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Sheldon Kessel

A capstone submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements

for the degree of Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

Hamline University

Saint Paul, Minnesota

August, 2010

Justin Maxwell
Patricia Weaver-Francisco
“If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in

- Gustav Mahler

“Is there a meaning to music? My answer would be ‘yes.’ And can you state in so many words
what the meaning is? My answer would be ‘no.’”

- Aaron Copland
Table of Contents

Introduction 1

An Ontology of Music 6

A Pre-History of Musical Meaning 12

Sociology and Musicology Toward Taxonomy 28

The Supergenre System as a Framework for Interpretation 49

Standardized Taxonomy 51

Branch Distinction – Genre, Subgenre, and Style 59

Meaning Systems 65

Supergenre Value Systems – Cultural Significance of Textual Authenticity 70

Timbre as Genre-Culture as Value 78

Subgenre and Authenticity 81

Musical Subtleties of Style 85

Scenes and the Psychology of Locality 90

The Deeply Personal: Meanings for the Musicking Species 92

Meanings of the Mind, Body, and Spirit 100

Toward an Integrative Musicology 103

Bibliography 106

Appendix I: The Taxonomic Tree 110

Appendix II: The Project Process: Thoughts and Reflections 124

Appendix III: The MALS Conference and the Accompanying Compact Disc 134
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The universal question of musical scholarship, reaching from antiquity to the present,

has been a variation on a theme of, “what is the significance of this thing we call music?” Music

is, superficially, nothing more than sound – in essence no different from the natural sounds of

water rushing down a river, the crack of thunder, or the modern equivalents of speeding trains

and car horn blasts. Yet somehow, in ascribing the title of “music” to sound, we signify it as

something, in some way, more important than incidental environmental noises. In using the

descriptor “music” we ascribe meaning to sound – meaning beyond perceptual data used for

navigating our way through the world. The sound of a crack of thunder typically means

something about weather, but that same sound presented as, or within, something regarded as

a piece of music, signifies something entirely different. And that “entirely different” idea is the

theme of the contemporary academic discipline of Musicology.

Musicological inquiry concerns itself with all possible aspects of the ideas and activities

associated with sound-deemed-musical. As is typical of such a broad field of knowledge,

musicology is often divided into sub-disciplines: historical musicology, ethnomusicology,

popular music studies, music theory, psycho-acoustics, etc. Within the umbrella term of

“Musicology”, or Musicological Studies, there are a number of other disciplines such as Music

Therapy, Neurology, and Musical Linguistics that also seek, in various ways, to understand

sound and music from perspectives beyond that of the professional musician. Yet, in examining

recurrent themes throughout the sub-disciplines of musicology, it becomes apparent they are

all attempting, in some way, to answer that broad question concerning the significance humans

place on sound.
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Historically, in western musicological thought, the idea of “music” encompassed only

those activities congruent with the Western art music tradition. That is, the “classical” world of

notation written by composers, disseminated by conductors to performers who play for passive

listeners gathered in a place created to hold large numbers of people specifically for these

activities. However, over approximately the last hundred years, every facet of music has come

under intense scrutiny and change. There is no longer any one, simple, definition or

explanation for what can be defined as “music” or “musical creation”. If a tree falls in a forest it

does, indeed, make a sound – and I may, very well, choose to call it music, and you may, very

well, decide to argue that categorical distinction. So, to establish an idea of “music” we must,

logically, begin with the categorical term – we must build an ontology of music.

The Supergenre System project began as an attempt to create a personal definition – a

personal ontology – of music. As an undergraduate music student, I became simultaneously

frustrated with, and fascinated by, views of musical ontology and semiotics taken by my

professors and peers. It became apparent that the music treasured by friends and colleagues in

the rock and rave “scenes” which I participated in, was not considered “music” by many of my

music professors. Likewise, to many of my peers, the thought of studying music in an academic

setting was tantamount to torture. To them, the music of academia – “classical music” – was

long dead and had no relevance to their musical conceptions. During this time, I began

exploring musicology texts in an effort to understand when, how, and why “music” split into

what I saw as conflicting “music worlds.” The more I explored, the more pronounced these

separate “music worlds” became. Most notable, among many fascinating discoveries, was that

sometime in the mid-twentieth century, musicologists inadvertently contributed to the splitting

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of “music worlds” by actively denouncing or simply ignoring anything that wasn’t part of the

Western “classical music” tradition. Musicology, itself, split into sub-disciplines with sub-

disciplined scholars typically ignoring work done in other sub-disciplines. Most notably, within

Musicology, the most popular forms of music to general lay audiences – popular song and

western jazz – tended to be ignored. Popular music styles were studied more for their cultural

and literary contributions than for their music, and tended to be studied by sociologists,

psychologists, or literary scholars – not musicologists. Through my investigations in “music

worlds” a dominant theme emerged. Within each “music world” there is an accepted musical

language of timbres, tempos, rhythms, harmonies, and melodic contours. Music worlds have

accompanying cultures dictating accepted behaviors, modes of dress, methods of performance,

hierarchies of power and influence, accepted speaking patterns, educational levels, economics,

and nearly every other social group indicator. Within music worlds, as part of their culture,

music serves certain social roles which dictate the importance of the “music itself” to the

culture. To the degree in which the music is important to its corresponding culture, it offers

certain types of meanings to its participants. As a meaning creator, it becomes a mode of

communication for emphasizing cultural attributes of the music world it is part of. Through my

research it became apparent that music worlds correspond to large groupings of musical genre.

I began formulating ways to organize music into a taxonomy of music worlds and, therefore,

musical genre. The connections between music worlds, musical genre, and musical-sociology

seemed so apparent that I felt there had to be scholars with similar thoughts and interests.

Further, a systematic means of organizing musical creation in terms of both sound and

sociology seemed inevitable as an effort toward weakening musical intolerance and

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acknowledging social influences on musical creation. So, I set out to systematize a method for

interpreting possibilities of significant musical characteristics. Creating a system for

determining the most significant musical and extra-musical characteristics of a music allows for

analysis and interpretation appropriate for the music being analyzed, thus preventing mis-

readings of musics and their attendant genre cultures.

My system can be summarized as follows:

1. Significant musical characteristics may be, conceptually, the “music itself,”

based in traditional ideas of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.

2. They may also, however, be characteristics based on social, cultural, or

performance-based ritual.

3. Through analysis of entire “musical worlds” it becomes apparent that

groupings can be made based on works with similar musical and extra-

musical characteristics. Ideas of meaning and musical significance tend to be

similar within these groupings.

4. Groupings form a taxonomic tree with each successive division indicating a

more detailed significant difference.

5. Musical classification and taxonomic breakdown may be used to classify non-

Western musics from a Western perspective. However, when critically

examined from within certain non-Western cultures, attempts to separate

“music” as a distinct ontology often fail due to linguistic limitations. This

topic will be addressed later.

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Creating a taxonomic framework of semiotic understanding for music, and musical

participation, has developed into a personal mission. My taxonomy of musical genre has

developed into a way of not only organizing “the music itself” into logical groupings but,

through that organization, it provides a framework for determining the significant aspects of

each music world. Musical, along with extra-musical, aspects of “music worlds” provide various

types of significance for participants in those “music worlds”. The following study details the

research, thought process, and method I’ve developed for what I call the Supergenre System of

Musical Taxonomy for Hermaneutic Analysis. Through this framework of meaning construction,

I provide a systematic way to interpret “the significance of this thing we call music.”
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An Ontology of Music

The compulsory prerequisite for any inquiry is, of course, a definition of terminology.

So, in examining the musicological question of, “the significance of this thing we call music,” we

encounter the enigma of “music.” What is this thing we call music?

Music is an art phenomenon involving auditory communication. As communication, it

inherently has meaning for those sending and receiving the communication. Musicologist Philip

Tagg has said it has some sort of meaning expressed as “individually experience-able affective

states and processes” (Tagg 3). Then, to be perceived as a form of communication, it must be

interpreted as an “object of value” – defined in Martin and Ringham’s Dictionary of Semiotics as

something desirable in some way (97). However, a musical work does not exist in a thing, but is

understood as an intended object which originates in human action, according to aesthetic

philosopher Roger Scruton (Scruton 107). An action, as a metaphysical category dependant on

intention, determines whether an auditory creation is music or simply noise. If a musical

creator intends a work to be music rather than noise, then it becomes a work of music. In Frank

Zappa’s autobiography, he sums up contemporary musical creation by saying “Anything can be

music, but it doesn’t become music until someone wills it to be music and the audience

listening to it decides to perceive it as music” (Zappa 141). For sound to be understood as music

there must be a commonly held idea of the communicative possibilities of musical activity.

Those involved in the activity must share appropriate expectations of language, environment,

and standard musical and social practice in the shared culture of the participants. “In order to

communicate, we must first make the assumption that our acts and utterances mean the same
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to others as they do to us; to the extent that we share the same culture, and so have a

‘reciprocity’ of perspectives” (P. Martin 53).

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Western musical thought began a gradual shift

in perspective. Nineteenth century musicologist Jules Combarieu said, simply, that music is the

art of thinking in sounds (Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music 255). This

suggests that music can exist solely in the mind – a definition which may be seen as

empowering or, alternately, bourgeois. It may suggest that only those trained to create mental

models of music are authorized to do so, as suggested by feminist musicologist Lucy Green (P.

Martin 33), or could infer a democratic ideal that any and all sounds conceived mentally are

musical ones. This idea of “thinking in sound” complements John Cage’s idea of all sound being

music in some sense, and augments a significant amount of recent musicological work that

claims music as something beyond an artifact, object, or thing.

Since the mid-twentieth century, a number of musical philosophers have sought to

broaden conceptions of what it means to be a musician to include this “thinking in sound.”

Composer and philosopher Benjamin Boretz wrote a series of articles in the academic journal

Perspectives of New Music spanning the years 1969 to 1979 arguing that thinking about music

and engaging in discourse about music was, essentially, equivalent to composing or performing.

Since music is a highly abstract art form, he argued, language is as suited to disseminate musical

ideas as traditional melody, harmony, and rhythm exhibited in performance. “The very being of

music is created by cognitive attributions made by individual perceiving or conceiving

imaginers, in individual acts of perceiving or conceiving – that, in fact, the only real music
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‘theory’ IS the creative-intellectual transaction which ontologizes music itself” (Boretz, Meta-

Variations (I)).

Musicologist Christopher Small expands the notion of creating music through discourse

by including all activity, in any way, musically related through social ritual. He argues that the

act of participating in a musically related ritual is, essentially, the act of musical creation. In his

book Musicking, he offers a new term which encompasses all musical activity – “musicking.”

His theory is that to music is to take part in any sort of musical activity, in any way, “whether by

performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance

(what is called composing), or by dancing” (Small 9) and the term “covers all participation in a

musical performance, whether it takes place actively or passively” (ibid). All music, and all art,

is participation in ritual. Art objects, whether plastic or conceptual, exist as a result and

consequence of productive activity. These productive activities are, necessarily, activities of

creative ritual on the part of their participants.

Small’s theory and terminology could easily apply to all arts with a new term – Art-ing.

As his theory stands, “musicking” is any participation in any musical activity, implying social

connections created through the activity and associated rituals of discourse and socio-cultural

interaction. This all-encompassing term “musicking” has become a dominant force in my own

musical thought.

Like Christopher Small, Philip Tagg is a contemporary musical thinker who prefers to

integrate social and cultural factors into his ontology of musical creation. The bulk of his work

combines traditional Western musicology and music theory with sociology and popular music

studies. His is a decidedly Marxist approach to breaking down prejudices in academic discourse
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and promoting cross-pollination of ideas. His website,, offers a staggering body of his

work for free download including an early draft of work tentatively titled Music’s Meanings

which includes a somewhat scathing description of past and current musicological discourse.

Tagg’s approach is, like my own, formulated around a central idea of integrating the whole of

musical studies into a coherent unified theory of the importance of the thing called music.

In his article Towards a Definition of ‘Music,’ Tagg first discusses how a concept of

“music” as a distinct and discrete area of human activity, is a decidedly Western notion. This

echoes the integrative approach of Christopher Small who also takes much of his musicking

theory from non-western cultures. A significant percentage of the world’s population doesn’t

conceive of “music” as a discrete activity from those activities accompanying it. However, as

Westerners attempting to engage in discourse about this thing we call music, we must begin a

priori by formulating a concept of the thing itself. And so, Tagg establishes eight axioms for the

establishment of a definition of “music.” They are:

1. Music does not exist unless it is heard by someone, whether out loud or inside

someone’s head. Sounds which no-one hears, even a recording out of human

earshot, is only potentially, not really, music.

2. Although the original source of musical sound does not have to be human, music

is always the result of some kind of human mediation, intention, or organization

through production practices such as composition, arrangement, performance,

or presentation.

3. If points 1 and 2 are valid, then music is a matter of “interhuman”

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4. Like speech, music is mediated as sound but, unlike speech, music’s sounds do

not need to include words, even though one of the most common forms of

musical expression around the world entails the singing, chanting, or reciting, or


5. Although closely related to human gesture and movement – for example

dancing, marching, caressing, jumping – human gesture and movement can exist

without music even if music cannot be produced without some sort of human

gesture or movement.

6. If points 4 and 5 are valid, music is no more gesture or movement then it is

speech, even though it is intimately associated with all three.

7. If music involves the human organization and perception of non-verbal sound,

and if it is closely associated with gesture and movement, it is close to pre-verbal

modes of sensory perception and, consequently, to the mediation of somatic

(corporeal) and affective (emotional) aspects of human cognition.

8. Although music is a universal human phenomenon, and even though there may

be a few general bio-acoustic universals of musical expression, the same sounds

or combinations of sounds are not necessarily intended, heard, understood, or

used in the same way in different musical cultures.

This brings us to a working definition of music in that it is an activity originating in the

human mind of organized communications of sounds having some type of communicated

significance for participants in the interaction, whether intellectual, emotional, or physical, and

must take place in an environment of shared expectations for the communication to be

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conveyed effectively. Following Tagg’s reminder that “music” is a distinctly Western concept,

we can abbreviate the previous definition with the following: “music” is a construct of Western

culture in which perceptions of sonic phenomena are understood and offered as social and

aesthetic discourse.

Within musicking, the discursive possibilities are determined by the most significant

communication type within a body of musical work, following political scientist/semiotic

theorist Harold Lasswell. He states that the important considerations in any communication are

of “who says what, in which channel, to whom, with what effect?” (Cobley and Janz). The

sender and receiver of musicking communication must have a reciprocal understanding of

communicative authority, form of communication, and possibilities for meaning. Working

toward an understanding of this communicative process suggests placing musicking discourse

in a semiotic framework of addresser/addressee, signifier/signified, langue/parole, and


Tagg mentions emotional and physiological affectation from music communication, but

his emphasis is toward the communication rather than the meaning of that communication.

Yet, meaning is the central problem of the significance of the thing called music. Why and how

is music meaningful? Why and how is sound meaningful beyond being a perceptual tool for

navigation through the world? These questions have historically been central to musical

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A Pre-History of Musical Meaning

In asking “what is the significance of this thing we call music?” we are really asking why

music provokes powerful physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual responses in the human

psyche. The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that “significance” is something conveyed as a

meaning, often obscurely or indirectly; the quality of conveying or implying; or the quality of

being important. So, we are asking why music has meaning, regardless of the connotative or

denotative intention of the word “meaning.” Musical thinkers throughout history have

pondered this question and have arrived at, seemingly, the entire gamut of possible answers –

from music as mathematics, to music as emotion, as representation, as culture, ritual, or simply

commodity. The great task of musicology has been to interpret the implied, indirect, and

obscure meanings of music because, in some way, we humans deem “this thing called music”

as important. Yet we struggle with questions of why and how.

Since ancient times, music has bridged the human senses of the mystic and the scientific

– the rational and intuitive, yin and yang, body-soul and mind. In pre-industrial times, the art of

music was inseparable from both its implied science and its perceived spiritual aspects. There

was no question as to the meaning of music. Music embodied fundamental truths of the

universe, and the meaning of music was the rational ordering of all human knowledge. It was

simultaneously an artistic demonstration and an illustration of scientific and mathematic

principles. Art was proof of fundamental constructs embodying scientific and mathematic

principles. Through knowledge of these principles, spiritual and intellectual enlightenment was

believed to be possible. In the classical Roman Quadrivium of Knowledge as proposed by

Boethius, music was one of the interconnected basic disciplines of education along with
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arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Any of the four areas of curriculum were able to

describe and offer insight toward understanding any of the others. Music as geometry,

arithmetic, and astronomy illustrated the interrelatedness of all human knowledge, and this

interrelatedness was the fundamental teaching of the father of western musical thought --


Though we have no direct writings of Pythagoras, his legacy and teachings were shown

through the work of his students – the Pythagoreans. However, owing to his supposed belief

that certain knowledge should be known to only a select few, and his alleged proscription of

writing about his teachings, many of his ideas remain clouded in secrecy (James 24-26). We do

have the basic mathematical and, therefore, musical principles which he discovered, but not

their details, nor their intimate relationship with mystical thought. In Aristotle’s discussion of

the Pythagoreans in the Metaphysics (698) he recounted how they related mathematics and

music to all other forms of knowledge. We know that Pythagoras discovered the principles

which form the mathematical ratio-based Western tuning and harmonic systems – part of his

principle of Musica Instrumentalis. He then described planetary orbits as related to the same

harmonic ratios – forming the Pythagorean principle of Musica Mundana. Above all, however,

he considered himself a healer. Pythagoras believed that music was a fundamental component

of the human body, and believed afflictions could be healed through a process of finding an

ailment’s resonant frequency of sound vibration and harmonizing with it. This was his concept

of Musica Humana (James 31-32).

Less than one hundred years later, Plato expanded on the Pythagorean theories and

attempted to make them more concrete, logical, and rational – at least to the ancient classical
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mind. Musical ideas are found throughout Plato’s dialogues to illustrate concepts gleaned from

all three Pythagorean musics. Like Pythagoras, Plato considered music to hold a central

position in relation to logical thought. The importance Plato placed on musical ideas is

illustrated by the frequency in which music appears in his dialogues. Of the thirty-five

dialogues, there are musical ideas to be found in, at least, fifteen: the Crito, Charmides, Laches,

Protagoras, Cratylus, Symposium, Republic, Thaetetus, Sophist, Philebus, Critias, Laws,

Epinomis, and Greater Hippias. However, his most significant musical ideas were set forth in the


The Timaeus explains the origin and structure of the universe in a manner similar to the

Hebrew Bible’s Genesis. Where the Timaeus differs, however, is in its decidedly mathematical

descriptions – in its relating the structure of the universe and its planets to musical harmonic

ratios (Plato 1165, 1172). Plato also relates the musical structure of the universe to concepts of

Musica Humana as a way of correcting problems with the human soul. “Harmony, which has

motions akin to the revolutions of our souls, …[is] meant to correct any discord which may have

arisen in the courses of the soul, and to be our ally in bringing her into harmony and agreement

with herself” (Plato 1175). To offer an extremely concise summary of Plato’s Timaeus would be

to say that understanding music is fundamental to understanding the universe, and to

understand the universe is to understand the soul/self. So, to understand music is to

understand the universe and our place in it. This interrelatedness of music to all reality, as

proposed by Pythagoras then Plato and others, persisted in various forms for over two

thousand years. Music meant logic and understanding – if it provoked emotion, the emotion

was to be understood as logically influenced. Likewise, any social function or ritual that might
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surround the creation of music was understood as important for the betterment of the

participants – for their greater understanding of the logic of being.

