Week 10: Tonality in Pop Music (F18)

Last modified on August 4, 2023

This week, we’ll discuss tonality in pop music. Before you begin, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with form in pop music, if you are not already comfortable with terms like “verse,” “chorus,” “bridge,” etc. You will read about the unique problems that pop music has with tonality, analyze a pop song, and reflect on harmony in pop music vs classical music.

Due Saturday, Oct 27

Introduction to pop music

On OpenMusicTheory.com, read about form in pop/rock music to think about why/how we classify things as verses, choruses, etc. If this is your first time with these ideas, you may first want to read this overview.

Concept check

Complete the Concept Check quiz on Blackboard to see if you are understanding pop forms properly.

Collaborative notes

  • Read  (online article, click here to access).
  • Go to Blackboard and navigate to your group wiki.
  • Locate the wiki I made for you with the template already pasted in.
  • Work with your group members to edit the wiki and create document that summarizes the reading. You should communicate with one another on Slack. Guidelines are available here.

Due Monday, Oct 29

Analysis assignment


Listen to “Green Light” by Lorde.

  1. Annotate my provided lyric sheet with the chord symbols to create a kind of lead sheet for this song. Chord symbols should go above the lyric they accompany.
  2. Add form labels to the lyric sheet to show where the verses, choruses, etc. begin.
  3. Write a short paragraph addressing the following:
    • What do you think is the tonic of this song, and why? (Use specific musical features as evidence.)
    • Does this song use fragile, absent, or emergent tonic techniques? Explain your answer.


  • You will be assessed on the following concepts:
    • Accuracy of chord/form labels
    • Argument for tonic
    • Understanding of fragile/absent/emergent terms
  • You will be given detailed feedback through the rubric. Click “View rubric” in the gradebook to access this.
  • Assignments are always graded pass/fail, with a threshold of 70% to pass.


  • Upload both your annotated lyric sheet and your interpretive paragraph.
  • Submit your assignment on Blackboard.
  • Upload your assignment as a .pdf attachment. Please do not use other file types.

Due Wednesday, Oct 31

Reflection post

As of last class, I have lowered the expected word count to 250 words.

  1. Read .
  2. Relate the concept of “chill” in recent pop, as described by James here, to Spicer’s concept of fragile, absent, and emergent tonics.


      • Go to Blackboard and navigate to Reflection Journals (on the sidebar).
      • Click the appropriate link for this week.
      • Click “Create journal entry” and paste your text directly into the text box, rather than uploading an attachment.


If articles are not available online, you should be able to find them in the Readings folder.

James, Robin. 2018. “Toned down for What? How ‘chill’ Turned Toxic.” The Guardian, July 2, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jul/02/toned-down-for-what-how-chill-turned-toxic.
Spicer, Mark. 2017. “Fragile, Emergent, and Absent Tonics in Pop and Rock Songs.” Music Theory Online 23 (2). http://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.17.23.2/mto.17.23.2.spicer.html.

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