VII. Popular Music

This section introduces students to the important harmonic, rhythmic, and formal schemas that pervade English-language pop music after 1950. Most of the examples are drawn from Top 40 pop, but many other genres such as hip hop and indie are also represented.


This section assumes a familiarity with the topics covered in Fundamentals.


This section begins with Rhythm and Meter, one of the musical domains that defines pop music as a genre most clearly. The following chapter on Drumbeats discusses in detail how rhythms are manifested in the drum kit, and introduces students to the drum kit and staff notation for drum parts.

The next few chapters discuss form in pop music, from a small scale (Melody and Phrasing) to a larger scale (Introduction to Form in Popular Music, AABA Form and Strophic Form, Verse-Chorus Form). These chapters are best taught sequentially.

The next several chapters take a schematic approach to understanding harmonies in popular music, beginning with an Introduction to Harmonic Schemas in Pop Music. Instructors can cover as many or as few of these schemas as they like.

The final chapter zooms out and provides a broader view of tonality in popular music through the phenomena of Fragile, Absent, and Emergent Tonics


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OPEN MUSIC THEORY Copyright © 2023 by Mark Gotham; Kyle Gullings; Chelsey Hamm; Bryn Hughes; Brian Jarvis; Megan Lavengood; and John Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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