Descartes, following the Pythagoreans, claimed music contained fundamental truths

about the natural world hidden in its mathematical structures (P. Martin 28). As an early

adherent of empirical rationalism, Descartes suggested an intellectual approach to music and

its meaning. We do know there are fundamental mathematical truths and relationships to be

found in the science of acoustics as well as in musical rhythm and form. Decartes’s rationalist

approach to musical meaning rejected attempts at ascribing affective traits to music. Music,

along with the other arts, expressed the beauty of the ordering of the universe. Then,

something went awry toward the end of the eighteenth century.

The Enlightenment and subsequent Romantic artistic movement signaled a major shift

in thought and culture. Where art, science, and spirituality were once united, they forever split

into separate, incompatible, areas of activity. In art, there was a fundamental shift in attitude

from logic and rationality to “rebellious emotionalism” (Atkins 185). The natural world was no

longer considered to be perfectly, logically, organized. The Enlightenment attitude was of

skepticism and a desire for empirical evidence. Philosophers could no longer claim that the

universe held fundamental truths – those truths needed to be proven through empirical

evidence. Logical proof shown through rhetoric became less valid than empirical judgments

shown through some sort of evidence. Emotional responses to stimuli became valid, welcome,

and celebrated as empirical evidence. Art attempted to display and celebrate both the

irrationality of human emotion and the newfound chaos of the natural world which, at the

time, was seen to be lacking empirical, logical, order. In Oscar Wilde’s The Decay of Lying, he
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says, “What art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her

extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition” (625). This “unfinished

condition” opened up ideas of art, its meaning, and its interpretation, to theories beyond

expression of a natural, logical order of the universe. A piece of art, whether visual, musical, or

physical, isn’t finished until it is perceived and interpreted as meaningful in some way. So, by

asking, “what is the significance of this thing we call music?” we are asking about musical

perceptions as they have existed in Western culture since the late eighteenth century when

music no longer meant, “the natural, logical, order of the universe,” but began to mean

something, nothing, anything, many things …and more.

Between ancient-classical and romantic artistic ideals, a bridge can be found in the work

of philosopher-writer-composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, born in 1712. He is most known for

ideas on education and politics, but his aesthetic philosophy was a major contributor to the

Romantic paradigm. He believed that nature, including human nature, was intrinsically good,

though unpredictable. His entire philosophy followed this fundamental belief. His politics, as

presented in The Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right, set forth principles of rule-by-

agreement. His idea of the social contract essentially states that the members of a society will

obey laws they agree with, and socialization ensures agreement with laws, so long as the laws

work to encourage further socialization. Musically, following his conception of democracy, he

attempted to revise the standard musical notation system to be easier for non-professional

musicians to read and understand. The goal of his revised notation was to allow laypeople to

gather together to share the social experience of performing music in groups, bonding them to
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form a more stable, natural democracy (Simon 435-436). For Rousseau, most everything was

political, social, and emotional.

Rousseau’s musical aesthetic offers some of the fundamental arguments about musical

meaning that persist to the present day. Contemporary musical thinkers continue to debate

Rousseau’s questions about music as representation, music as affect, music as a degenerate or

enlightening activity, and music’s possibilities as a communicative language.

For Rousseau, music was a representational, imitative language derived from natural,

pre-speech, passionate vocalizations. Melody imitated these vocalizations, and so, represented

their emotional content (Simon 437). So long as music was focused on melody, on imitation

and representation of the natural voice of the human, it was natural and good as stated in his

Essay on the Origin of Languages. To Rousseau, only vocal music, devoid of stacked harmony

and polyphony, could be moral since melody was natural and ancient, but multiple pitches

sounding together had been a contemporary invention. Music was direct communication of

emotion, and that emotion could only be expressed in pure melody (Scott 301-304). He had a

strong belief in the power of melody, stating that “Sounds in melody act on us not only as

sounds, but as signs of our affections, of our feelings. It is in this way that they excite in us the

movements that they express and of which we recognize the image in them” (Simon 438).

The time in which Rousseau lived is now considered the Classical era of western music.

That is, Classical with a capital “C” versus the whole of small “c” classical music – a strange

confusion of terminology for musical non-specialists, which I will return to later. This Classical

era, spanning approximately 70 years from 1730 to 1800, saw widespread standardization of

the western tuning system – a process first explored by Pythagoras two-thousand years earlier
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and shown to be useful and practical by J.S. Bach and others in the previous Baroque musical

period. This equal tempered tuning system made harmonic modulation, polyphony, and

counterpoint possible. These ideas were explored in the Baroque, but perfected and

standardized in the Classical period. Major formal developments also occurred, such as the

establishment of sonata form. Sonata form made many other large and small scale forms

possible such as symphonies, string quartets, and overtures. While philosophers such as

Rousseau were playing with ideas of musical meaning, composers like Mozart and Haydn were

taking advantage of the new standardizations and offering a massive body of work for the

musical philosophers to ponder.

Just seven years before the death of Rousseau, a composer was born who eventually

ushered in a new aesthetic and way-of-being together with a new musical era. Ludwig van

Beethoven, born in 1770, brought together the passionate ideals of the Enlightenment with the

compositional ideas of the Baroque and Classical musical eras while forging a new style of

individuality by breaking free of the rigid compositional structures of form and harmony

established in the previous two eras. This emotional passion combined with individuality and

assertion of personality became the traits associated with the Romantic era.

The Romantic era saw new musical interpretations beyond expression of universal truth,

belief in “elevation of the spirit”, or, especially in the Baroque and Classical periods, celebration

of those in power. Theorists such as Heinrich Schenker found significance in the analysis and

interpretation of musical notation, while philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer

continued exploring musical aesthetics. The new musical aesthetics often centered on ideas of

empowerment of the individual, with the roles of composer and soloist performer elevated to
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new levels of admiration. This admiration is, perhaps, nowhere more apparent than in the

work of Nietzsche and his corresponding veneration of Beethoven. In Nietzsche’s work we see

the veneration of the self as a god-like being. Humans and their art were no longer subject to

universal and natural laws of order. Art became a celebration of self-expression.

In contrast to the majority of aesthetic philosophers who typically discussed music only

in passing, while favoring the plastic arts; music was central to Nietzche’s aesthetics. Nietzsche

thought of himself, foremost, as a composer, and of Beethoven as a philosopher. In his Early

Writings, he says music is his “most authentic world”, and he considers Beethoven one of the

“pillars of German music” (Liebert 13), while in Sämtiche Werke, he compares Thus Spake

Zarathustra to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (5). He believed music to be the highest form of

communication and often spoke of the inadequacy of spoken language: “in comparison to

music all communication through words is shameless” (3). He aspired to greatness: to become

a great writer and philosopher, as well as a great composer in the spirit of the Superman, or

Übermensch, described in Thus Spake Zarathustra. Later, in Ecce Homo, written toward the

end of his career, he describes, with audacious poetic flair, how he attained his goal of

greatness. “He who knows how to breathe the air of my writings knows that it is an air of the

heights, a robust air” (Nietzche, Ecce Homo , Forward S3). Ecce Homo goes on to elaborate on

the author’s magnanimity including anecdotes surrounding the writing of his major

philosophical works and musical compositions. Unfortunately, though he has proven to be a

significantly influential philosopher, his musical works are often seen as failures. However, his

ideals of celebrating self-expression and overcoming personal adversity form a basis for 19th

century aesthetics in all the arts. His philosophy of struggling toward greatness, which he called
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the “Will to Power,” is supremely exhibited in the life of Beethoven, one of Nietzsche’s heroes.

Unfortunately, Beethoven died seventy-four years before Nietzsche was born.

Beethoven, like Nietzsche suffered ill health throughout his life but strove to continue

his work as his health deteriorated. He wrote some of his most significant works while nearly

completely deaf. Beethoven’s life embodied Nietzsche’s ideas of the “Will to Power”:

essentially, the ego’s drive to overcome adversity, strive toward perfection, and achieve some

form of greatness and immortality. This greatness and immortality is achieved through creation

of values and achievement of goals. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche says, “Valuing is

creating…without valuation the nut of existence would be hollow” (Nietzche, Thus Spake

Zarathustra 37).

For musical thinkers of the nineteenth century, music was an assertion and celebration

of the ego. Perhaps more than any other philosopher, Nietzsche embodied this celebration of

the self and brought about a fundamental shift in musical thought. Through assertion of the

self, it became possible for musical creators to have intention toward embodied musical

meanings beyond the universal. Music provided artistically embodied values of beauty and

power for admiration and inspiration toward attainment of greatness. Through music,

immortality could be attained as it became a celebration of individual greatness through

composition and performance. Musical creators were now free to attempt to inject ideas into

their music beyond mere craftsmanship and skill in manipulating musical materials. Old rules

about composition and performance were discarded to make way for the ego. With

individualistic intentions came individualistic interpretations. Musical meaning and significance

became open for debate.

Kessel 21

Up to, and including the nineteenth century, music represented a great many things –

from the logical ordering of the universe, to characters and stories in opera, to the individual’s

quest for greatness. Musical meaning was of representation. It did not exist as an artistic

rendering of musical thought but as a description-in-sound of something beyond music. This all

changed as an idea of “pure music” became the common and standard conception of musical


The idea of “pure music” began in the mid-nineteenth century with the theories of

Eduard Hanslick as described in his Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (On the Musically Beautiful)

(Robinson 1-2). According to Hanslick and his followers, music is incapable of describing or

elaborating upon any idea or phenomenon beyond itself. The concept of “pure music” focuses

entirely on “music for its own sake” without any extra-musical influences. In his time, this

started a heated controversy between him and Richard Wagner who held that music was

inseparable from both emotional and literal, text-based meaning, whether in vocalized lyrical

content or extra-musical text accompanying the work in question. These contrasting ideals of

what music expresses became so pronounced as to set up two types of work in Western music-

making: absolute and program music. Absolute music was the “pure music” of Hanslick’s

thought, while program music was written specifically for representational purposes, whether

in operatic productions or performed with accompanying notes about the piece which

presented ideas the composer was attempting to convey through the music. This dichotomy of

musical meaning as being either inherent in the music or presented externally set up the

expanse of controversies surrounding musical meaning that persist to the present day. Does

music have significance on its own, or is it merely a representation in sound of emotion, action,
Kessel 22

people, places, or things? From the early twentieth century onward, this has been one of the

dominant topics in musicological inquiry.

The representation argument often interprets music as an audible depiction of

emotional states – music as the representation in sound of emotion. This is, perhaps, the

oldest and most widely accepted notion of musical meaning – especially for non-musicians.

Representation of emotion is the fundamental belief conveyed in clichés such as: “music is a

universal language”, or “music soothes the savage beast.” Beyond representing emotions, the

“representation” discussions often include the myriad ways music can represent the physical

world through the imitation of sounds such as thunderstorms, rustling leaves, or animal calls.

The emotional representation argument reached a decisive climax in 1959 on

publication of musicologist Deryck Cooke’s The Language of Music. It is a book-length

compendium and manifesto of how music works upon the emotions. The work is summarized

in the following: “the creative act in music …the transformation of the composer’s complex of

emotions (content) into musical form by the composer’s ‘ability’ functioning unconsciously

(creative imagination) as a transformer of single emotions into small-scale forms (inspirations),

and consciously (technique) as a builder of small-scale forms into a large one (form); acting in

its latter capacity (technique) as a realizer of the potentialities (conception) envisaged in its

former capacity (creative imagination)” (219-220). Cooke analyzed various musical passages

for their emotional content and cataloged them accordingly. The work catalogs and analyzes

standard harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, and temporal devices for their representational affects.

Though much criticized for its myopic focus on specific musical devices and interpretations, the

work remains a standard in the musicological canon.

Kessel 23

The representational argument is a natural and valid one. Today, however,

contemporary musicologists often dismiss it as old-fashioned or as the domain of psychology.

Indeed, studying the ways in which music acts on the body and mind has become fashionable in

psychology, the social sciences, and popular culture. Neuroscientist Aniruddh Patel, in 2008,

published his book Music, Language, and the Brain, examining the ways music, seemingly,

affects the entire person – body, mind, and spirit – if the person is familiar with the music’s

conventions. He relates music’s significance to linguistic meanings he broadly divides into

semantic meanings and pragmatic meanings. Semantic meanings, in musical terms, would be

those of representation, whether representing emotional states or sounds of the physical “real”

world. Pragmatic meanings are those of context; meanings outside of the “music itself” such as

social environment or listening situations surrounding the music (Patel 303).

Two recent bestsellers have brought psychological studies of music to the masses:

Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain, and This is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel

Levitin. Both written for general readers, the two works relate anecdotes to scientific and

musicological studies in an attempt to elucidate musical meaning for laypeople.

Musicologist and cognitive scientist David Huron published his scholarly book Sweet

Anticipation in 2006 where he describes the whole of musicking experience to be shaped by

expectation. Most notably, he discusses how internal schemas of genre are linked to musical,

environmental, and social cues. On early exposure to genre-identifying characteristics, the

listener links the entire experience to the genre. Only after repeated and varied exposures to

the genre in question is the listener able to break apart the musical, environmental, and social
Kessel 24

cues into distinct identifiers (Huron 203-218). However, the majority of Huron’s text is devoted

to psychological study of the well-worn topic of melodic and harmonic expectation.

Harmonic, melodic, and formal tension and relaxation as the creator of musical meaning

is a continual theme in traditional musicology and music theory. The building-up of tension and

subsequent resolution is the analytical foundation of the bulk of Western music theory and

musicology. It is also how harmonic content became the dominant focus in Western Art Music

in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The analytical technique taught in the majority of

music schools today, Shenkerian analysis, focuses on large and small scale harmonic

progression as a tool to understand musical content. Shenkerian analysis, in exposing both

large and small scale harmonic and formal structure has been used, simultaneously, to both

advocate and condemn notions of emotional meaning in music. Leonard Meyer, in his classic

Emotion and Meaning in Music promotes ideas of a fundamental emotionalism in music that,

while often residing in harmonic and formal qualities, inhabits all “purely musical” traits as well

as cultures surrounding the music. Meyer’s ideas of musical and cultural content were preludes

to much current thinking about musical meaning. However, many contemporary thinkers

disagree with the idea of music’s fundamental emotionalism. Musicologist Simon Frith has

said, “If music is meaningful in emotional terms it is largely as an effect of cultural rather than

psychological conditions” (Frith 103).

Musicologists have been arguing about musical meaning since, it seems, the genesis of

the musicological discipline. Theodore Adorno said, “it is impossible to determine in any

comprehensive way the meaning of music, i.e., the thing by which it acquires its right to exist”

(Adorno, Essays on Music 137) and, “in music, what is at stake is not meaning, but gestures”
Kessel 25

(139). This may be a variation on an earlier statement by Adam Smith, made in his Essays on

Philosophical Subjects, where he suggested we don’t get emotional meaning from music but

are offered a suggestion of movement (Smith 245-248). Adorno, perhaps more than any other

musical thinker, also promoted notions that music represented social and political values. As

an early twentieth-century modernist and Marxist, he held strong convictions that music

promoted values far superior to simple emotional content – most notably of either

complacency or revolution. Later, John Shepherd elaborated on this: “the significance of a

piece of music lies in the ways its internal structure both reflects and creatively articulates the

structure of the group or society in which it was conceived” (P. Martin 79).

Though he denied any specific meanings, Aaron Copland may have countered the

argument in his classic What to Listen for In Music when he stated, “my own belief is that all

music has an expressive power, some more and some less, but that all music has a certain

meaning behind the notes and that the meaning behind the notes constitutes, after all, what

the piece is saying, what the piece is about” (Copland 9). Elsewhere, Copland claimed that

when composing he, “put(s) down a reflection of emotional states: feelings, perceptions,

imaginings, intuitions” (Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music 269). Taking the

idea of musical expression to its extreme, Cooke’s magnum opus The Language of Music

attempted to catalog melodic and harmonic content of the Western tradition in terms of its

emotional content. So, Adorno and Smith claimed music means nothing but gestures of

musical movement, Copland and Cooke claimed music is highly expressive, and sociologists of

music tend to agree that music, “through its ‘abstract’ nature, is singularly suited to reveal the
Kessel 26

dynamic structuring of social life, …through symbolic mediations in consciousness – mediations

of which music forms a part” (Shepherd, Music as Social Text 83).

I, and an increasing number of contemporary musicologists, contend that all these

giants of musical thought have valid and useful ideas. The key is to apply their theories to the

appropriate music in the appropriate situations. This idea of maintaining the appropriate

perspective is, perhaps, the most important aspect of my Supergenre System of Musical

Taxonomy for Hermaneutic Analysis.

Traditionally, Western musical thought has focused its energies on music created as

art and entertainment for the upper and educated classes – the music typically referred to as

that of the Western Classical Tradition. As such, when aesthetics from that tradition are

applied to other musics, the result is that the “other” often fails to meet minimum aesthetic

standards. This can be seen within the Classical Tradition in the “representation versus pure

music” arguments. Characteristics which bring meaning and offer significant musical

characteristics in operatic works may simply not be found, or are insignificant, in chamber

works for example.

In order to create a wholly integrative musicology it is important to consider as many

musical and extra-musical characteristics as possible, then apply those characteristics from

perspectives both within and outside each music-creating culture. Only then will it be possible

to analyze a music appropriately and accurately to uncover its many significances.

The task is, of course, a daunting one. Comprehensive analysis of all music in

existence from the discrete perspective of each work and its accompanying creative culture

would be futile. There is simply too much material to analyze. However, when approached in
Kessel 27

terms of genre, examining works with similar characteristics, patterns begin to emerge and the

task of creating an integrated musicology becomes manageable and possible. The fundamental

task is to maintain a distanced analytical perspective. Further, the crucial factor in determining

the proper analytical perspective is the music’s social and cultural creative environments.
Kessel 28

Sociology And Musicology Toward Taxonomy

Today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are confronted with a musical

world larger and more diverse than at any previous time in history. We are constantly

immersed in conventionally musical sound whether we wish for this immersion or not. Then,

when we intentionally seek musical stimulation, we have nearly the entire musical history of

the world at our easy disposal. The only requirement for access to this vast amount of

meaningful sound is an internet connection and, perhaps, a credit card account. This easily

accessible musical diversity prompts new questions for musical thinkers seeking interpretive

possibilities for musical meaning. While offering a new palette of sounds, this new multiplicity

has also increased the distance between sub-disciplines of musical thought and complicated the

possibility of a unified theory of the significance of this thing we call music.

