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Musicology as a field of study has been in a state of flux since the rise of popular music at the beginning of the 20th century. Classical musicology has been dominated by just that: the study of classical music. The reasons given for this range from its reliance on formal structure and harmony (Carter, The Role of the Music Practitioner in the Examination of Contemporary Electronic and Experimental Music, ) to the fact that popular music is more immediate and emotionally involved in the lives of its listeners, to the reasons concerning class and value (Middleton 1990). In actuality, all three of these reasons form a coherent whole to explain the insistence upon formal musicology's need to exclude popular music. Yet here in the 21st century a new methodology for analysing music is firmly in place, one that undoes to a great extent the importance of those analytical foundations upon which classical musicology has been based. Just as the focus of critical theories surrounding literature underwent a tremendous change in the previous century, moving away from a more traditional, structuralist, author-centered approach, so has musical analysis followed suit. What it still unsure, however, is whether the move away from traditional musicology has been made because it is completely deficient for the purpose, or whether the semiotic approach has taken root because it represents a more accurate reflection of music's meaning. Musicology is, of course, simply the study of music and all that music entails (Middleton, Studying Popular Music, p. 103) and semiotics is the study of signs and meanings and how they are understood. Semiotics, therefore, is really less a study of the music itself than a study of how that music is interpreted by the listener. In this way, semiotics provides an answer for the question of why traditional musicology has failed in its attempt to embrace and understand popular music because it is less concerned with formality and tradition and open to more experimentation and interpretation based on extraneous components such as costume, gesture and performance, as well as because popular music by definition appeals to a wider audience and so is therefore a richer resource for understanding contemporary cultures and subcultures.
The deficiencies of classical musicology as regard its ability to fully analyse and explain popular musical texts is a topic that has received great attention by such writers as Richard Middleton and Philip Tagg, among others, and the general consensus by most critics is that classical musicology suffers from an overreliance on notational content as well as on language and a discursive technique that is ideologically unsound. The basic terminology of musicology has remain unchanged for centuries and suffers from an elitism that bases the study of music upon a certain academic playing field that remains closed to new players. Middleton asserts that because of this longstanding reliance on certain academic terms, traditional musicology comes equipped with a rich vocabulary with which to analyse certain elements of classical music: harmony, chord types and functions, tonality, counterpoint, etc, but on the other hand, the vocabulary is impoverished in other areas such as rhythm, pitch nuance and timbre ( Studying Popular Music, p. 104). Since, as an overview of semiotics will shortly show, a combination of a signifier and a signified create signs that are all we have to communicate concrete ideas, the ability to choose from among a large amount of signs-in this case musical terms-to describe something is essential to full communication. If only certain words are capable of adequately describing music as a text then those words, like any other descriptors, will eventually become restricted to only a select few. Today we recognize these restricted words as jargon and feel discomfort when two people are using jargon we don't understand. The use of jargon or elitist terminology serves as a distancing
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“Semiotics in the Analysis of Popular Music Texts Essay”, n.d. https://studentshare.org/performing-arts/1533387-semiotics-in-the-analysis-of-popular-music-texts.
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