Ten Little
Title Tunes

by Philip Tagg
and Bob Clarida

Mass Media Music Scholars’ Press,
Montreal and New York, 2003
ISBN 0-9701684-2-X
xvi + 898 pages;
501 music examples
numerous illustrations,
tables and figures

What’s it about? Opinions Short summary Who's it for?Table of contents  • Tagg’s home page

Montréal, 12 December, 2003; update 30 August 2004

“Tagg’s books are the only academic works, on music in media, that dare pull off the muse’s mask. In this they provide a useful and practical way of thinking that can help those of us involved in the industrial process that Hollywood music is today.”
                       Peter D Kaye, music editor and composer, Santa Monica, California

How to order Ten Little Title Tunes

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What is the book about?

Ten Little Title Tunes is about the importance of music as an everyday means of communication.

At the empirical level, the book documents the paramusical associations of hundreds of listeners to ten extracts of music, played without visual accompaniment, but previously used (or potentially usable) in TV or film contexts. It analyses the mechanisms and history (etymophony) of links between listener connotations, which we call VVAs (= Verbal-Visual Associations), and musical structures in the global, Anglo-US-American mass-media culture of the late twentieth century.

The analytical process demonstrates the existence and nature of musicogenic categories of thought which own considerable ideological potential. These categories include musically mediated notions of gender, love, romance, loneliness, injustice, nostalgia, sadness, bitterness, ethnicity, exoticsm, nature, pastorality, crime, normality, urgency, fashion, fun and the military. The book’s Table of Contents hints at some of the ways in which musical structures signify and connote, for example: ‘Minor amen and crisis chords’, ‘Sighing sixths and sevenths’, ‘Piano sextuplets: shimmer and tingle,’ ‘Equine anaphones — musical horse sense’, ‘Country & Latin clip-clop’, ‘Big-country modalisms’, ‘“Ethnic” folk lutes’, ‘Anaphonic telegraphy’, ‘Busy xylophones and comic bustle’, ‘Pentatonicism and pastures’, ‘Minor-key jazz and all that crime’, ‘The Church of the Flatted Fifth and P.I. Cool’, ‘Latin percussion and eye shadow’.

In order to establish links between musical structure and listener connotation it was sometimes necessary to include substantial digressions devoted to disentangling the confusion of conventional wisdom about things like the affective character of major and minor keys (Tune 2), or the nature of temporal narrative in music (see ‘Episodic and synoptic’, Tune 8), or the illusion that it is possible to distill a theory of music’s semiotic ‘essence’ without doing any empirical donkey work (see ‘Gestural interconversion’, Tune 1).

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Opinions of this book

Smooth reading and truly compelling. I marvel at the fact that someone else in the world is driven to think about things like cowboy-Latin-thriller crossovers!”
Will Straw, McGill University, Montreal.

“A tour-de-force, Ten Little Title Tunes is a book that fills a great void in academic writing on film music and what it means for audiences. Tagg and Clarida have bridged a methodological divide with academic rigour and style. The writers demonstrate a stunning breadth of musical awareness, taking in idioms as diverse as cartoon music, tampon adverts, cop show themes and Ellington through to Hendrix via Ravel.… This book should be essential reading, not just for scholars and students of film music, but anyone interested in music in society and the way we are primed to interpret the sounds around us… It’s been a pleasure to read. This really is a book that I (and I know many others) have been waiting for for some time.”
David Butler, University of Manchester.

‘Tagg’s books are the only academic works, on music in media, that dare pull off the muse’s mask. In this they provide a useful and practical way of thinking that can help those of us involved in the industrial process that Hollywood music is today.’
Peter D Kaye, music editor and composer, Santa Monica.

