Is Generative Theory Misleading for Music Theory?

  • Rafael Barbosa
Conference paper
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 943)


During the decade of the 1960s linguistics entered what can be seen as a paradigm shift following Thomas Kuhn’s theory of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). As a result, the discipline steps out of the Cartesian dualism between body and mind. During the 80th’s analytical musicology was related to the methodological approach of transformational grammars, the best known example being the Generative Theory of Tonal Music (Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983). For musicologist, the motivation to adopt this position is naturally nurtured by the work of Heinrich Schenker (Der Freier Satz 1935) in which, as in transformational grammar, a hierarchy of layers going from the actual piece of music to its Ursatz (Kernel) is proposed. The hypothesis developed in this article is that the analytical musicology, despite the efforts to link it with modern linguistics, has not yet stepped into the new scientific paradigm led by cognitive sciences. The reason for this is that musicology has not yet adopted a redefinition of its object of study from a non-dualistic and transdisciplinary perspective. With the development of experimental aesthetics, the ontological gap between the object of musicology and that of the scientific approach to music has been growing larger. As a result, if the study of aesthetic meaning in music has become possible today, it seems to be inconsistent with the traditional reductionist methods of analytical musicology, from which the analogy with transformational grammar rely upon.


Musicology Music analysis Scientific aesthetics Generative theory Epistemology Paradigm shift 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CTEL, Côte d’Azur UniversityNiceFrance

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