Verse chorus verse: an analysis of repetition in popular music

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Publication Type dissertation
School or College Music
Department School of Music
Title Verse chorus verse: an analysis of repetition in popular music
Date 2017
Description Popular music is often criticized by academics for being too repetitive. However, repetition is the mechanism by which music makes sense of itself. It is a conduit for meaning â€" separating music from noise, poetry from ambient chatter. By showing that in most verse-chorus songs, the amount of verbatim repetition and new material are approximately equal, this study questions these criticisms and illustrates how essential variant repetitions are the continuity of popular songs. The biggest challenge for this study was representing a spectrum of all the ways new and previously stated musical ideas can mix and interact while maintaining a method of categorization simple enough to provide an effective analytical tool. The study breaks down repetition into four categories: new material, literal repetition, modified repetition, and variation. These categories are based on whether or not a section is a change from its original version, and if those changes serve a structural function. Since few authoritative scores are available for popular music, aural analysis of the album version was the best option for the creation of a chart containing the duration, in seconds, of each phrase-level section (what Richard Middleton calls discursive repetitions), and assigning each section to one of the four categories. The proportion of the total seconds in each category to the length of the song provides a “repetition profile” which can be compared to other songs. A dataset of 52 songs systematically selected from Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs list created the basis for the sample. The study also looks at four of the songs in detail: The Beatles’ Let it Be, Missy Elliot’s Get Ur Freak On, The Strokes’ Last Night, and Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla. These illustrate how the analysis works not only on different styles of music, but also different permutations of the verse-chorus paradigm. The minority of songs that did not display equality between new material and literal repetition were often compound verse-chorus forms (such as Radiohead’s Paranoid Android), or represent the beginnings of their genre (Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti, Grandmaster Flash’s The Message). These outliers were just as revealing as the songs that fit the model. Macroanalysis of the sample revealed more than the equality between new material and literal repetition. Because the 52 songs are spread out equally over the last 50 years, the study also noticed fluctuations in the use of repetition over time, the most apparent being the “cultural revolution” in the late 1960s. These fluctuations reflect those found in another study (Mauch et al., 2015), which uses a completely different metric. Slight differences in repetition between three broad genres (rock, R&B, and rap) were also evident.
Type Text
Publisher University of Utah
Subject Analysis; Music; Music psychology; Music repetition; Popular music; Repetition
Language eng
Rights Management ©Nathan A. Wilks
Format Medium application/pdf
Permissions Reference URL
ARK ark:/87278/s6vh9t2p
Setname ir_som
Date Created 2018-06-26
Date Modified 2021-05-06
ID 1345146
Reference URL
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