Musical Forces

Musical Forces

Motion, Metaphor, and Meaning in Music
Larson, Steve
Distribution: World
Publication date: 01/31/2012
Format: Hardback 10 b&w illus., 71 music exx.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35682-6
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Steve Larson drew on his 20 years of research in music theory, cognitive linguistics, experimental psychology, and artificial intelligence—as well as his skill as a jazz pianist—to show how the experience of physical motion can shape one’s musical experience. Clarifying the roles of analogy, metaphor, grouping, pattern, hierarchy, and emergence in the explanation of musical meaning, Larson explained how listeners hear tonal music through the analogues of physical gravity, magnetism, and inertia. His theory of melodic expectation goes beyond prior theories in predicting complete melodic patterns. Larson elegantly demonstrated how rhythm and meter arise from, and are given meaning by, these same musical forces.

Author Bio

Steve Larson (1955-2011) was the Robert M. Trotter Professor of Music at the University of Oregon and a member of its Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences. He was author of Analyzing Jazz: A Schenkerian Approach.


Musical Forces provides an authoritative yet accessible treatment of a topic that lies at the core of the emotional experience of music: the intuition of forces that tug, pull, and resolve melodic motion. Lay listeners and professionals alike have much to learn from this important contribution to music theory and psychology.Steve Larson distinguishes between thinking in music and thinking about music, and it is clear from his final opus that he did both very well. With striking originality, this book reconciles “conflicts” between music-cognitive principles and Schenkerian music analysis, and shows how metaphors and physical embodiment inform our musical expectations. This book may change what you think about how music moves.Musical Forces presents an original and important theory of melody, centered on the idea that we experience musical motion metaphorically through our experience of physical motion. The study sheds new light on musical expectation, compositional practice, and the role of metaphor in musical experience and discourse. Musical Forces is a major contribution to musical scholarship.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction
I. A Theory of Musical Forces
2. Thinking about Music and Thinking in Music--Pattern, Meaning, Analogy, Metaphor, and Hierarchies
3. Something in the Way She Moves--The Metaphor of Musical Motion
4. Melodic Forces--Gravity, Magnetism, and Inertia
5. A Theory of Melodic Expectation
6. Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Forces
7. Analyses
II. Evidence for Musical Forces
8. Converging Evidence--An Introduction to Part Two
9. Evidence from Experiments in Visual-Perception and Neuroscience
10. Evidence from Compositions and Improvisations
11. Evidence from Music-Theoretical Misunderstandings
12. Evidence from a Listener-Judgment Experiment
13. Evidence from Comparing Computer Models With Production-Experiment Results
III. Conclusion
14. Summary and Prospects

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