There is large body of work describing the theory of Western classical music; I'm unaware of the state of analysis of popular music forms.

Are the differences between, say post-50's American pop-music (i.e. rock and similar), and classical western music significant enough to claim that pop music can/should be described in terms of a different theory than classical music?

Who in the musicology world have made claims on whether a different or the same theoretical descriptions apply to both popular and classical music?

1 Answer 1


All I can say is that the more recent the music is, the less scholarly work has been done to study it. This goes along with the timeless principle that "theory follows practice."

But music theory is music theory, and yes, you can study any piece of Western pop music and analyze it according to the established principles of Western functional harmony and form and analysis.

Just look at all the guitar and keyboard magazines published in the last 40 years that provide transcriptions and analysis of this or that famous guitar or keyboard solo, in jazz and rock. They all use the same Western musical notation and music theory and form and analysis that is applied to classical music. That is enough to prove the point that the theory still applies and is useful in studying and playing this music.

There are academic journals that publish scholarly papers on music written in the last sixty years.

A lot of musicological work has also been done in the area of testimony for copyright infringement lawsuits, although that work doesn't get widely published.

There are some books out there on analyzing music of the last 60 years. One that springs to mind is The Beatles as Musicians series by Walter Everett.

  • 1
    I totally agree with Wheat Williams, just wanted to add that both 'new' music, jazz and pop are well known for throwing a curve ball at traditional ways of doing music--hence expanding and challenging theoretical boundaries and limits.
    – filzilla
    Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 18:37
  • I've often noted to myself that traditional music theory isn't at all adequate to describe electronic music because there isn't any formal vocabulary to deal with the timbres of soundscapes, sound design, synthesis, non-tonal forms of musical expression like "glitch" and so on and so forth. It may be that these elements in music will always defy theory and analysis to some degree or other.
    – user1044
    Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 21:32
  • 1
    Since electronic music is relatively new, at least under 100 years old, it's going to take some time to develop a theory on how it is/was practiced. Also, since this form is so technology driven, the vocabulary is a moving target. Terms like VCA, VCO, and Ring Modulator now longer have the same relevance they had in the 1970's when I was a graduate student learning analog manual patching on a Moog and Buchla. However the same acoustics apply, so perhaps like then most electronic composers embrace the more physical aspects of the sound.
    – filzilla
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 23:06

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