The expansiveness of easily-heard sound has the effect of creating new hybrids of

musical categories. For there to be any hope of understanding the new hybrids, their individual

ingredients need to be understood. It has occasionally been argued that any attempt to

organize or deconstruct notions of genre in the modern environment of diversity is futile. “It's

now a cliché that true genre distinctions have dissolved away,” according to New Music Box

blogger Molly Sheridan. However, I contend that the new multiplicity of musical material

enhances organizational genre study by providing access to a larger field of individual

ingredients for analysis. Those individual ingredients of genre and style can then be analyzed to

facilitate understanding their hybrids. This crucial task involves analyzing the myriad

possibilities of significance for a particular music according to its sound as well as its importance

to those who participate, in some way, with the music. Then, it becomes necessary to analyze
Kessel 29

how the sounds and cultures surrounding them interact with other musical cultures to produce

hybrids. Within and without musical cultures, a major meaning-creation channel involves how

participants relate to themselves, each other, and the music. Through this cross-fertilization of

musical and cultural materials, new hybrids are formed. However, to begin to answer any of

these questions of analysis, it first becomes necessary to organize the field of inquiry – to

formulate a language and create a method for organizing the artifacts of inquiry. This

organizational and ontological work has been the neglected, but crucial, investigation inhibiting

cross-pollination of information across musicological disciplines. It is also the first step in

formulating my Supergenre Theory of Musical Taxonomy for Hermaneutic Analysis.

Music could quite easily be organized according to significant characteristics were it not

for a certain amount of reluctance toward organization on the part of musicking participants.

Genre categories, genre distinction, and genre sub-divisions are topics of major importance

with certain groups, yet completely dismissed by others. This anomaly in musical thought

seems governed by questions of musical authenticity – questions I shall return to later. For, in

order to realize questions of musical authenticity, a general theory of musical genre must be

addressed. Musical authenticity, meaning, and social interpretations of musical quality are

intimately connected to genre.

Genre theory has become a well-established subset of both literary and film theory. If

we understand music as a form of communication, similar to literature, film, or any other form

of creative transmission, a piece of music can be understood as a text. Genre theorists in the

fields of literature and film have invented a number of ways for organizing the creative

“objects” of their fields. Socio-linguistic theorist David Fishelov theorizes that literature can be
Kessel 30

categorized, first, in a biologic-type taxonomy according to texts’ technical relationships to

other texts, then, the texts’ relationships to social institutions and, finally, according to the

texts’ semiotic speech act. Here the “speech act” is defined in semiotic terms as, “action

performed by an utterance as part of a social interaction” (Frow 153). Literary scholar Thomas

Beebee understands the development of genre in stages as rules which develop organically

until they become recognized as textual features, then become conventions of reading. Film

theorist Rick Altman understands genre as a blueprint, or formula for production; as structure,

or formal and technical concerns; label, or marketing category; and contract, concerning

audience expectations (Frow 52). For an organizational system to be complete, it would seem

logical to include aspects of all these theories.

As text, literary and film theory applies equally to music. To support this idea further,

consider that from ancient times, music and poetry were considered interchangeable. For a

specifically literary definition of genre, Martin and Ringham’s Dictionary of Semiotics states that

genre refers to “different Styles of literary discourse, …different genres are characterized by a

particular structure, by grammatical forms or special turns of phrases that reflect the

communicative purpose of the genre in question” (67). To adopt this literary scheme to music,

we can consider musical genre as proposed by musicologist Franco Fabbri in “A Theory of

Musical Genre: Two Applications.” Fabbri claims a number of criteria regarding musical

taxonomy: rules for formal and technical requirements, semiotic considerations, participant

behavior, social and ideological constraints, and commercial goals with corresponding juridical

constraints (intellectual property law such as copyright) – these musical genre requirements
Kessel 31

correspond to the literary genre definition as found in the Dictionary of Semiotics if and when

they are understood as forms of musical grammar.

Literary semiotic theory is often applied to cinematic analysis, with film critics and

theorists willingly theorizing genre categories and engaging in discourse about works and their

genres. In his short work, Genre, on the semiotics of film, Stephen Neale says that, within the

film community, the 1970s were a time of, “realization that any form of artistic production is a

rule-bound activity firmly embedded in social history, [so] the theory of cinema set about

discovering the structures which underpinned groups of films and gave them their social

grounding” (Neale 1). So, is this thing called “genre” that I claim to be of utmost importance

necessarily rule-bound? If so, what are the rules? And, what is this thing called “genre,” really?

An uncomplicated explanation of genre is to say it is simply a “category.” The Random

House Dictionary says it is “a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form,

content, technique, or the like; genus; kind; sort; style” ( So, musical genre

theory is the study of organizing musical creation into categories. In Beard and Gloag’s

compendium of musicological topics, Musicology: the Key Concepts, the authors summarize the

key issues surrounding musical genre discourse. Their discussion forms an abstract of the

problems my taxonomic organization aims to solve. These problems include:

1. Musical creators’ skewing of genre conventions, whether intentional or not, confuses

fixed generic descriptions, but is an important generator of musical meaning.

2. Linguistic/ontological problems due to variations in usage of genre labels as well as

terms such as genre, style, and musical work.

3. Variation in standards of generic labeling through time and place.

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4. Major differences in generic convention between popular and art (“classical”) musics


In my research of musical genre and meaning creation, Beard and Gloag’s brief, three page

dictionary-style entry has been the most comprehensive discussion of the issues surrounding

musical genre and meaning.

Musical genre and its corresponding taxonomy is, in fact, a rare topic in musicological

discourse. To qualify the statement – broad spectrum genre discourse, taking into

consideration the whole of musical creation, rarely occurs. Most notably, there is an inherent

prejudice, or “avoidance of the other,” between historical musicologists and popular music

scholars as if “the other’s” music doesn’t exist at all. Musicology, as a broad discipline, seldom

attempts comprehensive, all-inclusive musical discussion, but creates divisions in discourse

through its sub-disciplines such as ethnomusicology, socio-musicology, historical musicology,

and popular music studies. Within sub-disciplines, genre discourse toward organizational and

meaning-creation schema does occur, but perhaps due to fundamental differences in musical

and social practice among the musics studied, broad-spectrum logically organized discourse,

especially toward taxonomy, has never been attempted.

Without a way to organize musical creation logically and systematically, there is

something fundamentally missing from the whole of musical scholarship. A common language

for genre labeling and agreed-upon criteria of genre creation is needed across musicological

sub-disciplines in order to engage in cross-pollinating research and foster new, integrated, ways

of thinking about musical creation. A basic, common, language would further musical thought

and allow for unified musicological thinking. Labels, though often resisted, are tools for
Kessel 33

humans to make sense of the world. They allow us to categorize and make hierarchies of

existence and give us tools for organizing thought. Arbitrary labels bring arbitrary thought, with

sub-disciplines of musicological inquiry inadvertently ignoring discoveries in other sub-

disciplines somehow perceived as unrelated. What should be a unified field of inquiry has,

inadvertently, become disjointed. A systematic and logical taxonomy is needed not only for

generalized organization of musical thought, but to bring a common language to the sub-

disciplines of musicology.

Popular music theorists seem most willing to engage in genre discourse. However,

popular music study, as a field, tends to look with suspicion upon fields such as historical

musicology and music theory as being myopic and hegemonic. Likewise, historical

musicologists and music theorists tend to look upon popular music studies as unworthy of

serious academic merit. And only one generic label has ever crossed musicological sub-

discipline lines – that of a distinct category of Art Music. Art Music, as described by popular

music scholars, is the genre of posterity, bourgeois culture, and traditional notation, usually

accepted through the “classical” label in the recording industry. To historical musicologists, Art

Music is, simply, Music, nothing else is worthy of the word.

Popular music scholars, in examining the most commercially visible forms of music, tend

to be at the forefront of musical genre theory. Many popular music scholars have formulated

theories of genre such as Franco Fabbri, Simon Frith, Richard Middleton, Jason Toynbee, and

others, but their theories are decidedly “rock-ist” in nature. That is, popular music scholars

have often, up to this point in history, taken a “rock-centered” view of popular music, often

attempting to separate “rock” from the whole of popular music with an emphasis on rock’s
Kessel 34

“authenticity” versus other “pop” music. Here we see the “authenticity” problem as a recurring

one, and one that must be confronted later, after the larger issues of genre creation and

categorization are addressed.

Beyond the “rock-ist” problem in popular music studies, there has been a significant

amount of discourse surrounding distinctions between genre, Subgenre, meta-genre, and style

within popular music. Theories and studies of musical taxonomy beyond large genre groupings

are, I believe, the most valuable contribution to musical genre theory from popular music

studies. Emphasis on the ever-changing, continuously evolving nature of genre and style is of

paramount importance considering today’s universe of easily attained musical sound. In Roy

Shuker’s entry for “Genre” in his Popular Music: the Key Concepts, he discusses three criteria

for genre difference, presumably condensed from the theories of Breen and Weinstein. He

says, in popular music, there are three criteria for genre distinction: stylistic traits, or sound of

the music; non-musical stylistic attributes (assumed marketing tactics and image); and audience

(assumed market demographic). These ideas may be valid as a possible organizing scheme for

commercial music within a capitalist marketing structure, but these attributes for taxonomy

disintegrate when applied to non-market-driven musics.

There is no commonly accepted method of organizing and categorizing the whole of

musical creation, and therefore no systematic way to decode musical meaning creation and

dissemination comprehensively across genres. The avoidance of large-scale musical genre

inquiry has been an avoidance of an entire level of musical knowledge and scholarship. It

would seem to be a natural subject of inquiry – before studying musical content is attempted,

sub-divisions of content should be defined and organized. A systematic approach to musical

Kessel 35

genre organization is needed. This systematic approach would apply common rules of

organization to large groupings of musics. Common rules applied across genres would

effectively apply a common language to decipher meaning across musicological sub-disciplines.

The work involves defining and labeling large groupings of genres according to broad

characteristics, then, incrementally, getting more detailed in classification. This creates a

taxonomy from which various levels of meaning may be interpreted.

A unified theory of musical genre might also benefit the musically inclined public in

areas of musical accessibility. Standardized genre labeling would offer terminology for

discourse, thereby enabling further musical discovery and appreciation while, perhaps,

lessening some negative effects of the marketing labels currently favored for genre labeling. To

discover music that may be of interest, a music needs to be grouped with similar musics, and

simultaneously given perspective toward the whole of musical creation. This perspective allows

the interested party to view both familiar and unfamiliar music within a logically organized

structure. Systems of organization currently in use fail to organize musical creation as a whole

and, consequently, often through omission, fail to provide inquisitive listeners with potentially

valuable and meaningful musical experiences.

As a practical and decidedly commodity-driven exercise, there has recently been a surge

in musical genre studies. However these have been less academic then market-driven. They

have been fueled by a number of collaborative cloud-computing applications and methods

attempting to provide intelligent musical suggestions. These suggestions are based on

recommendations of user communities, automated musical analysis of certain criteria such as

tempo, or any number of criteria provided by end users and added to databases with the
Kessel 36

ultimate goal of driving “music industry” capital accumulation. Pandora, StumbleAudio, iLike,

Musicovery, iTunes Genius, and LastFM are just a few of the now hundreds of websites which

attempt to suggest music for listeners based on their preferences for certain styles or genres

based on industry-accepted labels. While these automated music suggestion systems might, on

the surface, seem to solve the genre-related problem of musical discovery, they only serve to

complicate the problem of language complexity and, simultaneously, exacerbate problems of

omission. By omitting musics that fail to fit into their categories, these services are, in essence,

no better than the bricks-and-mortar music store model of genre that includes rock, jazz, pop,

and classical. What music is categorized as rock, jazz, pop, or classical? What are the

characteristics of rock, jazz, pop, and classical?

The All Music Guide, a database established in 1991, includes nine genre-groups broken

down into genre then style with nearly 1000 labels (Macrovision Corporation). The All Music

Guide is the only commonly used musical taxonomy open to the public. Gracenote (formerly

known as CDDB), the Music Genome Project (implemented in Pandora Internet Radio), and

other corporate electronic music delivery systems (Pachet and Cazaly) are proprietary

consumer data-delivery services and, as such, do not disclose their organization schemes. The

open-source internet databases Musicbrainz and Discogs have potential as master taxonomies,

but, through their community-centered approach, allow such widely divergent user-generated

labels as to render their labeling schemes useless. Certain governments, most notably Canada

and the UK, require radio bandwidth and airtime to be devoted to particular genres, with the

genre classifiers determined by panels of legislators in cooperation with representatives from

record labels (Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music 79). All systems currently
Kessel 37

in use, however, are industry constructs rather than musicological ones. They tend to ignore

musical and sociological content in favor of marketing and corporate ideology (84).

In the early twenty-first century, labels used by the music industry have become

standard and accepted, even though the labeling schemes are somewhat arbitrary. Within the

recording industry, labels are marketing constructs. They are used to create a product, find a

market for that product, and sell the product efficiently and effectively. Genre labels used in

the music industry are used for no other reason than that they are the ones that are used. They

are standard practice. Labels used within the music industry are simply general practices of

marketing developed over time (Holt 26). Music industry scholar Keith Negus summarizes this

phenomenon in stating that, “industry produces culture and culture produces industry” (Negus

14) in a never-ending feedback loop.

Within music-making communities and musical scholarship, genre labels used by the

music industry are accepted as vague starting points, never as absolutes. For “musical insiders”

– those involved in the creation and study of music, genre labels hold a great deal of

significance beyond their use as marketing tools. Labeling for these musicking “insiders”

involves dissecting musical characteristics (instrumentation, melody, harmony, rhythm), as well

as cultural and social aspects (Negus 25). Marketability, to “insiders,” is irrelevant.

During “insider” discussions of genre, artists tend to be described in terms of other

artists they sound like rather than in terms of the sound of their music or any extra-musical or

cultural associations. Discussions often surround “best examples” of a genre in order to define

its pertinent and distinguishing features. This is referred to as the “prototype effect” (Fabbri,

Browsing 7). This solution of “prototyping” simultaneously solves the problem of genre labeling
Kessel 38

and complicates the matter. Serious problems arise if lineages need to be traced back multiple

generations to find a commonly known artist. A much simpler solution would be to offer a

standardized category that fit the artist’s output. Yet the decision must be made as to which

label to use. Then, how do we categorize output from creators who create hybrid work,

especially those who defy the broad industry-standard categories of Pop/Rock, Jazz, and

Classical? What if musical creators create music that might be simultaneously categorized as

Pop/Rock, Jazz, and Classical? If such hybrid cases seem absurd, consider Frank Zappa and John


Both Zappa and Zorn have extremely prolific catalogs of recorded work with much of it

crossing traditionally accepted genre lines. In addition they often have intentionally combined

traditionally labeled genres to create new hybrids. So, how can we make sense of their music?

During every act of listening we are, even if only subconsciously, always engaging in acts

of categorization and, therefore, genre labeling (Negus 25). We may decide a sound isn’t music

at all, or we may relate it to sounds heard in the past and begin to recognize familiar musical

elements. This is simply how musical enjoyment happens – we relate what is heard to sounds

heard in the past. In relating sound to memory, we experience intellectual, physical, and

emotional stimulus – the essence of musical enjoyment and the impetus to decoding musical

meaning. In fact, we must relate sounds and music to sounds and music heard in the past for it

to be heard as anything other than noise. Social and cultural influences determine what we

consider to be music, how we hear them, use them, categorize them, and, ultimately, find

meaning in the sounds we call music. Before we can consider the social influence on meaning
Kessel 39

creation within genres, we need to determine the social cultural influence on genre labeling.

The social influence on meaning will be discussed in a later chapter of this work.

Genre labels are often taken for granted by the public and begrudgingly accepted by

musical creators, though mental models are constantly being applied, new ones created, and

genre implied, based on previously experienced categories. Sociologist Simon Frith argues,

“people do not experience their aesthetic beliefs as merely arbitrary and conventional; they

feel that they are natural, proper, and moral” (73). Yet listening choices are usually made in an

effort to conform, “taking on music as an emblem of social solidarity with their peers” (Jourdain

263). In this effort to conform, listeners use industry standard genre labels as if the labels are

“natural, proper, and moral.”

The “natural, proper, and moral” labels tend, however, to be simultaneously too broad

and vague while also, in some cases, being too specific. Critically analyzing genre labels used

for marketing purposes exposes some of these flaws. How can a thousand years of musical

output, with new works still being created, be given the marketing label of “classical”? (I refer

here to the marketing label, not the musicological label “Classical”) Conversely, what

distinguishes much of “Rock” from “Pop”? What is the difference between “Rap” and “Hip-

Hop”? In fact these are the very questions often debated by musical “insiders” who actively

create and participate in musical culture outside the corporate marketing apparatus.

To challenge industry-created labels is to invite criticism and animosity. Industry labels

are usually accepted as the proper way to describe a music by consumers. However, musical

creators often think of themselves as functioning at a level higher than that which can be

described in terms of genre – transcending generic restraints. While the mass of musical
Kessel 40

consumers blindly accepts corporate labels, many musical creators dismiss any and all labels.

For both those who dismiss genre and those who blindly accept the industry created labels,

there are often only two categories of music – good and bad – subjective evaluations of the

music, usually based on socially conditioned factors, are of primary value. There is nothing

inherently negative in this valuation. Philosopher Benedetto Croce has said, “aesthetic or

intuitive modes of thinking are antithetical to logical or scientific modes (such as) genre theory.

The aesthetic has no logic, logic kills aesthetic expression” (Frow 27). Croce’s argument is often

the dominant one to musical creators, as if to work within a genre is to be bound by a set of

constraints as defined by the genre. This is a misunderstanding of genre theory. Genre is

“nothing other than the codification of discursive properties” according to cultural theorist

Tzvetan Torodov (198). In other words, it is a way of describing communication in a systematic


Genre is not a static construction, but is a constantly evolving performance of discourse

(Frow 18). Genre is not a rule or law, but simply a descriptor – a way of relating a work to that

which came before. Philosopher H.R. Jauss states, “Just as there is no act of communication

that is not related to a general, socially or situationally conditioned norm or convention, it is

also unimaginable that a literary work set itself into an informational vacuum, without

indicating a specific situation of understanding. To this extent, every work belongs to a genre”

(Frow 28). In this constant evolution of performance of discourse there exists a requirement of

significant similarity for inclusion or significant difference for exclusion from a genre. If a

creator wishes to create within a genre they must simply create work similar to that which is

already established as an example of the genre. Original work within a genre seems to be the
Kessel 41

true point of controversy in musical genre discourse. Within genres, creators must produce

difference in similarity to create original works – an almost confrontational concept for many

creative individuals to comprehend. All human creation works within “possibilities that are

given, rather than summoned up freely by the imagination” (Toynbee 66). Commonalities must

be part of the creation to enable understanding. Those common elements form the language

and the corresponding genre-culture of the social environment in which the communication

takes place. These genre-cultures are ever-evolving inclusionary and exclusionary

environments of socialization. Genre labeling should, likewise, be an ever-evolving socio-

cultural creative interaction of significant similarity versus significant difference. However, due

to market-based genre labeling schemes currently in wide use, difference is emphasized over


Problems arise when a musical creator makes something that is truly outside of

accepted industry labels, and a consumer attempts to connect with the creation. The

limitations of industry labels become clear when a consumer can’t find an artist’s work, and the

work can’t be categorized to enable being found (Frith 75). These limitations have been

steadily improving over the last several years due to the advent of internet music information

databases such as Discogs and the AllMusicGuide, but no stores (whether digital or bricks-and-

mortar) have fully implemented their genre and artist cross-referencing schemes.

