Semiotic Analysis of Popular Music 
taught by Philip Tagg as part of the
MA programme at the 
Institute of Popular Music, University of Liverpool (1993-2002)


contains all material
covered in the Liverpool MA course.





Current Timetable






[Go to top] Prerequisites
  • You must be registered as a postgraduate student at the University of Liverpool or have acquired special dispensation to attend these sessions.
  • You must have good active and passive knowledge of the English language.
  • Although formal training in music or musicology is no prerequisite, a keen interest in music and in its sociocultural functions is absolutely essential. In other words, you do not need to be notationally literate.

[Go to top] Aims
  • To increase understanding of music as a form of interhuman communication.
  • To further the systematic understanding of relationships between structural aspects of music ('text') and its psychological, social, cultural and ideological qualities ('context').
  • To develop musical listening skills and to increase aural awareness in general.
  • To develop popular music research skills and to broaden the scope of research method.
  • To develop analytical skills in the field of (popular) music.
  • To broaden knowledge of semiotic theory and method.
  • To provide some critical insights into European traditions of philosophy and epistemology.
  • To encourage the abilities of lateral and connotative thought.
  • To relate skills in lateral and connotative thinking to more rationalist modes of discourse.
  • To develop skills in the public presentation of ideas about music.

[Go to top] Assessment and participation

Your progress in this module is not assessed as such. However, it may be advantageous to use skills and knowledge acquired during this module in one or more of your final projects. It is usual for students following the IPM masters programme to complete their Textual Analysis project using theory, method and materials discussed during this module.

To help you through this module, you will be expected to complete one analysis assignment and to present your findings in a seminar.

It is important to bear in mind: (i) that there is little or no course literature specifically associated with this module; (ii) that progress in this module is dependent on the development of your practical listening skills; (iii) that progress in this module is dependent on feedback from your fellow students as well as from the tutor. For these reasons attendance at lectures and participation in seminars is very important.

[Go to top] Tutor, time and place

Dr Philip Tagg. Wednesdays 16.30 - 18.30. Room 123, Pilkington Building, University of Liverpool. 6 x 2 hour sessions.

[Go to top]  Schedule

  1. Theory and method lecture (1)
  2. Theory and method lecture (2) 
  3. Theory and method lecture (3) and feedback session (1)
  4. Feedback session (2)
  5. Feedback session (3)
  6. Feedback session (4)

[Go to top]  Content

Session 1 (lecture)

  • Presentation of course aims, content and assignment.
  • Theories and definitions of semiotics. Traditions of music studies and their relation to semiotics. Definitions of 'music'. Discussion of musical functions. The epistemology of music. Connotation and denotation. Communication models, codal incompeten ce and codal interference. Semiosis and cultural relativity.
  • Musematic analysis: interobjective comparison and hypothetical substitution. Intersubjectivity and paramusical fields of association. Musical sign typology: anaphones, genre synecdoches, episodic markers, style indicators. Music and the soundscape. D ualism melody-accompaniment. Parameters of musical and paramusical expression.
  • All analytical theory will be illustrated extensively in practice during sessions 2 and 3.

Session 2 and 3a (lecture and discussion)

 You should have chosen a piece to analyse by this date (see Assignment).
  • Analysis of Abba's Fernando. All analytical method covered in session 1 is put into practice. Musematic analysis, relation of music to lyrics, relation of music plus lyrics to contemporary society (1975), Abba reception today.
  • Methods of subsequent assignment presentation are demonstrated.
  • Model presented for the insertion of this analytical procedure in an epistemological framework.
Feedback sessions
Each student plays his/her chosen music (see also Assignment) to the seminar and notes feedback from the participants.

The main point of these sessions is to obtain information about the piece's perceived qualities (associations, reactions, descriptions, evaluations, etc.). Feedback from seminar participants, in the form of structural or connotative observations, should be taken into account by the presenter in his/her subsequent analysis work.

[Go to top]  Set texts

Recommended reading available online

All handouts for this module are available ONLY FROM THIS WEBSITE. I neither store, classify, administer nor distribute any hard copy

Other recommended reading

Theo van Leeuwen: Speech, Music Sound (Mamillan, 1999)

Other materials

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