Form in Paul Simon’s music

Songwriter and performer Paul Simon has been actively creating music for over five decades. While he has embraced elements of a variety of musical styles, at least one element has remained constant – his attention to formal construction as an important part of his songs’ aesthetic quality, as evidenced in the songs themselves. This dissertation examines form in Simon’s music throughout his career, finding that while most of the songs are based on well-known formal types, his clever manipulation of numerous musical elements imbues them with freshness, particularly in the most recent material.
Chapter 1 provides an overview of Simon’s life and career, considers his critical and peer acclaim, and examines some of his own words concerning the study of music theory. In Chapter 2, I provide a scholarly context for the dissertation, by reviewing popular music scholarship generally, and approaches to form in particular. Chapter 3 outlines my analytical methodology in detail and applies it to some of Simon’s relatively straightforward songs that nonetheless show interesting qualities. In this chapter, formal sections are defined and typical formal types investigated.
Chapter 4 studies three methods of formal manipulation used in a number of songs, as demonstrated by a number of detailed analyses. I define the methods as (1) Unusual or incorrect number of iterations of a section; (2) Minimal differentiation between sections; and (3) Maximal differentiation between iterations of a single section. In Chapter 5, I study more complicated techniques of formal manipulation, (4) Extra sections and (5) Conflict between form-delineating parameters, and explore the overall formal direction Simon has been pursuing in his music during the last decade. Chapter 6 brings the study to a close by considering some related aspects of Simon’s music, suggesting further applicability of the methodology, and examining a number of issues raised.

Anna Stephan-Robinson

Form in Paul Simon’s music



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