Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Mark Spicer

Subject Categories



Counterpoint, Form, Harmonic Syntax, Music theory, Rock music, Schenkerian analysis


This dissertation situates itself in the middle of an ongoing debate about the applicability of Schenkerian analytical techniques to the analysis of pop and rock music. In particular, it investigates ways in which the standard conceptions of voice leading, harmonic function, and counterpoint may be updated to better apply to this new repertoire. A central claim is that voice-leading structure is intimately related to formal structure such that the two domains are mutually informing.

Part I of the dissertation focuses on harmonic and melodic theory. Chapter 2, "Harmonic Syntax," advocates for a conception of harmonic function based on syntax and form rather than the identity of specific chords. In this conception, chords other than V, such as IV, II, flat-VII, or even some versions of I, can often be said to function syntactically as the dominant. Chapter 3, "The Melodic-Harmonic Divorce," explores contrapuntal paradigms in which the domains of melody and harmony seem to be operating independently. This chapter outlines three types of melodic-harmonic divorce: "hierarchy divorce," "rotation divorce," and "syntax divorce." Part II of the dissertation aims to devise voice-leading models for full song forms. Chapter 4 focuses on AABA form, Chapter 5 on verse-prechorus-chorus, and Chapter 6 on verse-chorus forms. These chapters demonstrate that these common forms are associated with general voice-leading structures that act in dialog with the specific voice-leading structures of songs that exhibit these forms. This part of the dissertation is largely analytical, and has the secondary goal of demonstrating a Schenkerian analytical methodology applied to rock music.

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