The examples of John Zorn and Frank Zappa serve to illustrate the problems of cross-

referencing highly prolific and genre-jumping musical creators. Discogs shows Zorn’s genres to

be: Electronic, Rock, Latin, Jazz, Funk / Soul, Classical, Reggae, Non-Music, Folk, World, &

Country, Pop, Stage & Screen, Hip Hop, Blues, and Children's. The AllMusicGuide system of
Kessel 42

classification lists his genre as Avant-Garde but his styles as: Jazz, Free Jazz, Avant-Garde Jazz,

Pop/Rock, Experimental, Modern Creative, Modern Composition, Stage & Screen, Soundtracks,

Film Music, Classical, Structured Improvisation, Free Improvisation, International, Jewish Music,

Post-Bop, Jazz Instrument(al), and Saxophone Jazz. Problems here are obvious in the

incompatibility of the systems. Discogs uses something it calls “genre” while AllMusic uses both

“genre” and “style”. Similarities are largely absent between the systems beyond some basic

ideas of “Rock”, “Jazz”, and “Classical”. We can find similar problems in classifying Frank

Zappa’s musical output. Discogs lists Zappa’s genres as: Electronic, Rock, Latin, Jazz, Classical,

Blues, Hip Hop, Funk / Soul, Pop, Non-Music, Stage & Screen, Reggae, Folk, World, and Country.

His AllMusic entry lists his genre as Pop/Rock and his Styles as: Hard Rock, Prog-Rock, Jazz-Rock,

Comedy Rock, Experimental Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Art Rock, Jazz, Progressive Jazz,

Album Rock, Avant-Garde, Comedy, Novelty, Experimental, Computer Music, Classical,

Comedy/Spoken, Fusion, Proto-Punk. Again, the similarities between Discogs and AllMusic are

limited, but are of some variations on “Rock”, “Jazz”, and “Classical.”

Both Zorn and Zappa have been quoted with statements about the necessity, in some

form, of genre labeling to make the music, in some way, accessible to audiences. In the May

2009 issue of JazzTimes magazine, Zorn said his music, “is not jazz music, it’s not classical music,

it’s not rock music…(but) the only outlets were jazz magazines. Even though it didn’t belong in

that tradition or in that format, it was the only format that there was” (Milkowski 48). In Frank

Zappa’s autobiography he goes to great lengths to describe how he thinks of himself as a

composer first, and performer of popular music only out of necessity. As a composer who has

been relegated to create rock with lyrics he says, “lyrics wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for the
Kessel 43

fact that we live in a society where instrumental music is irrelevant – so if a guy expects to earn

a living by providing musical entertainment for folks in the U.S.A., he’d better figure out how to

do something with a human voice plopped on it” (Zappa 185). Both Zorn and Zappa have said

that their prolific output is their life’s work as expression of their core values as creators.

Through a process of organizing genre we are able to assess the values at stake within

each genre family. In the words of Simon Frith, “Musical disputes are not about music, ‘in itself’

but about how to place it, what it is about the music that is to be assessed. After all, we can

only hear music as valuable when we know what to listen for and how to listen for it” (Frith 26).

To organize the whole of musical creation in order to understand what to listen for and

how to listen for it, I propose a hierarchical taxonomy of musical creation with its highest level

simply stated as “Music” from which all further divisions grow. This taxonomy takes into

consideration the music itself from a traditional, notational (music theory analytical),

perspective as well as cultural, social, and personal characteristics of each taxonomic levels’

musicking participants. In addition, I contend that each taxonomic level offers particular levels

of meaning for participants. As a result, by organizing the artifacts of musical activity, we are

simultaneously organizing interpretive possibilities for those artifacts. This taxonomy could, in

theory, be extended to include all of artistic creation with the largest division being “Artform.”

“A viable understanding of culture requires an understanding of its articulation through music

just as much as a viable understanding of music requires an understanding of its place in

culture” (Shepherd and Wicke, Music and Cultural Theory 34). The significance of these nice

things to listen to that we call music, on a macro scale, is the significance of knowledge and the

understanding of human culture. As a constituent part of a possible taxonomy of human

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culture we may begin the taxonomic division here with Artform, which may divide into Music,

Dance, Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Literature, etc. To begin this particular taxonomy –

that of music, we will begin with the “Artform” division of “Music” without further distinction

of “Artform.” Elaborating on the ontology of music described earlier, the largest all-inclusive

category of creation of “Music” also poses no restriction on that which may be called by the

name “Music.”

Scholars within sub-divisions of musicology have, in the past, proposed a number of

ways in which to divide “music” into generic categories based on a variety of characteristics.

Composer and philosopher Leonard Meyer has proposed a multitude of criteria for category

creation. Some of these include time period, utilitarian musical purpose (dance music, worship

music, relaxation music, etc.), music of different cultural and/or geographic areas, musical form

(song, sonata, opera, etc.), and music of socially defined groups (affluent, folk, counter-cultural,

etc.) (Meyer, Style and Music: Theory, History, and Ideology 38). These distinctions, though

fairly comprehensive if taken together, are far too disparate to use as top-level genre

categories. Meyer’s studies focus on creating categories within the western European

symphonic and vocal traditions, and ignore creation outside those traditions. Like most

scholars who have examined the question of genre, he concentrated his efforts on inventing

subgenres within already accepted categories. He ignored the larger question of broad

categorical distinctions.

Likewise, there are numerous scholars who have proposed theories of why and how to

create distinctions within larger genres, but few, if any, who question the large genre labels. In

a study of various methods for categorization, Allen Moore provides an account of a number of
Kessel 45

methods suggesting that there should be broad genre categories but fails to offer any. He

chooses instead to focus his energies, like most other genre scholars, on how subgenres are

created (Moore).

I have found no methods or ideologies in the musicological literature for creation of

broad musical categories. There are broad distinctions currently in use, such as “classical”, and

“popular,” but I have found no studies defending such labels. “Classical” and “popular” are

commonly used labels simply due to their common usage. Here we uncover a very

problematic, and usually ignored, issue – what to do with music that is neither “classic” nor

“popular” such as jazz.

To create broad categories, there must be a common characteristic, or criterion, for

creating difference. There must be some feature that all members of a group have in common

that creates distinction. This categorical distinction could be compared to Phylum within

biological taxonomy. Kingdoms are very broad categories for life such as animals, plants, and

fungi. Within each kingdom, the members of that kingdom have something very basic in

common. Creatures within the animal kingdom are relatively large, mobile, multi-celled

organisms composed of systems of multi-celled components called organs, for example. Music

is in the kingdom of artistic creation, along with literature, plastic arts, film, theatre, etc. The

animal kingdom is then broken down into phylum based on body type such as vertebrates and

invertebrates. All animals have multi-celled, multi-system bodies in common – phylum divides

these into type. To further break down the kingdom of music, we need a similarly broad

criterion based on “difference in similarity.” One such criterion is the primary text of a music.
Kessel 46

The primary document of a music is the thing that allows the music to be understood,

studied, and possibly re-created. The primary text’s intention is to disseminate the music free

of any extra-musical content inherent in methods of performance and presentation. A musical

text transfers musical ideas in much the same way that a book transfers thought from the mind

of the writer to the mind of the reader.

There are three primary texts for musical dissemination which form the basis of musical

genre. They are the score (significantly documented written text), oral tradition and recordings

(sound as text), and the musical sketch (lead sheet, outline, or oral description). These three

primary documents allow the artistic category of “music” to be broken down into the three

broad categories of “Art Music,” “Popular Music,” and “Improvised Music.” The main tree

trunk of musical genre has now divided into three parts.

Within each of these broad categories, a number of different criteria must be used to

further sub-divide the musical categories. This is similar to the way in which biological

taxonomies are further sub-divided from the phylum. Vertebrates and invertebrates are so

dissimilar that completely different systems must be used to further categorize them. Likewise,

the primary documents of my broad categories are so different that each broad category must

use differing criteria for further sub-division. Franco Fabbri suggests that broad categories be

called systems (Fabbri, A Theory 1). Likewise, the genre labeling system outlined here will have

as its largest division something called Supergenre Systems. In my taxonomy, beyond the root

of “Music,” each sub-division, or branch of taxonomy, has discrete criteria for distinction.

In music, just as in the plastic arts, there are distinct “art worlds” with entirely separate

cultures. Within these cultures, a number of roles must be filled such as composer, performer,
Kessel 47

and audience member (Becker 34-39). Also, within each “art world” there exists a certain

amount of “social capital.” Social capital, as proposed by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, is a value

system of interpersonal and institutional relationships which provide resources for various

types of activities – personal, public, and professional (Bourdieu). Applied to music, the

Supergenre systems are the “art worlds” of music which provide “social capital” on varying

levels from the professional and public to the interpersonal, depending on the level of

taxonomic division. They have, as their primary value of distinction, the musics’ primary

method of dissemination to creative participants. That is, dissemination to musicking

participants who might hope to re-create the music as active participants such as players or

scholars rather than passive listeners or cultural participants. Here, ethnic culture begins to

complicate matters slightly.

In Western or European-centered cultures, there is a distinct hierarchy of musicking

roles for participants that is conspicuously absent from many other cultures, most notably

those of the African continent. This absence of distinct musicking roles is often a marked

feature of non-Western musics compared to Western ones. Beyond roles of participants, non-

Western cultures often treat music, ontologically, as something completely different from its

treatment in Euro-centered cultures. An example, cited in Philip Bohlman’s World Music, is of

the Hausa people of Nigeria who have many words describing musicians, musical practices, and

instruments, but no word for music, itself. Music, outside the European tradition, is often an

integral component of the social culture at large – indistinguishable from, and integral to, other

components of culture such as language or religious practice. Typical of many non-Western

Kessel 48

cultures, musicking participants are simultaneously listeners and creators, with little to no

separation of roles. We will see later how this opposing ontology can conform to my taxonomy.

Beyond distinction according to dissemination method, social factors come into play.

This is part of my comprehensive and integrated approach to musical taxonomy. Ever since

Theodore Adorno’s contention in the early-to-mid twentieth century that musical meaning had

as much to do with social factors as with features within the music itself, musicologists have

been arguing the significance of sociology to the study of music. There now seems to be a

consensus (with, naturally, some outspoken detractors) that social factors do, indeed, play a

powerful role in how we interpret sound and the stuff we call music. Through those social

factors, the study of sociology is enhanced, in turn, by interpreting how social groups use music

to enhance their cohesion. As the relatively new discipline of musical sociology, or socio-

musicology, develops, there becomes a need to logically integrate the whole of musical

creation into a single area of inquiry – a major ambition of socio-musicological investigation and

the goal of the Supergenre System of Musical Taxonomy for Hermaneutic Analysis. To relate

one social group to another it becomes necessary to find what they have in common in order to

determine their differences. By determining their differences, contrasting musical cultures can

be studied in greater detail. Then in examining social differences between musicking groups,

we can better understand the significance of this thing we call music.

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The Supergenre System as a Framework for Interpretation

Within sub-disciplines of musicology, meaning is a recurring theme of discourse.

Accepting as fact that music can create meaning, attempts are made to determine how

meaning is created and what type of meaning is created. Sub-disciplines of musicology assert

meaning creation differently for their musical area of study, some considering only traditional

western musical characteristics (harmony, melody, rhythm, timbre), others considering extra-

musical characteristics such as included text, and still others examining sociological and

psychological influences. Considering the divergent theories of meaning and meaning creation

within sub-divisions of musicology, it is natural to assume divergent methods of meaning

creation among the divisions of music. Meaning creation and meaning-type in a performance

of a Beethoven string quartet is probably not of the same type or method as the latest

American Idol’s radio hit. It follows that musical meaning is closely aligned to musical genre.

In the previous section of this work, I proposed a system for large-scale organization of

the whole of musical creation I call the Supergenre System. While there are practical “real-

world” applications for this system as a way of organizing musical creation, the system also

provides a framework for musical interpretation by grouping similar musical value-systems

together. Perhaps it is worth repeating that my system provides a framework for interpretation

as a method of organizing the material to be interpreted. Inherent to this organizational

method, interpretive possibilities are realized for groupings within the organizational system. I

make no attempt at actual interpretation or specific musical meanings, as this is not my

intention. I do not believe there can be a definitive interpretation of a piece of music. It is

impossible to assert “piece of music A produces meaning B.” I believe this absolutist approach
Kessel 50

has been a major shortcoming of hermaneutic musicological work in the past. My Supergenre

System simply provides a framework for understanding the significant values inherent in

musical cultures, thereby offering, for those unfamiliar with a particular musical culture, the

means to understand the sounds and sociological factors significant to the genre at hand. My

system provides a guide for maintaining perspective in an effort to reduce musico-socio-cultural

misunderstandings arising from attempts to impose one set of musico-social values on a music

that, inherently, has an opposing value system. To understand a music, we need to understand

the values of its culture.

By examining the social and cultural zeitgeist surrounding various musics, it becomes

apparent that the groupings within the Supergenre System place greater or lesser importance

on each of three socio-musical characteristics: the musical text, the musical sound, and the

social and cultural environment of musicking participants. So, while the distinguishing

characteristic of each grouping is a difference in similarity (the primary text) the value system of

each determines how the taxonomic tree is further broken down into Genre, Subgenre, Style,

and their derivatives.

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Standardized Taxonomy

In a previous section of this work, I describe how my Supergenre System offers a

taxonomic tree with the root being simply “Music” defined as any and all sound deemed

worthy of the title “Music” by someone, anyone, anywhere. From “Music” there are three

major divisions, with their distinction being the “primary text” of the music. The primary text is

the major way in which performance information is disseminated. In this section I offer more

detail concerning these “primary texts.”

The first Supergenre System is “Art Music.” It is the one category that enjoys little

argument about its label from musicologists, though it is occasionally referred to as “serious

music” in musicological discourse, and the music within the category is sometimes debated.

The challenge in using the “Art Music” label is in convincing the general public and the

commercial music industry that “Art Music” is a more descriptive and accurate label than

“classical.” The term “classical” refers specifically to Western scored music from the eighteenth

century within the discipline of Western music history. The term “Art Music” refers not only to

notated music of Western cultures, but also of fully notated music throughout the world. If we

eliminate “classical’ as a catch-all term we might not only eliminate a great deal of confusion,

but also help foster greater appreciation for Western Art Music of the twentieth and twenty-

first centuries. Though the topic is beyond the scope of this work, the Modernist movement

self-consciously rebelled against popular acceptance in the early-to-mid-twentieth century and

the Art Music art-world has never recovered. Contemporary Western Art Music, both

Modernist and otherwise, continues to be written, but in the Modernist tradition, it is often

ignored by all but composers. Among many other political, economic, social, and cultural
Kessel 52

factors, to the vast majority of the musicking public, “classical” music excludes most everything

written post-Stravinsky and Ives. On the rare occasion when the term “classical” refers to

contemporary works, it is too-often with the understanding that the work follows the sounds of

the nineteenth century, such as neo-Romanticism. By eliminating the catch-all “classical,” and

using the word to refer, specifically, to Western notated music of the eighteenth century we

can, however subtly, broaden acceptance of post-Stravinsky and Ives notated music in the

academic-orchestral-chamber-choral-electronic tradition.

Art Music, historically, has been the music of the middle-to-upper classes but, like fine

literature or visual art, has always been of great cultural significance regardless of the

audiences’ economic status. Historically, the wealthy support the musics’ creators, but the

“product” of this support is presented for the admiration of all. It has existed since medieval

times and new works continue to be created. The important distinguishing characteristic for

taxonomic distinction of Art Music is that specifics of performance must be written down.

Being a technically challenging and complex form of music, it requires written documents for

performance. There must be performance information offered in a way that allows multiple

performances of the same piece of music to sound extremely similar. Art Music is the music of

posterity. Since a great deal of time is required for creation, study, and performance, Art Music

is the music of specialists and it exists as such wherever it is found. It is also the genre most

studied by Western musicologists and is the one Supergenre System with already useful and

accepted Genres and Subgenres created.

With Western Art Music as, perhaps, the most studied music in the world and the topic

of study in traditional Musicology, its study forms the basis of the majority of musicological
Kessel 53

arguments to follow. Through examination of traditional musicological arguments about

musical meaning, alongside contemporary semiotic and socio-musicological studies, it became

apparent to me that the broad musicological arguments of the past were usually logically

effective while also being discursively relevant. Problems with the classic arguments stem from

narrow and prejudiced views of the possibilities of music. One of my primary aims in creating

the Supergenre System of Musical Taxonomy is to give all music equal status for aesthetic

appreciation. So, while I acknowledge the successes of past scholars’ musicological work, I

believe many of the old arguments to be too myopic to be effectively applied to today’s vast

musical landscape. The arguments were applied only to Art Music, thereby rendering them

invalid and irrelevant to the whole of music making.

The classic “meaning arguments” were typically centered on ideas of idealized,

authentic conceptions and performances of musical works. We can see parallels here with the

Platonic notion of idealized forms. A musical work exists as a perfected object only in the mind

of the composer; the authentic, idealized, work becomes compromised the moment the notes

leave the composer’s mind to be written down in a score. Scores then become the musical

works as objects and commodities. From the written notational text of the score, the authentic

and ideal work is interpreted by a conductor who disseminates his (rarely her) interpretation to

an orchestra. That interpretation is then presented for appreciation to an audience through

live performance.

The classic arguments were (and are) often at odds with non-specialists’ notions of

music, and this is precisely the classic opposing perspective. First, the classic musicological

model of the musical work assumes “music” to be notated orchestral and chamber works of the
Kessel 54

18th through 20th centuries’ Western societies. Next, performance is relevant only as a

reference to the notated score, with quality of performance as a function of “authentic”

readings of a composers’ canon. Finally, the greatest musicological debate was (is) whether

music was (is) simply something nice to listen to with meaning non-existent beyond notes on a

page, or whether it represented something loftier – idealized form, scientific beauty, progress,

or emotion, for example. And, it seems, nearly all Western musicological discourse placed itself

in opposition to improvised and popular musics. However, in examining the whole of musical

creation through my Supergenre System of Taxonomy, Art Music is just one of the three

primary branches of taxonomic distinction.

The next Supergenre is Improvised Music. Improvised Music uses a simple sketch or

outline, also often written out, as its primary text. These documents differ greatly from those

of Art Music in that only general ideas are given as to the content of a performance. Every

performance, even those repeated by the same musicians, will be significantly different, and

that difference is a major component of the music. The written document may offer basic

chord changes along with a melody, as in the jazz lead sheet; may offer an image to think about

and improvise upon, as in some avant-garde improvisational traditions; or may simply offer a

series of pitch or rhythmic relationships offered to the musician as raw materials for creation,

as in many Middle-Eastern, Indian, and African musics. The most important characteristic of

Improvised Music is that every performance of a piece will be very different from every other

performance – it is a music of the moment.

