theory classes barely know what to say about the classical music post-1900. All those “rules” we learned fall apart once composers started dumping the “rules.”

So with the background, why would I want to write a book that would include so many analytic essays about Rufus Wainwright’s music? Is there any interest in this, or might I be writing for a non-existent market?

If anyone knows of any such articles or books, please let me know. I know that musicology writes about pop music, but why not music theorists? Too easy?

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