[Smt-talk] Pop Music And Theory

CARSON FARLEY ccfarley at embarqmail.com
Wed Dec 10 19:44:49 PST 2014

Is it possible that the relevance of Pop music relies more on an intuitive and aural tradition and that the attempt to analyse it and dissect it from a classical theoretical perspective misses the point entirely? Another aspect of Pop music that is sorely missing in this discussion is the role of technology relative to innovations and development of popular music - one cannot separate the electrification of instruments, multitrack recording, the development of amplifiers, effects, studio technique, synthesizers, and now a robust basis in software and music technology. If one really wants to instruct in the art of popular music I suggest that the tools which are essential - electronic instruments, music software and computers ubiquitous in all popular music be addressed and not just as some side issue with the lame excuse that technology is just a crutch for those who lack musical skill. Perhaps the innovations and talents of great Pop artists is that they approached music from an intuitive non analytical musicality and that the same youthful genius that appears in young mathematicians and child prodigies also manifests in the likes of Michael Jacksons, McCartney/Lennons, Paul Simons, Yes[es], Frank Zappas, Jethro Tulls, etc. The essence of Pop music is that it is free of all rules and not concerned with structure in the same way that classical music/art is. Pop music is wholly in the realm of the imagination (and technology) for good or worse and talking about notes and rhythm as a key to understanding it sorely misses the point and spirit of it's origins. Perhaps the richness of Popular music stems from the fact that the musicians who create it come from a wide variety of backgrounds and musical training (or lack of it) and those influences and threads combine with imagination and natural talent to create music which is immediate and accessible to listeners who prefer the easy accessibility of Popular music. We can understand the periodic phrase structure of Strawberry Fields Forever from a theoretical perspective, but the musicians who are creating Popular music probably aren't thinking about phrase structure at all - maybe we should let them teach us about music by understanding the way they create it. This is possible and valuable as most Pop artists have numerous video interviews about their music and careers. However, there is always something to be gained from understanding the structures of music regardless of genre, but I seriously doubt that academic training in Popular music technique will have much influence on the natural tendencies that are at the heart and soul of its creation - raw non academic talent. 

Carson Farley 
University of Washington Alumnus 
Composer, theorist, cellist
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