To be included in the Improvised category, there must be some documentation of

guidelines for improvisation. Interesting categorization dilemmas can occur here when
Kessel 55

attempting to categorize many non-Western musics as the vast majority of musicking around

the world is of an improvisatory nature. In non-Western cultures, there is often no linguistic

distinction between activities surrounding the creation of music and the music itself. For

example, in many African musics consisting primarily of drumming, particular rhythmic patterns

are used as accompaniment for particular activities and rituals. The ritual rhythm provides the

improvisational sketch from our Western perspective, but within the culture, rhythm and ritual

are so intimately connected as to, linguistically, refer to the same activity. The concepts of

sound and ritual are indistinguishable. Also, while there is, typically, no written textual

document, the document becomes the ritual. This idea of music-making as being

indistinguishable, conceptually, from its accompanying activities is often extremely difficult for

Western minds to grasp. In much the same way that Western cultures assume that music is

created by specialists for appreciation by audiences, throughout much of the world the

opposite is true – music does not exist as a specialist activity, nor is it an activity partitioned off

from other aspects of living to be appreciated as a separate aesthetic activity (Cook 17). As

musical sketch, these non-Western improvisatory musics have their accompanying activities,

with various rhythms, melodies, etc. as appropriate for particular situations.

In recent times, as Western Jazz has become accepted in academia as worthy of study,

there has been a movement to include it in the category of Art Music. My system, however,

disallows this unless the composition is fully written out. The movement to label Jazz as Art

Music has developed first from a desire to eliminate Jazz from the Popular Music label that

befell it during the twentieth century, and second as an attempt to elevate its status owing to

the high degree of technical and theoretical proficiency required for its composition and
Kessel 56

performance. Technical difficulty and instrumental-athletic proficiency is irrelevant to the

Supergenre System of Taxonomy in terms of organization. “Difficulty” of a music is relevant

only as a meaning-creation parameter for those participating in the musical culture. The

absurdity of labeling, somehow, certain “difficult” jazz as “Art” and other less-taxing jazz as,

perhaps, something else, should seem self-evident. Performance practice in Jazz requires

predominantly improvised execution and therefore Western Jazz is categorized as

Improvisational Music in the Supergenre System of Musical Taxonomy.

The last broad category of musical genre is “Popular.” The primary text of the popular

category isn’t really a document at all – it is the sound of the music which is heard repeatedly

and then emulated. It’s the oldest form of music. Regional, folk, and ethnic musics belong in

this category (unless they are improvised), as does most commercial music for which the

primary text is the recording.

Since the mid-twentieth century, the oral tradition of popular music has mostly been

replaced by recordings. If a musician wishes to learn a particular piece of popular music, he or

she may simply listen to a recording rather than seek out someone who is already familiar with

the music. The technical demands of Popular Music performance typically do not require direct

instruction or observation for their re-creation. Yet, in many ways, recordings have become

direct instruction, direct performance, and definitive documents of popular music texts,

especially commercial popular music, according to Theodore Gracyk in Rhythm and Noise: An

Aesthetics of Rock. Gracyk discusses the ways in which recordings have become the essential

and primary performers in the Rock genre. Musicians and their instruments are secondary to

recording and playback equipment as sound generators (Gracyk, Rhythm and Noise 75).
Kessel 57

Recording technology has further democratized popular music, the common people’s music,

beyond face-to-face oral transmission to bring musicking to non-musicians wherever they may


The term “Popular Music” is often confused with the idea of “commercially successful”

music. They are not necessarily the same thing. Most commercially successful music falls into

the Supergenre of Popular Music but not all, and not all Popular Music is commercially

successful. Often rock musicians abhor being called “popular” for fear that popularity

somehow lessens their authenticity as musicians. Notions of “authenticity” in Popular genres

are of major importance to musicking participants – a notion I will return to later. Creating in

the Popular Supergenre does not necessarily make a musician popular, nor is it a statement

about the level of musicianship involved in creating a Popular Music. It is simply a label of

genre distinction.

Recently, the “Popular Music” label has been the subject of scrutiny by certain

musicologists, perhaps in favor of a “pop/rock” or “commercial” label. Sociologist Motti Regev

argues in favor of “Popular Music” primarily for its use as an all-encompassing label, since

“pop/rock” suggests commercial musics with strong “rock-ist aesthetics” such as the tendency

to put high value on the authorship of a music by its performers (Regev 253) – something

distinctive to “rock” as a Genre subdivision of the “Popular Music” Supergenre. Others have

argued against the “Popular Music” label by proposing that it suggests “mass-mediation via

specialized and complex technologies, in markets, and in the sway of certain well-defined public

discourses about ‘popularity’ that mark both production and consumption” (International

Advisory Eds.) advancing the idea that “Popular Music” can only exist in the commercial
Kessel 58

environments of capitalist societies. “Popular Music” is not a label of economic conditions but

of socio-musical creativity. Perhaps “Popular Music” should be understood as the “binary to

elite” as suggested by sociologist Deena Weinstein (International Advisory Eds.). The “Popular

Music” label is used to designate all music disseminated by sound, not just commercially viable

music as it exists in a marketplace.

Kessel 59

Branch Distinction – Genre, Subgenre, and Style

Now that the first level of division in the tree of musical genre has been defined,

branches can begin to grow. However, the further out from the trunk we go, the more

possibility there is for ambiguous distinction in categorical qualities. The three major divisions

can be accepted as fact, with arguable evidence – that of primary text. To create further

divisions of distinction we need another type of difference in similarity – a common parameter

of distinction that shows contrast. Returning to the biological taxonomic model, the next

division after phylum is class. Here we encounter a minor difficulty in that biological classes are

open to disagreement – there are no standard classes, though commonly known organisms

tend to suffer little controversy over class distinction. Likewise, within Supergenres, Genre

distinction may become standard and agreed upon as a cultural attribute. Standard deviations

are created based on traditional musicological criteria of sound as manifest in timbre from

instrumentation along with performance practice criterion such as tempo and instrumental

technique. This is relatively easy to comprehend when comparing, for example, the Popular

Music Genres of Rock and Dance/Electronic. Rock instrumentation is of guitar, bass, drum kit,

and vocals. Dance/Electronic instrumentation is of entirely electronic instrumentation, with the

possible exception of vocals. Differences based on instrumentation alone become more

problematic and open to debate in other comparisons, such as that between Dance/Electronic

and Hip-Hop Genres. They are both mostly electronic in instrumentation and similar in timbre

content. They may also have similar tempos. This is where we need to progress to the next

level of division to find difference in similarity.

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In biology, the next division of taxonomy is order. In music, it is Subgenre. In Subgenre

distinction we begin to find division based on social forces. Subgenre distinction tends to be

nearly equally a musical and cultural phenomenon. So, to distinguish between Genres within

the Dance/Electronic or Hip-hop Genres we need to understand their cultural differences as

manifest in their Subgenres as well as differences of timbre, tempo, and musical practice.

On the level of “purely musical” content, Breakbeat, House, Old-School Hip-hop, and

Crunk may be of similar, though not identical tempo. Breakbeat and House, as members of the

Dance/Electronic Genre typically, have faster tempos than the Old-School Hip-Hop or Crunk

Genres of Hip-Hop – typically 120-140 beats per minute (bpm) for Breakbeat and House versus

80-120 bpm for the Hip-hop Subgenres. Crunk will tend to have more synthetic timbres then

any of the others, while Breakbeat and Old-School Hip-Hop almost always use “real” drum

sounds sampled from old recordings. House always uses a “four-on-the-floor” bass drum dance

beat while the others typically use drum rhythms that are less regular and repetitive. There are

further purely musical differences, but these will suffice for the example here.

Socio-political, and therefore cultural, forces are also at work in distinguishing the

Subgenre divisions of the Supergenre System of musical taxonomy. To analyze Subgenre it is

helpful to examine some social theories such as those proposed by Antonio Gramsci and Max


Gramscian readings of Popular Music stress the included musics’ extra-musical

meanings of struggle against dominant socio-economic and cultural forces (Shepherd 89, Regev

258). In this way, for the example given, the Subgenres of Electronic/Dance can be assigned

meanings of escape from middle class drudgery, while those of the Hip-Hop Genre may be seen
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as assertions of struggle to reach middle-class status. There is no way of finding these

meanings within the “music itself” but must be ascertained through examination of the social

culture in which the music exists. Weberian philosophy stresses “the use and consumption of

art and culture in terms of their function for the self-definition of collective entities and their

quest for status, prestige, and power” while “serving the interests of rising class formations to

construct their claim for social position and power around their self-definition as specific taste

cultures and lifestyles” (Regev 259-260). Subgenre is primarily a taste-culture distinction which,

though it may have “purely musical” distinctive qualities, those qualities manifest as an

assertion of socio-economic, racial, politico-ideological, or other self-defined criteria of the

musicking participants. It is an assertion of ideological doctrine manifest in musicking practice.

In review, the broadest categories of musical taxonomy are Supergenres and are made

based on the primary text of a music. Division of Supergenre into Genre occurs based on sound

– instrumentation and its attendant timbre. From the Genre division, there is a further

subdivision into Subgenre based on significant and compelling cultural factors as well as slightly

more detailed musical content such as tempo, in addition to timbre. Supergenre is text, Genre

is “the music itself” – the “purely musical” sound, and Subgenre is embodied in musical detail

as well as context of culture . This is an adequately comprehensive system for many, but not

all, musics. Often, to create a sufficient categorical distinction for a music there must be further

categorical distinction. This is where sub-text of social factors contributing to musical subtlety

assumes primary significance for the Subgenre dissection into Style, corresponding to biological

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Musicologists and semiologists seem to agree that Style exists as some subset of genre

and that genre creates rules that govern stylistic choices (Fabbri, Browsing 8-9; Meyer 10;

Moore 434-437). Style becomes most apparent to Subgenre “insiders” – those most familiar

with a Subgenre and its many types of rules – its musicking participants. Style is a semiotic

assertion of social category and perception which directly influences purely musical choices

thereby creating subtle distinctions of sound that may be imperceptible to those outside the

musicking culture. To continue my analogy with biology – all dogs are still dogs (musical genre)

regardless of breed (Style). “Musical Styles are, in the last analysis, artificial constructs

developed by musicians within a specific culture and are recognized as such only by a

community of hearers” (P. Martin 56). Dick Hebdige, in his Subculture: The Meaning of Style,

asserts that personal affectations such as dress and idiosyncratic language help to create Style.

Style may also be apparent in performance environment – bar or club atmosphere, stadium,

concert hall, home, or devotional/spiritual settings, for example.

Style offers value and meaning for participants in that it provides ways of assessing

“social interactions and symbolic goods against a set of group-specific values” and provides,

“markers of inclusion within taste cultures and are expressive of internalized identities”

(Strachan 202). That is, Style provides meaningful interactions of inclusionary practice through

identity-creating artifacts whether real or imagined.

It may be helpful to examine a musical Style for its sociological content to better

understand the “Style” concept. Punk is a Subgenre of the Rock Genre and has a number of

Styles contained within it. Emo and Hardcore Styles are widely divergent in their sociological

constructions. While the ideology of Hardcore stresses masculine and blue-collar values of
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strength, hard work, and assertiveness in interpersonal communication, Emo Style values

sensitivity, introversion, and an emphasis on emotional expression. While Hardcore music

tends to be aggressive and distorted with a shouting vocal Style, Emo music is significantly more

melodic with distinctively melodic sung vocals. Differences in Style participants’ clothing are

often the most telling markers – Hardcore stylists often dress simply and conservatively in well-

fitting t-shirts and jeans with shaved heads or crewcuts and military-Style boots, while Emo

participants’ fashion is of tight-fitting, usually black, clothing with long-ish black hair and

sneakers of the canvas or skate-shoe varieties.

This breakdown of Punk Genre into Hardcore and Emo Style is also an ideal example of

the way in which notions of Genre and Style are not pre-determined constraints of content, but

are constantly shifting and evolving. The accepted history of punk has its origins situated in the

1970s as a Subgenre of Rock. In the 1980s it began to break down into Styles – one of which

was Hardcore. In the 1990s Hardcore broke down further into offshoots such as Emo,

Grindcore, Powerviolence, and Thrash. Emo, then was one of the original offshoots of Hardcore

before it evolved into its own distinct Style. How, then, can breakdowns of Style be categorized

before they evolve into their own distinctive Style? This is the taxonomic breakdown of Scene

which corresponds to the biological Genus, and which is determined by peculiarities arising

from the disintegration of social groups in a certain place and time. These differences are the

results of disagreements within self-determined social groups, and may have any ideological

basis – politics, economic status, fashion and personal adornment, “purely musical” factors, or

interpersonal relations. These Scenes may evolve into Styles, may become obsolete, or may,

given time and circumstance, eventually evolve into their own Genres.
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There is but one major division remaining beyond Scene and that is the Species, or the

type of musicking taking place, corresponding to biological species. Any participation in any

musical activity is musicking, so the question remains: what type of musicking is the participant

engaging in? Composer, musician, listener, dancer, theorist, engineer, roadie, and store clerk

are all species of musicking. Each species ascribes certain levels of meaning to the music and

activities in which it participates. Each species also ascribes differing levels of value to differing

musical and extra-musical content of those activities. At the level of musicking species, or

participant type, it becomes relevant to ask how meaning is created from perceived values and

how those values are determined. In other words, what does music offer to those participating

in it that makes them want to continue participating? Then, as a participant, what does music

provide, internally, as motivation for continued participation within the musicking specimen?
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Meaning Systems

From the earliest explorations of musicology, the fundamental musicological question

is of what music can express. It seems every possible view has been taken on this issue, from

claiming that music can express nothing beyond movement (Adorno, Essays on Music) or

situation (Lippman), to those claiming music as a basis for entire cultures (Hebdige). To assert

one type of meaning over another is to assert one type of thought process, one type of musical

creativity, or one type of social or cultural expression as having superior value over another.

Music, perhaps more than any other type of artistic expression, has, as its primary artistic

strength, abstraction. Concrete meaning is simply not possible in music, at least not in pure

music free from accompanying literature such as lyrics or program notes. It is impossible to

assert that a music has a particular meaning. We can, however, provide a framework and

language for the discussion of musical affectation while accounting for purely musical

characteristics such as timbre, melody, harmony, and rhythm, as well as placing the music

within a context of socio-cultural conditions. This is the primary value of Supergenre System

analysis. Supergenre System theory places a music along a continuum of music making to

provide language for inquiry into the myriad meanings of a music.

Questions of meaning – of what music expresses, and how that expression occurs,

have been the most persistent questions raised throughout the history of musical thought.

With music as a compelling stimulus, it is accepted that it must offer some sort of significance

beyond superficial pleasure. However, the challenge has always been to separate the meaning

from the experience. In Shepherd and Wicke’s Music and Cultural Theory, they state that

“…musical sound cannot easily be distinguished from the affective experience that has to occur
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if the sound image is, indeed, recognized as musical” (Shepherd and Wicke, Music and Cultural

Theory 139). And so, the goal of Supergenre System analysis, in deciphering meaning, is to

dissect the types of affect in terms of intellectual and aural stimulation, cultural significance,

and social influence.

In considering the first level of distinction within the System – the division of

Supergenre – we encounter meanings suggested by the ways in which the musical material is

shared and understood as an artifact of an art world; keeping with Becker’s definition of art

world. Modes of transmission and dissemination involving written notation, or lack thereof,

suggest possibilities for analyzing pitch, time, and timbre significances along with suggesting

certain levels of acculturation within the musical art worlds from which the music originates.

This cultural familiarization alone offers an abundance of meaning types; from social class and

status, to intellectual analysis of the “music itself”, to suggestions of historical value and

countless modes of musical representation (movement, emotion, etc.).

The Genre level offers meaning primarily suggested by sound – timbre and “the music

itself.” Again, acculturation plays a significant role toward meaning suggested by the sound of

Genres. This may be a level at which instrumental/technical/athletic prowess offers a type of

meaning. If a music requires technically demanding technique, whether physically or

intellectually, that music offers meanings corresponding to its challenges. Further divisions into

Subgenre, Style, and Scene provide meanings increasingly based on social factors and less on

“the music itself” the further divided the tree becomes. Eventually, however, beyond the

taxonomic tree, we find the individual musicking participant creating meaning within their own

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A psychological answer to the question of meaning is a physiological one. Music

makes us feel something by triggering a physiological response and that response is the

meaning. (Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music 102). However, the study of

ethnomusicology has made clear that emotional response to the same music varies widely

between cultures. For example, someone accustomed to the values of strong rhythm and who

feels a wide range of physiological responses to rhythm will feel little, if anything, when

presented with a harmonically rich, but comparatively rhythmically sparse, piece of music – i.e.

Hip-Hop versus 19th century Romanticism. Only very general and vague universal relationships

can be made between sound and emotion across cultures. So, if music is has meaning, it must

be culturally, and therefore socially, conditioned.

Cultural and social meanings are embedded in Supergenre, Genre, Subgenre, Style,

and Scene, with meanings created and established by groups of musicking participants within

each socio-cultural system. Anthropologist Alan P. Merriam, in discussing this social process of

musical meaning-creation said, “musical sound is the result of human behavioral processes that

are shaped by the values, attitudes, and beliefs of the people who comprise a particular

culture” (P. Martin 78). It is also largely determined by the power structures within those

systems. Dominant values for meaning creation depend upon the relative power of musicking

participants within the socio-cultural system. “Culture represents a struggle over the definition

of social reality and therefore the issue of the meaning of objects is also an issue of who defines

or appropriates them, where, when, how, and for what purpose” (P. Martin 70). Then, who has

the power to create value and meaning within a system? It depends almost entirely on the

dominance of text, sound, or culture within each system.

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In Popular Music Genres, culture dominates over sound or text in creating meaning.

The music exists less as a “thing-on-its-own” than as something to serve extra-musical needs

such as ritual, social interaction, and/or group cohesion. Art Music genres are served primarily

by text – the text’s creation, interpretation, analysis, and presentation by experts.

Improvisational Music genres have primary meanings created through sound and participation

in performance. It is important here to emphasize that all musicking involves text, sound, and

culture since taxonomic categorization of the musics involves all three. It is the dominance and

hierarchy of the three within the Supergenre Systems that determines the types of meaning

and meaning creation within each system.

Musical meaning creation is always an act of myth-making through metaphor and

ritual. Music can only be described in terms of metaphor, being the most abstract of arts. To

describe music without the use of metaphor would be to present the music itself – direct

experience rather than description. Aligning with semiotic theory, it can be said that any and all

descriptions are metaphors. According to Christopher Small, the musicologist of Musicking

fame, through the act of describing something we are engaging in the ritual of description,

which is to engage in the act of metaphor creation, itself (102). So, by engaging in ritual acts of

musicking within a socio-cultural context we create metaphorical meanings. Those

metaphorical meanings are then assigned value depending on their socio-cultural musicking


To illustrate these ideas, I’ll apply them to the Jazz Genre within the Improvised

Supergenre. In the Improvised Supergenre, primary value is placed on sound over text or

culture. This has implications for value creation through methods and techniques of
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instrumental sound creation. Within a performance situation, assumptions are made toward

acceptable musical language based on the text being improvised upon in a range of possibilities

constrained by the text (Toynbee 40). Skill of the performers in realizing the text and

maintaining its essential characteristics, while creating variation on the text, within a range of

acceptable possibilities is, perhaps, the highest value. Range of meaning, created as part of the

performance ritual, and inherent in the socio-cultural environment becomes contingent upon

perceived success of the improvisation – whether the meaning acquired as part of the ritual is

positive or negative. As part of the improvisational ritual, since personal mastery of the

improvisational language is required for successful positive meaning creation, individual

participants are valued over the culture as a whole. So, the hierarchy of value in meaning

creation of Jazz is foremost of sound, followed by values of text, then culture.

