The Oxford Seminar in Music Theory and Analysis: Megan Lavengood (George Mason University)

Free to attend, no registration required. Please click here to join the Zoom call.

Dr Megan Lavengood is Associate Professor and Director of Music Theory at George Mason University. Her research primarily deals with popular music, timbre, synthesizers and recording techniques. Her current research project focuses on pedagogy of timbre analysis in the theory classroom. She is a soprano in the Schola Cantorum at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, DC.

Music schools across the English-speaking world are reconsidering the traditional undergraduate music theory curriculum and devising ways to be more broadly inclusive of different types of musics and students. Emphasizing the analysis of timbre, instrumentation and texture is one way of progressing towards this goal: they are inherent properties of all sound and thus can be studied in all music, and they do not rely on the complex systems of pitch that underlie most music-theoretical topics (and privilege students with access to classical training). In this seminar, I discuss the analysis of instrumentational layers in popular music as an accessible topic that gets undergraduate students thinking analytically about texture. I will summarize the concept of functional layers in pop music in a way that is accessible for undergraduate students. While Allan Moore’s (2012) original definitions of functional layers rely on the norms of rock music, my expansions of his theory help open the concept up to a broader swath of popular music not limited to the traditional canon of (usually white male) rock artists. For a practical way to implement this in the classroom, I will demonstrate a web app in development on which I have collaborated – titled Auralayer – that students can use to create layer graphs to illustrate their analyses. Auralayer graphs can be used by instructors to assess a student’s understanding of timbre/instrumentation analysis in a way familiar to music theory classrooms: using a visual that represents the concepts outside time. This makes assessing these analyses akin to assessing analyses of form, for example.


Oxford Seminar in Music Theory and Analysis 

Season 6 (2023–24) 

The theme for the sixth season of seminars is: Sound—Timbre—Silence. 

The Oxford Seminar in Music Theory & Analysis (OSiMTA) meets twice a term on selected Tuesdays at 17.15 UK time. Its convenors are Dr Esther Cavett and Professor Jonathan Cross. 

Our conception of theory and analysis is critical, plural and interdisciplinary. In shaping the seminars, we aim to reflect the broad range of activity taking place under the heading of theory and analysis today, as well as to challenge boundaries, embracing not only ‘conventional’ practices, histories of theory and repertoires, but also new interdisciplinary approaches that engage with cultural studies, ethnomusicology, aesthetics and philosophy, psychology, politics, performance studies, popular music studies, and so on. Speakers include distinguished local, national and international scholars. 

Seminars are open to all, including the general public. Sessions will last 90 minutes and lively discussion is encouraged. They will also be livestreamed via Zoom. 

Regular updates, abstracts and Zoom links will appear on the OSiMTA pages. You can also follow OSiMTA on Twitter/X.