Hearing Harmony

Toward a Tonal Theory for the Rock Era
Christopher Doll
An original, listener-based approach to  harmony for popular music from the rock era of the 1950s to the present


Hearing Harmony offers a listener-based, philosophical-psychological theory of harmonic effects for Anglophone popular music since the 1950s. It begins with chords, their functions and characteristic hierarchies, then identifies the most common and salient harmonic-progression classes, or harmonic schemas. The identification of these schemas, as well as the historical contextualization of many of them, allows for systematic exploration of the repertory’s typical harmonic transformations (such as chord substitution) and harmonic ambiguities. Doll provides readers with a novel explanation of the assorted aural qualities of chords, and how certain harmonic effects result from the interaction of various melodic, rhythmic, textural, timbral, and extra-musical contexts, and how these interactions can determine whether a chordal riff is tonally centered or tonally ambiguous, whether it sounds aggressive or playful or sad, whether it seems to evoke an earlier song using a similar series of chords, whether it sounds conventional or unfamiliar.

“In this impressive and ambitious book, Christopher Doll develops a new theory of harmony for a wide range of Western popular musics from the last six decades. In Doll’s hands, rock harmony becomes a rich site for both theorizing and analytical imagination—one hears familiar progressions anew.”
—Steven Rings, Associate Professor of Music at the University of Chicago, author of Tonality and Transformation (Oxford, 2011)

“Doll’s writing allows for a broad spectrum of musical literacy in his audience… It’s thorough enough for music scholars, but accessible enough to be suited for other scholars with some musical background, and perhaps even rock musicians and fans with intellectual interests.”
—Shaugn O’Donnell, Associate Professor of Music Theory and Director of Graduate Studies at the City College of New York


Christopher Doll is an Associate Professor of Composition and Theory at Rutgers.

Praise / Awards

  • "Doll’s knowledge of the rock repertory is impressive, and the numerous examples he offers enrich his entire effort."
    --Choice Reviews
  • "By the end of the book, a reader will have feasted on many new ideas with which to think about rock and many new terms with which to talk about rock ... as music theorists grapple with how to reconcile popular music with traditional theory, Doll takes a big step in a new direction. How many, then, will take this big step with him?"
    --Music Theory Online
  • "Doll's Introduction quickly reveals his uncanny ability, sustained throughout the monograph, to anticipate logical rebuttals just as the reader begins to formulate them ... Throughout the text, Doll deconstructs monolithic concepts that have meant too many things for too long into carefully defined, discrete concepts."
  • "The book's heuristic value is considerable, and it advances theoretical discourse of rock music."
    -- Notes
  • "Has mapped out a harmonic landscape that scholars will explore for years to come. Any new discussion of rock harmony will be enriched by adopting and debating
    this book’s ideas."
    --Popular Music

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 330pp.
  • 85 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07352-8

Add to Cart
  • $99.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05352-0

Add to Cart
  • $39.95 U.S.

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