The Supergenre System, with its hierarchical breakdown, provides a logical structure

for musical categorization, organization, and subsequent interpretation of musical meaning and

value within a musico-socio-cultural framework of understanding. Supergenre System theory

considers the whole of musical creation as it relates to the whole of musical activity in

determining comprehensive analytical methods which consider the socio-cultural as well as the

traditionally musicological “purely musical” features of a music. It has been created in an effort

to reduce musical prejudice in musicology, to enrich musicking individuals’ musical experiences,

and to provide logical systems for musico-socio-cultural analysis while considering music as a

universal phenomenon and recognizing sociolinguistic differences in perceiving this thing we

call music.
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Supergenre Value Systems – Cultural Significance of Textual Authenticity

Meaning in art is, fundamentally, metaphor of value, with value defined here in

sociological terms as a moral, ethical, or aesthetic ideal. To assert oneself as an artist is to

assert a certain authority toward idealism and meaning creation through metaphor of whatever

art form is chosen as a medium. However, through participation in an art world, all

participants, however unconsciously or inadvertently, participate in large-scale meaning

creation for the work in which they participate, regardless of their role in the art world. In this

sense, all musicking participants contribute to meaning creation within their chosen musical

culture whether they consider themselves “artists” within the musical art world or they

participate in other ways. Through this participation, and through their cultures beyond the

musical, they create meaning by asserting musical and cultural values corresponding to

characteristics embodied in the music and its process of creation. These characteristics and

values become more detailed as the taxonomic tree breaks into ever-smaller and numerous


Musical participants, through their interactions within their Supergenres’ socio-musical

culture, create distinctions of “us versus them” and “our music” versus “the other.” This is one

of the primary ways genre distinctions are made. For a music to be accepted as “our music,” it

must be seen to be sufficiently “authentic” – it must adhere to some sort of significant and

important values within the Supergenre as determined by participants. Participants inevitably,

as part of their participation in their art world, engage in discourse concerning authenticity of

fellow participants as well as the artifacts for which their art world exists. These discourses also

become more detailed as the taxonomic tree breaks further into sub-divisions. Authenticity is
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of utmost concern, with evaluation based on a music’s adhering to, or at least acknowledging,

the value structure of the art world of participation.

Meta-evaluation for authenticity within a Supergenre (evaluating how authenticity is

evaluated) is demonstrated by showing cultural significance of musical texts and the ways they

are revered, interpreted, disseminated, and consumed. Just as each Supergenre is

disseminated using a text contrasting with the other two Supergenres, the overall significance

and importance placed on texts is determined by the Supergenre’s culture and criteria for

textual authenticity. Textual authenticity, determined by group consensus within each

Supergenre culture, is the first level of meaning creation. It creates the most superficial of

meanings – that of artifact inclusion, that is, determining whether a music is an “authentic”

example of “our music”. If a work’s text – its artifact – is somehow outside the range of things

deemed worthy, the work is often deemed not worthy to be called music or art at all within the

discourse of a particular culture.

These acts of “deeming not worthy” have created some of the most inflammatory (and

interesting) controversies of musical discrimination and prejudice throughout musical history.

From the earliest days of recorded musical history, the greatest musical controversies have

involved questioning the simple inclusion of a work into the category of “music” as a result of

musico-cultural prejudices inherent to participation within Supergenre art worlds. Any

rudimentary music history class will recall a plethora of historical, prejudicial arguments. The

reader may recall controversies surrounding Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Ornette Coleman’s Free

Jazz innovations, John Cage’s 4’33”, Bob Dylan’s electric guitar, and Milli Vanilli’s lip syncing

scandal among others.

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In Popular Music, the idea of “music” is intimately tied to personal authorship as well as

textual authenticity, especially in the Rock genre of the Popular Music Supergenre. According

to musicologist Nicholas Cook, this idea of authenticity arose in the 1950s and 1960s in parallel

with the civil rights movement. Record labels had, for many years, been recording white

musicians performing music written by blacks. As the civil rights movement unfolded, a scandal

developed over this and the whole idea of white musicians “stealing” music written by black

artists became distasteful. The culture of Rock music developed an attitude of distrust toward

anyone performing music that was written by someone else. As such, “inauthentic” music, not

written by the performers, became, within the culture of Rock, “non-music.”

Such questions of authorship are completely reversed in Art Music, and irrelevant to

Improvisational music. Art Music performers are specialists at performing, and attempts at

composition are deemed outside their realm of expertise. Likewise, Improvisational musicians

compose the bulk of their performance instantaneously during the performance, based on

loose predetermined guidelines which aren’t necessarily created by compositional specialists.

These vastly differing notions of authorship become, perhaps, the most noteworthy of all

categorical prejudices when one Supergenre’s values are applied to music in a differing


The Supergenre Theory of Musical Taxonomy attempts to dispel, or at least disarm,

musical prejudice by providing a “framework for understanding” accessible to an observer

outside a given categorical art world. It provides analyses of the significant musical-cultural

values in an effort to prevent attempts to analyze musics of a particular genre using the values

of another. Values create meaning, so without the proper analytical tools (based on
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appropriate values), unfamiliar musics tend to be rejected as “non-music” and meaningless. So,

then, what of the often-heard proclamation that music is a “universal language”?

There is no doubt that, given certain circumstances of situation and open-mindedness,

all people can appreciate the purely sensual sound-pleasure of wholly unfamiliar music. In such

circumstances the unfamiliar music would, indeed, offer meanings of museum-like appreciation

of the music. Those appreciative meanings might foster a further interest in the music to cause

the listener to become more familiar with the music and participate further, which would foster

further meaning creation within the person and, through the participatory action, offer

meaning to the greater musical art world. If however, the music is deemed too unfamiliar for

any sort of appreciation it becomes labeled as “non-music”. This is the first level of meaning

and value interpretation; the instantaneous and effortless instinctual reaction determining

whether a music is, really, music at all according to personal and internal guidelines originating

from musical acculturation.

However, dissecting musical meaning beyond the personal perspective of “is this

music?” is anything but simple. First, an artwork can have as many possible meanings as it has

participants. There can never be a definitive interpretation; all interpretations are highly

individualistic, but discourse surrounding meaning interpretation offers the richness of thought

and experience that is a primary impetus for artistic activity. Next, meaning creation is a

complex interplay of the text, object, or performance itself, along with cultural factors

surrounding those acts and artifacts, and individual readings of artifact and culture accounting

for the individual’s place within or outside the art world. Ultimately, however, meaning

creation and interpretation, at its most basic level involves accepting a work as an authentic
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member of the group of works deemed worthy of inclusion as art artifacts within a particular

art world. This evaluation process is where the three Supergenres divide into Genres.

A hierarchical significance placed on three primary characteristics of a musical art world

create the values of significance for each of the three Supergenre cultures. They are:

Text: idealized formal characteristics

Process: significance created in and through performance

Culture: values of social interaction surrounding the music

Music within each Supergenre, naturally, has all three components, but the first level of

meaning is determined by which of the three components is valued above the others within the

musicking culture.

An analogy can be made here with Plato’s cave related to the three Supergenres. Art

music idealizes the text – the ideal form in theory which can never be fully realized in

performance (performance < text). This relates to Plato’s idealized form as true reality.

Improvised music idealizes the act of performance while utilizing texts as mere guidelines

(performance > text). Here the reflection on Plato’s cave wall is most important – there can be

no idealized form, as it changes with each performance. Popular music places the least

importance on text, taking a “non-textual” approach to dissemination through aural and oral

tradition (performance ≠ text). Here the ideal is neither the cave wall, nor an idealized perfect

form – it is the interaction between observers and their participation in determining ideals.

This value triumvirate of text, process, and culture has further implications for meaning

creation and interpretation when examined from sociological perspectives such as group and

individual consciousnesses. Art Music idealizes the writers of texts whereas Improvisational
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Music idealizes performers, and Popular Music idealizes the cultures surrounding musical

creation. Going further, from an Eastern philosophical perspective, Art Music idealizes the

mind, Improvisational Music idealizes the body, and Popular Music idealizes the Spirit (group

consciousness). All three values of significance are embodied in all musics. However,

Supergenres hierarchically emphasize one of the three. I contend that meaning develops from

an interaction of these interdisciplinary values within each Supergenre culture.

Objections toward assertions of musical meaning tend to align themselves with

precisely the types of meaning creation I am proposing, with the objections often stemming

from strict alignment with one of the three primary musical values. For example, in traditional

music theory analysis, any meaning or interpretation beyond that which is found within written

musical notation is disallowed. Likewise, in “traditional” popular music studies, musical analysis

is typically neglected in favor of examination of song lyrics. To complicate matters, listeners

tend to avoid any sort of analysis whatsoever to focus on how a particular piece of music makes

them feel emotionally. So, within each group of musical observers, each analyzes content for

the meanings significant to their perspective, searching for, what John Shepherd calls “discrete

particulars” – micro-level structures of analyzed content, whether textual, cultural, social, or

psychological, to fit their particular interests.

Concerning objections toward integrated musico-social meaning analysis by the

traditional field of musicology Shepard says:

A principle difficulty in understanding music as a social form lies not, in fact, in

the presumed lack of musicological competence on the part of some analysts,

but in a resistance to accepting that the central sonic manifestations of musical

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expression are socially constructed and therefore in need of theoretical

protocols capable of teasing out this sociality at the same time as respecting the

specificity of music as a social form. (Shepherd, Music as Social Text 174).

Throughout Shepherd’s work, he consistently asserts the need for an integrative musicology

which considers sociological aspects of musical activity as well as traditional notation-based

musicologies in deciphering possible musical meaning creation.

The integrative approach to musicological discourse would seem to be the most logical,

considering the myriad approaches to meaning creation analysis within musicology along with

the methods’ vehement defenses and oppositions. To consider the variable significances of this

thing we call music, it is necessary to acknowledge and examine the numerous perspectives on

the subject. This includes perspectives from the macro to the micro level; from Supergenre to

personal psychology, and all perspectives in-between. Therefore, an integrative approach to

musical meaning must include genre theory, traditional musicology and music theory focusing

on the “music itself”, cultural anthropology, sociology, and psychology. And, though an analysis

of musical material must necessarily begin at the Supergenre macro level, meaning

interpretation begins with the personal and social.

A piece of music creates meaning in a listener through sounds occurring during a

relatively short period of time – the time period in which the music takes place. Within the

individual, melodies, harmonies, and rhythms may trigger biological responses such as changes

in breathing and/or heart rate. These psycho-auditory-biological responses inform the personal

psychology toward interpretation. Within the individual mind, these responses are related,

first, to the immediate social environment of listening, then through a personal perspective
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relating the current personal and social experiences to those of the past and those of a possible

future. Music, “causes the listener to structure each instant in terms of a wide field of presence

related to past, present, and future” (Green 16). In solitary listening situations and

environments, the listening experience continues to be informed by social experiences. Taste

and listening habits are inherently social phenomenon though they are often and typically

perceived as highly personal. This idea will be discussed in detail in a later section of this work.

It will suffice here to say that aesthetic judgment arises from positive past experiences. Those

positive past experiences are then socially reinforced and encouraged through the cultures’

affirmation of the positive experiences. The relevance of those experiences then become

manifest as social and aesthetic value applied to musicking practice within the culture.
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Timbre as Genre-Culture as Value

Through musical timbre inherent in Genre we begin to see social significance. It has

now become fairly well established in musical psychology that participation in ensembles of

musical creation fosters solidarity and group cohesion on an emotional level. In addition,

through mere interest in listening to particular ensemble types, listeners assert their own

cultural values through their musicking preferences.

Countless scholars have advanced the notion that the traditional Western symphonic

ensemble reinforces hegemonic, patriarchal, and bourgeois, social and political values.

Likewise, Popular Music and Ethnomusicological studies often magnify and celebrate the

cooperative and egalitarian nature of their examined ensembles. My intent here is neither to

accede nor contradict such notions, but simply to affirm the notion that Genre is signified by

ensemble-based timbre which, in turn, signifies social and cultural value. These meanings and

values are to be seen, not only in purely social indicators such as modes of communication and

dress, but also tend to be implied by the music itself. Male hegemony and patriarchal power

structures have been argued by numerous scholars to be intrinsic to Western Art Music –

Hebdige, Shepherd, Green, and Susan McClary have all written extensively on the subject.

These ideas fully align with those of Theodore Adorno – often referred to as the father of socio-


Adorno’s work has been analyzed, scrutinized, and evaluated almost to the point of

over-analysis in musicological studies. I will spare the reader here any assessment of Adorno’s

dismissal of popular music, or his distrust of the listening public’s tastes for conformist art.

These topics have all been discussed, at length, elsewhere. Adorno’s most significant
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contribution to my own theory is found in his article On the Fetish-Character in Music and the

Regression of Listening, where he says that “familiarity of a piece is a surrogate for the quality

ascribed to it” (Adorno, Essays on Music 288). Musical familiarity is, first and foremost, a

quality of sound, with sound a function of timbre inherent in musical ensembles’

instrumentation. Familiarity comes from exposure, with exposure a direct effect of

socialization toward particular ensembles. So, I contend that all meaning beyond textual

analysis begins with the musical ensemble and its accompanying timbre.

Following the common Marxist analysis of symphonic ensembles, if the entire culture of

Western symphonic performance promotes passivity in listeners and patriarchal power

structures, it follows that other types of ensembles and their inherent timbres might promote

active participation and communal, decentralized power and authority. As a concurrent

influence, performance environment offers values similar to ensemble timbre, owing to

standardized performance venues for particular ensemble types. As an example of this kind of

meaning creation, we’ll examine the Rock genre.

It has been argued that the rise of Rock music in the mid-twentieth century in the

United States was a youth-driven contraposition to dominant cultural values of authority and

conformity. American and European popular music of the time used, predominantly,

symphonic and chamber-type ensembles of “traditional” string and wind instruments, played

by professional musicians, utilizing a power structure similar to the “classical” orchestra, with

conductors, first chair players, etc. In contrast, Rock music used small groups of three or four

(typically) self-taught musicians playing, what were considered at the time to be, “folk”

instruments. These choices of instrumentation and ensemble size allowed Rock musicians to
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proclaim independence from the dominant culture. Musicking participants outside the

ensemble then aligned themselves with the values of rebellion inherent in the Rock culture.

Performances, rather than being an environment of passive acceptance with an ensemble

separated from listeners and audience members listening quietly, were participatory, with

audiences close to the stage responding and participating in the performance environment.

Likewise, in many non-Western musical ensembles, large group musicking ensembles

blur the Western notion of ensemble versus audience. In many non-Western cultures everyone

is expected to participate in the creation of music with no distinction between player and

listener – players are listeners. This creates a type of group and cultural cohesion in opposition

to any authoritarian notions of ensemble participation. Music may take place anywhere or at

any time in these cultures, though, as mentioned earlier, it often takes on a special role as

accompaniment to other activities.

Beyond personal and cultural identities and alignments with various structures of

authority and conformity, in the modern era of musical saturation, deciding what music to

participate in, through various forms of musicking, is a significant part of self-creation and

alignment with those who hold similar values. It is, by now, a well established socio-

musicological fact that “social formations often have a strong affiliation with musical genres

and may invest them with intense cultural significance” (Toynbee 103). Through participation

in a particular genre of music, the participant announces to other genre participants as well as

the world at large “this is what I am about, and who I want to be” (Cook 5).
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Subgenre and Authenticity

Subgenre in musical taxonomy is equivalent to sub-culture in sociology. It is, perhaps,

the most significant personal-identity-creating branch of the musical taxonomic tree.

Differences among Subgenres within a Genre are primarily cultural, with cultural indicators also

manifesting as musical subtlety. General manners of speaking, dressing, and behaving within a

musical culture signify sub-generic inclusion. Supergenre based on text, and Genre based on

timbre are purely musical indicators. With the Subgenre branch we begin taxonomic tree

branch distinction based on sociological indicators.

Subgenre discourse, being a significant personal-aesthetic indicator, tends to become

heavily charged with issues of personal, inter-personal, and cultural authenticity. Across

Supergenres and Genres we encounter opposing criteria for purely-musical and cultural

inclusion. These are the inter-genre criteria for authentic inclusion. Nicholas Cook, in his

Music: A Very Short Introduction, discusses these “authenticity tests.” He summarizes by


A value system is in place within our culture, then, which places innovation

above tradition, creation above reproduction, personal expression above the

market-place. In a word, music must be authentic, for otherwise it is hardly

music at all. (Cook 14)

Tests for musical and personal authenticity within a Subgenre and its culture are cyclical

and self-reinforcing. For a music to be deemed authentic, its creators must also be judged as

authentic members of the Genre and Subgenre culture. They must exhibit, in their displayed,

public personas, certain personal values and characteristics which align with those of the
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cultural participants as a whole. Subgenre is a representation of culture, with the term

“culture” understood, according to sociologist Raymond Williams, as “meanings and values

implicit and explicit in a particular way of life” (Hebdige 6). Subgeneric meanings rise from

these cultural values, and purely musical characteristics often manifest from these values.

For example, in the Jazz Subgenre of the African-American Genre, of the Improvised

Supergenre, the culture promotes personal individuality arising from highly technical and

athletic skills in musical performance. These interpretations suggest that meaning in Jazz is

dependent upon, and subject to, scrutiny of technical proficiency in performance on

instruments, vocals notwithstanding. Tests for authentic inclusion in the Jazz culture might

simply consist of having technical proficiency and improvisational skills on a particular

instrument. For cultural participants who might not be musical creators, authenticity tests

might consist of the ability to appreciate the aforementioned technical skills. Jazz culture

participants, through predominantly casual and social means, acquire the knowledge, skills, and

modes of behavior to become recognizably authentic participants. In short, they acquire what

sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls, cultural capital.

In his Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Bourdieu discusses, at

length, various forms of capital. Capital may be understood as status or wealth. Most

obviously, economic capital is of the monetary kind, but he also argues for distinctions of other

forms of capital such as cultural, academic, and social capital. He argues that aesthetic tastes,

above all, are indicators of capital types beyond the economic, but that economic conditions

often pre-dispose and pre-determine levels of cultural capital. Further he says, “nothing more
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infallibly classifies than tastes in music” (Bourdieu 18). Knowledge of a Genre culture, as a form

of cultural capital, is a way of conferring status and being granted status as being “in the know.”

In the above example, the performer’s cultural capital would, most likely, have come as

direct consequence of his or her economic capital, as predicted by Bourdieu. To become a

highly proficient performer often requires extensive educational resources which typically come

with an economic cost. To understand how a non-performer may acquire cultural capital we

can look to sociologist Sarah Thornton who has taken Bourdieu’s ideas a step further, by

discussing a concept she calls “subcultural capital.”

Subcultural capital clouds distinctions of economic capital because it is characterized by

an enthusiast or hobbyist’s devotion: “It has long defined itself as extra-curricular, as

knowledge one cannot learn in school” (Thornton 101). Unlike Bourdeau’s cultural capital

which, he says, is directly influenced by economic capital, Thornton’s subcultural capital is

entirely independent from economic influence. In the earlier example, while the cultural

capital might be determined by either a performer’s skill or a non-performer’s appreciation of

the performer’s skill, subcultural capital would be knowledge of who the “cool” performers

currently are.