When a student next asks for background material on the themes to sports programmes, musical representations of the pastoral in television, or the association of Fender guitars with cowboys and spies, it will be easy to refer them to relevant chapters in Ten Little Title Tunes. As a researcher, when pondering further the association of flatted fifths in minor-key jazz with social depravity, of rippling piano arpeggios with water, of telegraphic rhythmic phrases with news and current affairs, or of mellifluous undulating melodies with conventional representations of femininity, Tagg and Clarida’s painstaking research is an excellent place to start. In many ways, Ten Little Title Tunes is what you would expect from a major new study overseen by a luminary of popular musicology. Erudite and impressive, Ten Little Title Tunes should be included in any bibliography on music and visual media in the field of popular musicology.
John Richardson, University of Jyväskylä (Finland)

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A short summary

Like Ancient Gaul, MAGNVM OPVS Ten Little Title Tunes IN TRES PARTES DIVISVM EST.

Part 1 (pp. 1- 154) consists of three introductory chapters contextualising, theorising and explaining the main part of the study (Part 2).

Chapter 1 (The rise of ‘absolute’ music). After raising ethical issues of educational democracy, this chapter explains the history of, and confronts the problems caused by, the apparent obduracy of the ‘absolute music’ aesthetic in institutions of musical learning. It posits the need for developing a musicology capable of relating musical structure to the rest of the culture in which those structures are produced.

Chapter 2 (The decline of ‘absolute’ music?) presents the sometimes chequered history of twentieth-century music studies which, in one way or another, challenge the assumptions of musical absolutism. These challenges are presented as four phases: the ‘ethno’, the ‘socio’, the ‘semio’ and popular music studies. Since the latter is less well documented than the first three, it is discussed in greater detail, particular attention being drawn to the problems of canonic rockology and to the institutional inertia which has complicated collaboration between the fields of musicology and cultural studies.

Chapter 3 starts with a summary of basic musicological method underpinning Part 2 of the book (musematic analysis, definition of ‘musical structure’, a simple sign typology, etc.). After accounting for the selection of reception test pieces and test respondents, it describes the listening test procedure. Most of Chapter 3 is devoted to an explanation of procedures used in categorising listener responses. Of particular interest is the construction of a VVA Taxonomy which facilitated the grouping of respondents’ visual-verbal associations into a grid of connotatively congruent categories. This grid allowed us to see, for example, how much romance, action, undulation, directionality, day, night etc. was perceived in connection with each tune, or how many men, women, horses, fields, rivers, streets our listeners thought of on hearing each example.

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Part 2 (pp. 155-680) constitutes the main part of the book. It consists of ten sections, plus one final chapter (see below). Each of the ten ‘Tune’ sections is devoted mainly to the discussion of links between what our respondents envisaged on hearing each piece and its musical structures.

Each section (Tunes 1-10) starts with a transcription of the tune in question, followed by listener responses, presented in order of VVA category. These listings let the reader see ‘how much of what’ respondents envisaged on hearing each piece, for example how much crime, loneliness or countryside each piece of music gave rise to in relation to the other nine pieces in the test battery. The Special Profile Statistics that follow show high-score, exclusive-score, low-score and no-score listings for each tune. The aim of this introductory section to each ‘Tune’ is to give readers an idea of what the test example sounded like, of what respondents envisaged on hearing it, and of how those responses differed from those to the other nine tunes in the test battery.

The introductory section to each of the ten ‘Tunes’ is followed by an analysis and discussion of relations between what was played and respondents envisaged. Some of these discursive sections go into considerable detail, occupying between 50 and 100 pages (e.g. Tunes 1, 2, 8), while others are very short, occupying only 8-20 pages (e.g. Tunes 3, 6, 7, 9). Reasons for such discrepancy are presented towards the end of Chapter 3.

To obtain a better idea of the discursive sections just mentioned, see Table of Contents and either specimen pages from our analyses of Tunes 1 and 2 or the analysis and discussion part of Tune 5 (Sportsnight, medium length).

Part 2 ends with the chapter ‘So what?’ in which the issue of musically mediated notions of gender serves to illustrate the potential of the research presented in the preceding ten ‘Tune’ sections.

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Part 3 (pp. 681-ca.880) consists of appendices whose use to the reader we envisage as follows.

Appendix 1 lists, in the original, what each listener wrote down in response to each tune. The results are presented tune by tune. This appendix lets the reader know exactly how each listener responded to each tune.

