Musical Forces

Musical Forces

Motion, Metaphor, and Meaning in Music
Steve Larson, foreword by Robert S. Hatten
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.


“A music scholar draws on 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 physical motion can shape one’s musical experience. ”

“Musical: Forces: Motion, Metaphor, and Meaning in Music will find a ready place in academic collections supporting study in advanced theory and musical cognition. It is well written, easy to understand, and full of good examples. The introduction by itself is a fine survey of the dialogue concerning musical meaning. By giving such an introduction, Larson's theories may well be understood as a part of an ongoing discussion.”
 — Music Reference Services Quarterly

“The potential benefits of Larson’s theory of musical forces include a more explicit understanding of how we make meaning from musical experience, which in turn includes a richer understanding of the aspects of music cognition and metaphoric reasoning . . . .”
 — Music Theory Online

“It’s hard to talk about music without using the language of motion. . . Steve Larson thoughtfully integrates several seemingly disparate disciplinary threads in music theory and cognitive science in an attempt to understand why we experience music this way. His account places three musical forces—gravity, magne- tism, and inertia—at the center of the explanation. April 2013”
 — Music Perception

“One can read between the lines that the publication of this book was a labor-of-love for Editor Robert S. Hatten, who describes it as 'a fitting memorial to his (Steve Larson's) visionary ideas, his love of music, and his passion for sharing both.'August 2013”

“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.”
 — Fred Lerdahl, Fritz Reiner Professor of Music, Columbia University

“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.”
 — Elizabeth West Marvin, Professor of Music Theory, Eastman School of Music and Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Roc

“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.”
 — David Temperley, Eastman School of Music

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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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