Both cultural and subcultural capital create meaning for Subgenre types. For

participants, Genre meaning is created from an understanding and recognition of authentic

musical and personified members of the Genre culture. Then, after authenticity has been

established, the participant interprets meaning through an understanding of group-influenced

and socialized tastes, in order to recognize subtleties of authenticity.

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Though Subgenre meaning is primarily cultural, there are purely musical criteria for

distinction as well. The purely musical criteria for Subgenre inclusion are expressed in specifics

of “music-theory” such as tempo and distinctive rhythmic, harmonic, or melodic motifs and

conventions. An example is easily shown in the Rock Genre of the Popular Supergenre.

Within Rock, the Subgenres are Funk, Metal, Punk, Pop-Rock, and Country-Rock. The

most obvious distinguishing characteristic is tempo, with Funk being the slowest and Punk

having the highest number beats-per-minute. Next, rhythmic complexity tends to be highest in

Metal and lowest in Punk. Funk tends to emphasize syncopated rhythms while Country-Rock

tends to avoid them. Punk tends to have the least harmonic complexity and funk the most –

often incorporating extended “jazz-type” harmonies such as 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths. Pop-Rock

and Country-Rock tend to be the most “middle-of-the-road” in musical characteristics – mid-

tempo, triadic harmonies rarely modulating beyond closely related keys, and easy-to-sing


These purely musical characteristics reinforce the cultural ideals of their Subgenre. Funk

is relaxed but danceable. Metal is aggressive and complex. Punk is fast, aggressive, and simple.

Pop-Rock and Country-Rock are mainstream and easily understood from both musical and

cultural perspectives.
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Musical Subtleties of Style

Style, in every way, is simply a further refinement of Subgenre as identified by both

sociological and purely musical factors with slightly more emphasis on subtleties of the purely

musical. The distinctive characteristic of Style is that it is in nearly constant change and

evolution with new Styles and Style labels constantly forming, re-forming, and dissolving. These

changes occur in the purely musical characteristics, but are highly informed by sociological

factors. Style is also the final taxonomic level at which the purely musical elements contribute

to meaning. However, the meanings of the term “Style” offer some of the most contested

theories in musical and sociological semiotics. The literature offers discrete and conflicting

commentaries on the term depending on the musicological or sociological discipline in which it


Even in reference works the term “Style” is wrought with confusion. Beard and Gloag’s

Musicology: The Key Concepts offers nearly three pages of attempted elucidation on the topic,

but serves only to show that the term has been used in innumerable ways to describe

everything from genre, to performance practice, to social influence on music making. The

Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music expressly states that the term can be used to describe

particular works, composers, ensemble type, instrument type, method of composition,

nationality, or time period. The dictionary entry suggests a purely musical approach to Style

while the Musicology entry suggests a hybrid, musico-sociological use.

Leonard Meyer constructs something akin to my own taxonomy in his discussion of

“style-systems” in his 1956 classic Emotion and Meaning in Music.

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The response to music, as well as its perception, depends on learned habit

responses. The style systems to which these responses are made are …artificial

constructs developed by musicians within a specific culture. The very fact that

there are many different style systems …demonstrates that styles are

constructed by musicians in a particular time and place and that they are not

based upon universal, natural relationships inherent in the tonal material itself.


So, then, Style is a musical, cultural, and social construct which, ultimately, is a primary

determinant of musical meaning. However, Meyer himself admitted to preferential

consideration of Western Art Music. How then can “Style” operate outside the Western Art


In Popular Music Studies the term “Style” has been formulated and discussed

extensively over the past thirty years while being highly influenced by Dick Hebdige’s 1979 work

Subculture: the Meaning of Style. Formulated as a study of youth subcultures in the United

Kingdom in the 1960s and 70s, Hebdige’s study pays special attention to the rise of Punk as a

working-class revolt against social norms. Hebdige posits “Style” as predominantly a consumer-

based manifestation of “subculture” where personal identity is shaped by the economy of

leisure commodities such as clothing, apparel accessories, recordings, and club-going activities.

He discusses how subcultures identify with certain musics as constituent to their identifying

agency. Hebdige’s sub-cultural agency offers music as a minute component of a larger cultural

phenomenon of commodity-art. He suggests that personal identity creation through

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accumulation and display of consumer artifacts becomes a form of art when the commodities

take on new meaning through display by particular agents.

I concur with Hebdige’s notions of identity creation through consumer cultures, but

counter that his use of “style” as a sociological term while including musical elements in his

theories complicates notions of “style” that were already sufficiently complicated before his

work arrived. Perhaps better terms would have been “identity” or “lifestyle” to distinguish his

ideas from musical Style. I do believe there is a strong social element to musical Style creation,

but there is an equally strong, perhaps stronger, purely musical element that Hebdige

downplays. In the Supergenre System, the influential strength of social versus musical

elements toward determination of Style is dependent on the relative strength of the Subgenre

Culture which the Style is a member of. Hebdige’s work focuses, exclusively, on the cultures of

the Rock Subgenre so we are left wondering how his ideas of commodity-culture as personal-

identity signifier as musical Style identifier might work elsewhere.

The musical accessory as personal identity creator seems to be prevalent, indeed, within

all the Supergenre Systems, at least in Western Capitalist societies. Certainly, in the cultures of

some Genres, the significance of extra-musical accoutrements is often downplayed, but their

existence and significance cannot be overlooked. This reluctance is, perhaps, most apparent in

Western Art Music cultures. However, like other modern Western musical cultures, it does

indeed have its magazines, websites, record labels, styles of dress, and consumption activities.

Concert-going, in particular, is an occasion to don fine evening-wear and arrive early to the

concert in order to enjoy a glass of wine while mingling with other concert attendees in the

foyer of an ornately styled concert hall replete with gold and marble furnishings. Western Jazz
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culture also prefers publicly to minimize the cultural impact of extra-musical commodities. Yet,

how can we ignore the stereotype of the Jazz-man in dark sunglasses, wearing a beret, and

drinking cocktails in a smoke-filled basement Jazz club. Stereotype, regardless of possible

unwanted connotation, is a significant identifier of Style.

The concept of Style I subscribe to, as the third level of generic division after

Supergenre, Genre, and Subgenre, is one primarily of musical characteristics which offer value

to the Subgenre culture of their inclusion. In this, I may be hearkening back to a centuries-old

idea of musical Style as set forth by Rousseau in his Complete Dictionary of Music published in

1779. In the entry on “Style” Rousseau states that Style is:

the distinctive character of composition or execution. This character varies

greatly, according to the countries, the taste of the people, the genius of the

authors, etc. according to matter, place, subject, expression, etc. (385).

He goes on to explain various Styles such as that of the church, particular composers, particular

countries, motets, symphonies, etc. using expressive and florid language, but always describing

the music itself rather than the culture. Yet, he describes Style as a character influenced

“according to the countries, the taste of the people”. This suggests that music and sociology

are in constant dialog – influencing, creating, and reinforcing meaning created between them.

Purely musical characteristics create social meaning, and social influences, in turn, help

determine musical creation and evolution within and among Styles of a particular Subgenre.

Here we encounter an extremely important aspect of Style – it is in constant flux; a constant

state of musical and social evolution with music influencing culture and culture influencing

musical creators to evolve Styles.

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It is a well-established fact, especially in Popular and Improvised Genres, that musical

Styles are in a constant state of evolution. In Popular Music this constant evolution often

confounds new-comers or those outside a particular Subgenre culture. Certain Popular Music

Subgenres evolve so quickly, with so many Style labels appearing and disappearing in near-

constant rotation, that their cultures often seem impenetrable. This is often the point –

especially in youth-oriented Subgenre cultures such as Punk and the Dance/Electronic

Subgenres. The constantly evolving Styles are another way for participants to test authenticity

in participants. Only those with the required dedication to the Subgenre culture are allowed

knowledge of the latest terminology associated with subtleties of sound that the new Styles


As a rule, in Popular Music as well as Art Music and Improvisational Music, Styles are

distinguished as subtleties of performance practice that inform, and are informed by, notions of

authenticity within their Subgenre culture of inclusion. The authenticity tests create further

refinement of meaning as social situations offer group exclusionary practices while

simultaneously offering group cohesion and situations of shared experience.

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Scenes and The Psychology of Locality

We have seen how the further out from the trunk of the taxonomic tree we get, the

more socially influenced the branch distinctions become. The taxonomic division into Scenes is

the logical conclusion of this organizational scheme. Scene is a purely sociological distinction

based, primarily, on distinctions inherent in self-identifying social groups, or Scenes, of peers.

Self-identification as part of a peer group of Scene participants is a motivating factor for musical

discovery and exploration. In many ways, sociological identifiers for Scene inclusion operate in

reverse fashion to purely musical identifiers. Rather than purely musical characteristics

functioning as taxonomic indicators, which function meta-discursively to describe sociological

function, the sociological indicators of Scenes function as descriptors of musical content.

A leading scholar on the sociology of music, Tia DeNora, in her book Music in Everyday

Life, discusses how music provides aesthetic context and content for human interaction,

framing situations according to psychological influences of music and providing a common

discursive ground on which to build interpersonal relationships. In addition she says, “aesthetic

materials …provide motifs that precede, and serve as reference points for, lines of conduct over

time” (129). Further, she argues that music provides a “habitat for social life” including all the

interpersonal thoughts and activities that the term “social life” implies. This idea is reinforced

by philosopher Theodore Gracyk who says music “can only communicate and reinforce

identities shaped by other, nonmusical social forces, because listeners reject (and so cannot be

influenced by) music that might contribute to a different identity” (Gracyk, I Wanna Be Me:

Rock Music and the Politics of Identity 235). These social identities must, logically, begin at the
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local, interpersonal level, among peers. Social identities inform and influence aesthetic taste

which creates personal musical, and therefore social, meaning.

Scene can be seen as the locality of musicking participation. This is most pervasive in

Popular and Improvised genres though it does exist, albeit more subtlety, in Art Music,

congruent with Style. Scenes exist as local social groups of self-identifying musicking

participants. Occasionally, a Scene grows beyond local acknowledgement to reach wider

acclaim. Examples of such famous sub-styles include: Viennese Opera, Detroit Techno,

Bakersfield Country, and Delta Blues. In these Scenes, the locality becomes widely

acknowledged and identified with a particular Style due to a local Scene’s size and popularity.

However, even without wider recognition, prominent Scenes within a locality tend to take on a

sub-culture of their own, and it is this sub-culture that we define as a proper Scene.
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The Deeply Personal: Meanings for the Musicking Species

The final taxonomic branch of group distinction is the musicking Species of participants

and their activities. Species of musicking participants may, in alignment with the definition of

musicking set forth at the beginning of this work, be participating in any musical activity – from

performer or composer, to listener, dancer, or seemingly passive consumer. They all

participate in some musically related activity and all provide value and offer meaning to the

musicking culture of their participation. It is, perhaps, through their agency as a participant in a

particular culture that they provide greatest meaning. Individuals create these meanings of

participation through their agency as a function of something we call “taste.”

Though the vast majority of musicking participants may claim varying degrees of

romance for their explanations of personal musical taste and preference, it is not at all a simple

or romantically mystical matter. Taste preferences are typically described in subjective and

emotionally charged terms with the taste origin or cause often a mystery beyond romantic

descriptions like “it just speaks to me.” Superficially, of course, the significance of musical taste

is nothing more complex than personal preferences for nice things to listen to. And, these nice

things to listen to are often functional and utilitarian beyond objects for aesthetic appreciation

or identity construction. Sociologist Tia DeNora, has made an exhaustive study of how music is

used by individuals for utilitarian purposes in her previously mentioned Music in Everyday Life.

Through surveys and interviews she found a wide range of uses for music in practice such as

providing motivation for activities concurrent with listening, providing emotional enhancement

or escape, or enhancing interpersonal and social experiences (DeNora). So, it seems, musical

taste may be influenced by pragmatic musical usage in addition to peer-group influences. Yet,
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according to DeNora, most people feel their musical taste as deeply personal, however they

choose to exercise and experience it.

Taste may, at the personal level, seem to the individual to be a matter of personal

agency. However, when examined from the perspectives of psychology and the social sciences,

it becomes obvious that taste is anything but an exercise of personal judgment; especially when

that taste is decided upon by its extra-musical content or is determined and controlled by

external agents.

In today’s public spaces we are unceasingly surrounded by conventionally musical

sounds. Music has become a device for manipulation and control of behavior in public space. It

becomes a way for retailers to influence purchasing behavior, for restaurateurs to influence

eating behavior, and for civic institutions to influence behavior in train and bus stations,

skyways, and airports.

It may be argued, from a “music industry” perspective, that music is simply a functional

entertainment commodity, and any attempt at interpretation is futile and false. From this

viewpoint, musicking creators invent a façade of persona and product. The “music industry”

has evolved over the last hundred years to be subsumed into the larger “entertainment

industry.” As part of this larger media-creation machine, music becomes, simply a functional

object of commodity.

Contemporary musicking species-as-creators have taken on new roles as functional

members of this entertainment commodity industry. Trained Art Music composers wishing to

become part of this industry often compose music for films. Those wishing to become Popular

Music musicians are required to make YouTube videos and submit music for possible inclusion
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in TV shows. Improvisational Musicians often become “session musicians” in recording studios

providing their skills as product to be included on more popular musicians’ recordings.

However, in all these cases, though the immediate goal of the industry-based activity is to

create a product and, ultimately, a paycheck, these acts offer meaning precisely as commodity-

centered activities. From a commodity-centered notion of musical creation, musical taste is

determined as much, perhaps more, by marketing and product placement than by any notion

of aesthetic personal agency. In the commodity-centered approach to meaning, aesthetic taste

itself is commodified as the selling of identity-creating artifacts of fantasy. To purchase the

taste commodity is to purchase a fantasy – the commodity, in some way, offers dreams of

inclusion to be like the celebrity creator of the commodity.

The façade of persona and product – celebrity and industry – generate meanings of

celebrity and industry working within their Subgenre cultures. This very broad subject is far

beyond the scope of this work. It has been discussed, at length, however, by numerous other

sociologists, musicologists, philosophers, psychologists, and cultural theorists.

Neuroscientist Steven Brown has taken a pessimistic-sounding, but astute approach to

sociological question of taste and the importance of this thing we call music. He claims that a

primary function of music is as a mechanism for “behavioral control.” His is a realistic and

decidedly non-romantic notion of how music works. In “How Does Music Work?” he lists six

ways that music exercises its social powers:

1. Music has an important role in bringing about behavioral conformity and in

stimulating compliance with social norms. In other words, music has the

effect of homogenizing social behavior within groups, especially in ritual

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contexts. …music serves as an adjunct to language to emotively reinforce

group values, virtues, and normative behaviors.

2. Along similar lines, music is a communication device that serves as an

important component of systems of persuasion and manipulation. …that

reinforces group ideologies.

3. As a force of social conformity, music has a major role in defining and

reinforcing social identity. Much work in social identity theory has shown

that identity formation is basically an exclusionary process. Music plays on

our most tribal instincts and helps distinguish “us” from “them.”

4. Along these lines, music serves as an important basis for sorting people into

groups in large-scale societies, creating musical-preference groups. This can

be both the cause and effect of group formation: people not only sort into

groups based on their musical tastes but use musical taste as an important

criterion for membership in certain groups.

5. Music is an important device for creating group-level coordination and

cooperation. Its ability to increase arousal and synchronize movement can

lead to coordinated and cooperative action.

6. Music is an important device for emotional expression, conflict resolution,

and social play. Music and dance are, in fact, among the very few devices for

channeling emotional expression at the group level.

(Brown 4-5)
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This list echoes the ways in which the Supergenre System operates sociologically, on the

macro scale, as an integrated system. Each successive taxonomic division creates meaning for

participants related to one or more of Brown’s “social powers”. In addition, the Supergenre

System provides corresponding “purely musical” criteria associated with each division to

reinforce the division and offer a taxonomy based on musical, as well as extra-musical, social

criteria. Brown sees music purely from a functional standpoint, however, and disregards

notions of aesthetic appreciation in favor of music’s function as “an enhancer of persuasion

processes, which themselves depend on more fundamental processes of stimulation and

semiosis” (Brown 24). Put another way: music’s only function is to reinforce accompanying

social processes.

In today’s saturated musical environment, shaped by the entertainment industry and

extra-musical media elements, we encounter two primary objections to any attempt at musical

meaning interpretation – poetry and commerce. Both poetry and commerce do, indeed, offer

types of meaning creation. However, not all music has meaning created as part of the

commercial “music industry,” nor does all music have accompanying poetry to offer literary

extra-musical meaning. Objections at meaning creation beyond commerce and poetry are

simply exclusionary statements responding to “the other” that is not, socially, “our music.”

Coinciding with the romance of aesthetic taste and nice things to listen to, many casual

participants, especially of Popular Genres, claim lyrical song content – the extra-musical

inclusion of poetry – as determinant of taste and meaning. And, again, if a music lacks poetic

accompaniment it is often encountered as “the other.” There is little doubt that lyrical content

and textual accompaniment to performances, in program notes and the like, provide a type of
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meaning for musicking participants. Participants may claim that lyrics provide the meaning and

insight into the music, especially in Popular Music Genres. Interpretation of Rock and Pop lyrics

has become a common topic for college courses in the United States and Europe. In recent

years, a number of lyrical discussion-forum websites have emerged such as,, and Lyrics can be seen as insight into a composer or

performer’s intended extra-musical meaning for a work that requires interpretive work on the

part of audience participants. In dramatic works which include song, lyrical content provides

storyline narrative and insight toward character development. Regardless of the context in

which lyrical content is used and its content interpreted, it is always a matter of specific and

detailed meaning of specific works. Attempting detailed interpretations of specific pieces of

music is beyond the scope of this work, and is not the intention of the Supergenre System. The

goal of the Supergenre System is to provide a framework for interpretation based on taxonomic

divisions of musical and sociological phenomena. Likewise, program notes accompanying a

performance may offer insight toward the performers’ or composers’ intended and specific

meanings, but in the context of the Supergenre System, merely provide paraphernalia for

authenticity testing. Program notes, along with lyrical content, offer insight toward Subgenre

cultural inclusion. If a specific interpretation is desired, it may be undertaken, but, as part of

the framework for interpretation, lyrics and program notes are, simply, Subgenre cultural


Specific interpretations of specific works which result in specific meanings have

traditionally been undertaken as part of the customary work of Musicology scholars. Many

throughout history have gone to great lengths to create compendiums of meaning based on
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musical elements. Deryck Cooke’s previously mentioned The Language of Music is probably the

most infamous. It operates as an encyclopedia of musical-notational devices, ascribing specific

meanings to each. Published in 1959, and persistently criticized to the present day, it ushered

in an era in which musicologists avoid questions of meaning, preferring to disregard any notion

of music’s significance beyond the notated page.

Notated meanings and the significance of purely musical elements operating as

constituent parts of a composer’s output continues to be a topic of fascination. The standard

analytical method is based on the work of Heinrich Schenker. To simplify and summarize

Shenkerian analysis is to say that it is heavily centered around harmonic content and ideas of

background and foreground elements which modulate the harmonies.