Appendix 2 lists, in English, the same details as in Appendix 1, except that each concept mentioned by each respondent to each tune has been discretised for taxonomic purposes (see VVA Taxonomy in summary of Chapter 3). This appendix lets you check on our translation and discretisation procedures while also giving those who don’t read Swedish, Spanish or Portuguese a good idea of how each listener responded to each tune.

Appendix 3 lists, in English and in alphabetical order, every single concept written by every single respondent to each of the ten tunes. Each entry consists of the relevant concept accompanied by [1] the number of the response category to which the concept belongs (see Appendix 4); [2] a letter signifying which tune(s) elicited each response; [3] numbers designating which respondent(s) wrote down that concept on hearing that tune. This appendix allows readers to check the verbal context of any concept in the individual response listings (appendices 1 or 2) and to verify the validity of its taxonomic classification (see Appendix 4).

Appendix 4 is the VVA Taxonomy. It presents the taxonomic grid according to which we classified each of the individual concepts presented by our respondents (see Appendices 1-3). The rationale behind such classification is explained in Chapter 3.

Appendix 5 presents, in order of taxonomic category number (see Appendix 4), all scores for all tunes. This appendix lets readers compare scores for particular responses and response categories between all ten tunes.

Appendix 6 presents miscellaneous data for readers particularly concerned about ostensible anomalies of statistical procedure.

Appendix 7 is a glossary of abbreviations, foreign words, neologisms, special terms, etc. used in the book.

Appendix 8 is a 15-page bibliography in 8-point type face. It refers to many works of considerable interest to scholars of music, cultural studies, or of any of the subjects discussed in this book.

Appendix 9 is a 30-page list, also in 8-point type face, of musical and audiovisual references. It contains hundreds of items whose full source details are often quite difficult to retrieve.

Appendix 10 is the Index in which readers can look up not only proper names (authors, musicians, composers, names of pieces of music, etc.) but also musical structures (e.g. the minor add 9 chord, disjunctive flooding), not to mention response concepts (e.g. ‘abandoned’, ‘cigarette holder’, ‘delinquency’, ‘love’, ‘sadness’, ‘shampoo’) and check the links between such concepts and the music that elicited them.

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Who’s the book for?

Ten Little Title Tunes is the result of extensive musicological and semiological research. It is not for the faint-hearted, except if you want to use it as a reference work, e.g. for dipping into to find a bibliographical or discographical reference, or for checking what sort of music (according to our respondents) goes with cowboys, women, nostalgia, cities, cars, deserts, journeys, mountains, soldiers, the 19th century, running, sadness, summer, or any other of almost 800 concepts; or, round the other way, for checking which concepts seem to relate to half-diminished chords, boxed-in mono sound, clean Fender guitar, rim shots, timbales, piano arpeggios, etc.

The book contains 501 music examples, so if you want to read it cover-to-cover, you'll get more out of it if you can read standard staff notation. Still, large sections contain little or nothing by way of notation or musicological jargon. For example, anyone interested in music, semiotics, cultural studies, media studies, communication, and so on, can without difficulty read Part 1 (pp. 1-154), the last chapter on the musical mediation of gender, the whole of the Monty Python analysis, as well as large parts of the other analyses.

In short, the book has to, for reasons explained in Part 1, contain plenty of notation and specialist jargon in order to develop, in the long run, a more user-friendly type of musicology. But this in no way means that the book is inaccessible to intelligent readers without formal training in music. At the same time, it is true that the book is probably aimed first and foremost at students and scholars of music.

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The Authors

Philip Tagg is Professor of Musicology at the Faculté de musique, Université de Montréal. He teaches popular music history, theory and analysis, as well as music and the moving image [http://tagg.org].

Bob Clarida is an ex-Fullbright scholar of music, who is now partner of Cowan, Liebowitz and Latman in New York, where he specialises in matters of copyright, trademark and rights of publicity [www.cll.com: click Our Attorneys (top left), then Robert W Clarida].