Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Johanna Devaney

Committee Members

Mark Spicer

William Rothstein

Kofi Agawu

Subject Categories

Music Theory


vocal performance, recorded music, sound qualities, computer-assisted analysis, ethics of analysis, popular music


This dissertation analyzes sound qualities in popular music vocals and examines the relationship between sound qualities and other musical structures, including beat, meter, and form. I use the term sound qualities to refer to those aspects of a sound that help us distinguish one sound from another. In this dissertation, I focus specifically on loudness, noisiness, brightness, and vowel quality. Listeners often attend to the vocals while singing along to their favorite popular song. Additionally, the voice is extremely malleable, which means that sound qualities regularly fluctuate in the vocals. This makes popular music vocals a good case study for considering the connections between changes in sound qualities and other musical structures. Through case studies of Tanya Tagaq’s music and recent mainstream country music from the last ten years, I illustrate ways in which sound qualities influence our experience of beat, meter, and form in these two repertoires.

The analyses in this dissertation progress from small-scale to gradually larger-scale structures. Each chapter features slightly different approaches to analysis based on the differences between the music studied and the musical structures considered; however, the general analytical approach developed throughout the dissertation emphasizes acoustic measurements and data visualization techniques. The acoustic measurements used to analyze sound qualities include RMS energy (related to loudness), periodicity (related to noisiness), spectral centroid (related to brightness), and formants (related to vowel quality). The acoustic measurements and data visualization techniques allow me to visualize and interpret changes in continuous data relating to loudness, noisiness, and brightness over time through a section of a song and over an entire piece. The analytical approaches I develop are informed by ethical approaches to analysis. I continuously critique my analytical approach and analytical assumptions in relation to the question of what an ethical analysis might look like, and I consider ways in which my approach to analysis can be more culturally appropriate and inclusive when analyzing not only Tagaq’s music but also country music.

Included in

Music Theory Commons