Another popular analytical method, especially for choral and other vocal musics, is

based on Jan LaRue’s 1970 work Guidelines for Style Analysis. LaRue set forth an elaboration of

the Shenkerian model with a method that analyzes a piece of music based on its sound,

harmony, melody, rhythm, growth, and text influence as its primary method. LaRue also set

forth a method for analyzing and evaluating the “quality” of a piece of music based on

subjective affect. His subjective quality analysis was based on three aspects:

1. Affective range – the number of different moods and the contrast in their effect that

we encounter in a piece

2. Emotional Intensity – How strong are the moods?

3. Character of Appeal – popularity of a piece and its composer

(LaRue 219). So, while Shenker created a purely objective approach to analysis, LaRue

elaborated on the Shenkerian model and added subjective analysis. Both approaches,
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however, are analytical methods for dissecting individual pieces. As such, they tend to be

useful only as methods for uncovering how individual pieces are put together; they are not

comparative methods like the Supergenre System. Musicologists often use methods like

Shenker’s and LaRue’s to examine similar works and drafts by individual composers in order to

determine composers’ true intentions and uncover mistakes in printing.

Joseph Kerman, in his Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology criticizes analysis

as the busywork of recent musicology, wondering how many analyses and critical editions of a

work are enough. I would add to his criticism that musicology, as a field, is often inattentive to

research on musical topics in other, but related fields. Most notably here, musicologists often

fail to incorporate any sort of social element into their work. It would seem to be natural and

logical to approach musical interpretation as an integrative discipline. This integrative

approach might consider my own framework of interpretation to determine a work’s

classification and the relative importance of purely musical versus social criteria, then use a

Shenkerian approach to distill musical elements, followed by Cooke or LaRue’s guides to

examine affects, and finally Brown’s framework for specific social meanings. By taking an

integrative approach to questions of the significance of this thing we call music, we can be

assured of a comprehensive analysis and a thorough understanding of the musical material in

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Meanings of the Mind, Body, and Spirit

As Musical Psychology, Music Therapy, and the newly emerging field of Medical

Ethnomusicology are re-discovering from the Pythagoreans, music can have powerful effects on

the mind and body. These effects become, regardless of the taxonomic division of the musical

sound, the most intimate and ineffable of all musical meanings. Corresponding to the

Supergenre System of Musical Taxonomy these intimate meanings are meanings of the

individual, for the individual, and how he or she personally relates to musicking activities and

sound itself. These meanings are created deep within the individual psyche. This is smallest

sub-division of taxonomy – the individual Specimen of human.

Sound and music throughout the world’s spiritual traditions has been given attributes of

extraordinary creative and destructive power. We have the ancient Greek myth of Amphion,

who built the walls of Thebes by playing his lyre. In Edith Hamilton’s classic Mythology, it is

written that Amphion, “drew such entrancing sounds from his lyre that the very stones were

moved and followed him to Thebes” (Hamilton 348). Alternately, in the Judeo-Christian

tradition, the sound of trumpets blaring brought down the walls of Jericho. “So the people

shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the

sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat”

(Joshua 6:20). The Christian gospel of John begins by saying “the Word was God.” Likewise,

some Indian spiritual traditions have, as a core tenet, Nada Brahma, or “god-sound” (Berendt).

There are innumerable other examples of sound as a core constituent of religious doctrine

throughout the world.

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The use of music in religious ceremony may be so ubiquitous as to be a moot point. It

may seem obvious that music touches something deep within the human psyche that makes it

useful for worship beyond the function of social congruence. From prayer, song, mantra, and

dance, to bells, organs, trumpets and flutes, the practice of musical activities is a universal

aspect of spiritual ritual. Sound amplifies emotions and notions of “the other.” These spiritual

practices and emotions are, simultaneously, the most personal, yet most paradoxically social, of

all musical meanings. The experience of spiritual emotions in social settings seems to amplify

their meanings.

The feeling of “the other” may occur during any musical experience; it is not exclusive to

overt spiritual practice, though during such practice the feeling is often amplified. Feelings of

“chills,” “shivers,” or “hair standing up on the neck” is, technically, called frisson (Huron 34) and

may be aroused by any aesthetic experience, not just the expressly spiritual. However, it is

often described by those experiencing it as a spiritual feeling. Books attempting to dissect the

notion that music expresses “something more and beyond” everyday reality have topped the

bestseller lists in recent years with the previously mentioned Music, the Brain, and Ecstacy and

This is Your Brain on Music. In addition, Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia is a collection of anecdotes

from the author’s work as a clinical neurologist confronting the strange ways our minds process

sounds and music before and after traumatic illness or injury.

An entire branch of musical scholarship and practice has arisen that seeks to heal the

mind, body, and spirit through music. Music Therapy, though a relatively new discipline, as a

professional practice, has its roots as far back as Pythagoras and Plato, both of whom conferred

upon sound the power to heal.

Kessel 102

Historian of musical mysticism Joscelyn Godwin’s Harmonies of Heaven and Earth offers

a series of historical anecdotes of Music Therapy from biblical times to the present. However,

he offers that “the noble history of music therapy, with its heritage of heroes and kings, its

marvels and miracles, tends to be more of a burden than an asset to the profession today”

(Godwin 27) acknowledging that that scientific community often scoffs at the healing

possibilities of sound and music. Pythagorean ideas of harmonizing bodily frequencies can be

seen in today’s ultrasound therapies. Likewise, as stated on the American Music Therapy

Association website, “Music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness,

manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, and

promote physical rehabilitation” (American Music Therapy Association). In addition, Sacks’s

Musicophilia documents the power of music to return powers of speech to those who become

aphasic, return memory to those who have forgotten, and bring about bodily control in those

with epilepsy and Parkinson’s. These therapeutic uses of sound and music suggest that it

stimulates sections of our brains otherwise inaccessible. In acknowledging the power of music

and sound on the mind, body, and spirit, we may be at the genesis of a return to values of the

ancients in unlocking the significance of this thing we call music.

Kessel 103

Toward an Integrative Musicology

Contemporary musicology is plagued by its own culture of division into sub-disciplines.

Historical musicologists study the history of Western Art Music, occasionally collaborating with

music theorists who study musical texts of notation. Popular music scholars usually operate

outside the musicological mainstream to study Popular and Improvisational music, usually of

Western cultures, and occasionally begin their careers as ethnomusicologists. Ethnomusicology

has, traditionally, been the realm of studying anything that didn’t belong to the Western Art

Music tradition. A number of disciplines have focused on the relationship of music to the mind

and body including Psychology and Music Therapy. In contrast, social and interpersonal aspects

of musicking are typically studied by sociologists and cultural theorists, but not those in

categorically musical disciplines. Scholars working to understand music’s relationship to the

body and mind frequently collaborate and have cross-pollinating ideas with Socio-musicology.

However, the academic disciplines traditionally found in university music departments –

Musicology, Ethnomusicology, and Music Theory – often stand firm in their traditions and

dogmas, holding obdurate and limited notions of the music and musical topics worthy of study.

Joseph Kerman’s volume on the history and practices of Musicology and its sub-

disciplines, Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology likewise denounces those within

the field who prefer to partition off musical studies in order to avoid contamination of thought

with methods and materials divergent from their own. However, Kerman takes the eminent

scholar Charles Seeger as a hopeful model for the future of Musicological studies.

“Separatists…feel that as a practical matter, they work with such disparate materials, with such

incommensurable methods, and with such divergent ends in view that it is a waste of time to
Kessel 104

try to talk, let alone relate what they are doing. But Seeger …was the universalist par excellence

…he resisted any partitioning of musical scholarship” (Kerman 162).

It is my hope that the Supergenre System of Musical Taxonomy for Hermaneutic

Analysis will provide organizational means for examining the whole of musical creation,

dissemination, and interpretation as an integrated discipline. In today’s disparate climate of

musical scholarship, perhaps the most logical fit for the Supergenre System is within Systematic

Musicology – an emerging discipline that seeks to integrate Historical Musicology,

Ethnomusicology, and Music Theory.

The Supergenre System aims to organize the whole of musicking – organizing the “texts”

of dissemination into Supergenres, the contents of those texts and the sounds they produce

into Genres, and the cultures surrounding those sounds and texts as Subgenres, Styles, and

Scenes. Through this organizational process and examination of the texts and cultures involved,

patterns emerge that suggest broad musical and social values inherent within each taxonomic

division. Through this process of dissecting and applying appropriate musical and cultural

values to specific works, musical and cultural preconceptions may be avoided, and the arduous

task of deciphering specific meanings may be undertaken with sensitivity and clarity. Free from

musical and cultural bias we can objectively and accurately interpret the significance of this

thing we call music.

The Supergenre System is a framework for organization and discourse, but makes no

claims of all-inclusiveness in its methods or materials. Considering the vast-ness of music and

musicking activities worldwide, it would be foolhardy to declare my taxonomy absolute and

complete. By the very nature of musical genre, the taxonomic divisions are constantly evolving
Kessel 105

with the rate of change increasing the further out from the taxonomic “trunk” we get. Sub-

Styles evolve into Styles which evolve into Subgenres evolving into Genres. Only Supergenres

resist evolution, though their contents continuously evolve. My system also provides an

interpretive foundation on which to build meaning and discourse surrounding those meanings,

but is not meant to provide specifics of either. The system does, however, offer an

organizational scheme that accounts for both musical and social phenomena and interplay of

the two. Through this interplay it aims to abolish distortions which arise when value systems of

one musicking culture are applied to another, incompatible, system. The benevolence which

arises from recognizing a music’s value system aspires, ultimately, to bridge the musicological

disciplines and contribute to a more thorough understanding of this thing we call music.
Kessel 106

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Kessel 110

Appendix I: The Taxonomic Tree

What follows as Appendix I is an illustration of my taxonomic tree of musical creation as

it currently stands August 6, 2010. The tree is ever-expanding and ever-evolving as my research

and topic continues to grow and expand. The tree is by no means complete. By its very nature

it will never be complete.

I have set up a permanent home for my musicological research as part of my website,, and there will always be an updated taxonomic tree linking from that

page. By the very nature of constantly changing internet technologies, I can only guarantee a

permanent link to the taxonomic tree from my home page. However, as of August 6, 2010, the

direct address to the tree is at:
Kessel 111

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

• Music
o Art
 Western
• Early/Medieval-Renaissance (to 1600)
o Balata
o Caccia
o Carol
o Chant
 Gallican
 Mozarabic
 Old Roman
 Gregorian
 Ambrosian
o Chanson
o Conductus
 Monophonic
 Polyphonic
o Frottola
o Hymns
 Kontakia
o Lauda
o Madrigal
o Magnificat
o Mass
o Motet
o Organum
 Florid
 Notre Dame
 Franconian
 Petronian
 Bergundian
o Pastourelle
o Rondeau
 Burgundian
o Trecento

• Baroque (1600-1750)
o Cantata
o Canzona
o Concerto
o Concerto Grosso
o Chaconne
Kessel 112

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

o Chorale
 Cantus firmus
 Coloration
 Chorale partita
 Chorale fantasia
o Dance Suite
 Allemande
 Courante
 Sarabande
 Gigue
 Gavotte
 Minuet
o Fugue
o Incidental / Entr’acte
o Mass
o Opera
 Ballad opera
 Florentine
 Masque
 Neopolitan
 Opera buffa
 Opera seria
 Opera comique
 Roman
 Singspeil
 Zarzuela
o Partita
o Passion
o Passacaglia
o Prelude
o Ricercar
o Sinfonia
o Sonata
 Da Camera
 Da Chiesa
 Trio Sonata
 Turmsonaten
o Toccata
• Classical (1750-1820)
o Concerto
o Opera
 Opera seria
Kessel 113

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

 Tonadilla
o Oratorio
o Overture
o Symphony
o Sonata
• Romantic (1820-1900)
o Art Song
o Cantata
o Concerto
o Concert Overture
o Dance
 Ecossaise
 Galop
 Ländler
 Mazurka
 Polonaise
 Walz
o Etude
o Orchestral Variation
o Opera
 Opera comique
 Grand
 Drame lyrique
 Romantic
 Music drama
 Music Theater
o Oratorio
o Prelude
o Song Cycle
o Sonata
o Symphony
 Programmatic
 Symphonic Suite
o Tone Poem/Symphonic Poem

• Modernist
o Impressionist
o Serial/12-tone
o Aleatoric
• Conceptual
• Electronic/Musique Concrete
• FilmMusic
Kessel 114

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

o Gebrauchsmusik
• NeoRomantic
• Maximalist/Totalist
• Minimalist
o Sacred
o Drone
o Pattern
• New-Complexity
 Non-Western
• al Andalous (Maghreb)
• Chinese
• Chong-ak (Korean)
• Guarania (Paraguay)
• Indian
• Indonesian
• Japanese
o Kabuki
o Shakuhachi
• Karnatie (Southern India)
• Musiqi-e assil (Iran)

o Improvised
 African-American
• Jazz
o Bebop
o Big Band
o Cool
o Free
o French/Gypsy
o HipHopFusion
o Latin
o Ragtime/Traditional/Dixieland
o RockFusion
o Smooth
• Gospel
 Graphic
 GamePieces
 Non-Western
• African
• Indian
• Native American
Kessel 115

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

o Popular
 Avant-Garde
• Krautrock
• Outsider
• Post-punk
o Mathrock
o No-Wave
o Noise
• Space
• True-Industrial/Pre-Industrial
 Dance/Electronic
• Ambient / Chillout
o Psybient
• Breakbeat / BigBeat
o Baltimore Club
o Florida
o Garage
o New School
o Progressive
• Garage/2-Step
• House
o Acid
o Deep
o Disco
o Electro
o French
o Ghetto/Booty
o Hard
o Minimal/Micro
o Progressive
o Rock
o Tech
o Vocal/Diva/Gay
o glitch
• Industrial
o Aggrotech
o Epic
o Goth
• Jungle/Drum&Bass
Kessel 116

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

o Dubstep
• Mashup
• PopDance
• Trance
o Acid
o Anthem/Epic
o Euro
o Goa
o Hard
o Progressive
o Psytrance/Goa
o Tech
o Vocal
• Techno
o Acid
o Chiptune
o Detroit/OldSchool
o Minimal
o Schranz
o Yorkshire
o Techstep
 Hip Hop
• Alterna/Conscious/Intelligent
o Chicago
o New York
o Minneapolis
• British
o Grime
• Crunk/Southern
• Electro
• French
• Gangsta
o EastCoast
o WestCoast
o Latin
• German
• Hyphy
• Old-School
• Snap
o Atlanta
• Latin
Kessel 117

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

 New Age
• Ambient
• Contemporary Instrumental
• Electronic
 Pop/pop
• Adult Contemporary
• Bubblegum / Teen
• R&B
• Traditional
 Rock
• Funk
• Heavy Metal
o Alterna
o Death/Black
o Doom/Goth
o Drone
o Glam
o Instrumental/ClassicalMetal
o Nu/Rap/Groove/Funk
o Power/Progressive
o Sludge
o Symphonic
o Thrash/Speed
• Punk
o Anarcho
o Celtic
o Chicano
o Emo
 Screamo
o Garage/Grunge
o Hardcore
 Christian
 Crust
 Grindcore
 Metalcore
 Powerviolence
 Rapcore
 Queercore
 Youthcrew
o Horror
o Oi
Kessel 118

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

o Pop
o NewWave
o Queercore/RiotGrrl
o Rockabilly/Psychobilly
o Ska
o Surf
• PopRock
o Britpop
o College/Indie/Alterna
o Folk
o Mainstream
o Progressive
o Psychedelic/Improvisational/JamBand
o Rock-and-Roll/Traditional
o Soft
• Country-Rock
o Alt-Country
o Pop
 Bakersfield
 Nashville
o Outlaw
 Roots
• African
o Congolese
o Maghreb
o Tuareg
• Asian
o Bhangra
o Filipino
o Indian
o Iranian
o Japanese
o Korean
o Thai
• Blues
 Chicago
 Delta
 East-Coast
 Memphis
 Texas
• Country-Western
o Bluegrass
Kessel 119

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

o Cajun/Zydeco
o HonkyTonk
• European
o Albanian
 Aheng
 Kaba
 Kefalonitika
 Korçare
 Lament
o Austrian
 Schnadahüpfl
 Schrammelmusik
 Yodel
o Baltic
o Basque
 Bertsolaritza
 Trikitxa
o Bosnian
 Gusle
 Izvorna
 Sevdalinka
o Breton
 Bagad
 Gwerz
 Kan ha diskan
o Bulgarian
 Koleduvane
 Kopanica
o Celtic
 Aisling
 Ballad
 Bard
 Diddling
 Drinking song
 Keening
 Reverdie
o Croatian
 Bećarac
 Deseterac
 Klapa
 Tamburitza
o German
Kessel 120

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

 Polka
 Waltz
 Yodel
o Greek
 Amanέ
 Dhimokika
 Tragoudia
 Kalanda
 Kantadhes
 Kleftiko
 Klephtic
 Miroloyia
 Nisiotika
 Rebetiko
 Skaros
 Taxim
 Tis tavlas
o Gypsy
 Bulerías
 Calgia
 Cimbalom
 Fandango
 Fasil
 Flamenco
 Jaleo
 Loki
 Siguiriyas
 Soleares
 Taksim
 Tientos
 Tangos
o Italian
 Baride
 Gozo
 Maggio
 Trallalero
o Jewish
 Klezmer
 Sephardic
 Mizrahi
o Norwegian
 Halling
Kessel 121

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

o Polish
 Lidyzowanie
o Portugal
 Fado
 Modinha
o Romanian
 Colinde
 Doina
 Lament
 Taraf
o Russian
 Byliny
 Chastushka
 Plachi
 Pesnia
 Zmires
o Serbian
 Izvorna
 Narodna
 Muzika
 Novokomponovana
 Sevdalinka
o Slovenian
 Velike goslarije
o Spanish
 Copla
 Jaleo
 Jota
 Romanceiro
o Swedish
 Ballad
 Halling
 Kulning
o Swiss
 Yodel
o Turkish
 Türkü
 Uzan hava
o Ukranian
 Dumy
 Troista
 Muzyka
Kessel 122

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

o Welsh
 Pennillion
• FolkSong
o American Old-Time
o Ballad
o Field Holler
o Jug Band
o Line Out
o NeoFolk
o Protest Song
o Sea Shanty
• Gospel
o Christian hymns / white spiritual
o Black spirituals
o Sacred harp
• Latin American
o Bachata
o BossaNova
o Chacarera
o Chamame
o Cueca
o Cumbia
o Kompa
o Lambada
o Merengue
o Salsa
o Tango
o Tejano
• Native American
o Arapaho
 Ghost Dance
 Peyote Song
o Blackfoot
o Dene
o Innu
o Inuit
 Ayaya
 Katajaq
 pisiq
o Iroquois
o Kiowa
o Kwakwaka’wakw
Kessel 123

● Artform ○ Super ■ genre ●sub ○ style ■ scene

o Navajo
 Yeibichai
o Pueblo
 Matachines
o Seminole
o Sioux
o Yaqui
o Yuman
• Reggae
o Dancehall
o Dub
o Lovers Rock
o Nyabhingi
o Ragga
o Reggaton
o Rocksteady
o Rumble
o Ska
o Sleng-Teng
o Steppa