Philip Tagg

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Philip Tagg (2014)

Philip Tagg (born 1944 in Oundle, Northamptonshire, UK) is a British musicologist, writer and educator. He is co-founder of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM)[1] and author of several influential books on popular music and music semiotics.


Tagg attended The Leys School in Cambridge in 1957–1962. He has mentioned his organ teacher, Ken Naylor, as particularly influential on his development as a musician and thinker.[2] He then studied Music at the University of Cambridge (1962–65), and thereafter Education at the University of Manchester (1965–66). Tagg had some success as a choral composer during these early years. For example, on Trinity Sunday 1963, Tagg’s anthem Duo Seraphim[3] was performed at Matins by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge under David Willcocks. His Preces and Responses were also broadcast by the BBC from the Edington Festival in 1964. Tagg also worked as volunteer at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1963. During this period he also played piano in a Scottish country dance ensemble, as well as in two pop-rock/soul/R&B bands.[4]

Dismayed at the prospect of becoming a music teacher in 1966,[5] Tagg moved to Sweden where he taught English in Filipstad while running a youth club[6] and playing keyboards in two local bands (1966–68).[7] Deciding to retrain as a language teacher, Tagg then attended the University of Göteborg (1968–71), while also both singing in and arranging for Göteborgs Kammarkör. In 1969 he met Swedish musicologist Jan Ling[8] who, realising that Tagg had experience in both the classical and popular spheres, asked him to help with the new music teacher training programme (SÄMUS) that the Swedish government had asked Ling to set up in Göteborg.[9]

At SÄMUS (1971–77), and later at the Department of Musicology of the University of Göteborg (1977–91), Tagg taught (aural) Keyboard Accompaniment, Music Theory, and Music & Society. Problems encountered in this work provoked him to develop analysis methods addressing the specificities of structure and meaning in various types popular music, e.g. the “Kojak thesis” (1979)[10] and the reception tests at the basis of his book Ten Little Title Tunes (2003).[11] Tagg was at this time also songwriter and keyboard player in the left-wing “rock cabaret” band Röda Kapellet (1972–76).[12] In June 1981 he co-organised, together with Gerard Kempers and David Horn,[13] the first international conference on popular music studies in Amsterdam, as a result of which IASPM (International Association for the Study of Popular Music) was formed.[14]

In April 1991, Tagg returned to the UK where he established the basis of what became EPMOW (Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World). In 1993 he was appointed Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Popular Music (IPM) of the University of Liverpool, where, until 2002, he taught such subjects as Popular Music Analysis, Music and the Moving Image and History of Popular Music.

In 2000 Bob Clarida and Philip Tagg set up the Mass Media Music Scholars' Press (MMMSP) as a not-for-profit corporation registered in the state of New York. Its purpose is, using Fair Use legislation, to disseminate scholarly musicological writings on music in the mass media.[15]

Dismayed by the increasing rigidity of the UK's managerialist university system,[16] Tagg moved once again in 2002, this time to take up a professorship at the Université de Montréal where his main brief was to establish popular music studies in the university's Faculté de musique (2002–2009).[17] In January 2010 he returned as a pensioner to the UK, since when he has been writing books and producing his “edutainment videos”.[18][19]

Tagg is currently Visiting Professor of Music at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Salford. He is also one of the main figures behind the foundation of the Network for the Inclusion of Music in Music Studies (NIMiMs) in January 2015.[20]

Semiotic music analysis[edit]

Tagg is probably best known for his work in the field of music analysis. Using mainly pieces of popular music as analysis objects, he stresses the importance of non-notatable parameters of expression and of vernacular perception in understanding "how music communicates what to whom with what effect" in today's world. He has adapted Charles Seeger's notion of the museme to demonstrate how combinations of such units are used to create both syncritic (intensional) structures inside the extended present, and diatactical (extensional) ones over time.[21] These combinatory structures can be understood, he argues, with the help of an overall sign typology consisting of anaphones (sonic, tactile, kinetic, social), style flags (style determinants, genre synecdoches, etc.) and episodic markers.[22] The semiotic theory is basically Peircean but it draws also on Umberto Eco's theories of connotation.[23] The actual analysis method is based on both metamusical information about the analysis object (reception tests, opinions, ethnographic observation, etc.) to arrive at paramusical fields of connotation (PMFCs),[24] and on intertextuality. The latter involves identifying sounds observed in the analysis object with sounds in other music – interobjective comparison material (IOCM) – and in connecting that IOCM with its own PMFCs.[25] Tagg argues that this sort of music semiotics is musogenic, not logogenic, i.e. suited to expression in music rather than in words, and that the combination of intersubjective and interobjective procedures can, inside a given cultural context, provide reliable insights into the mediation of meaning through music.

Music theory reform[edit]

In 2011 Tagg started working for the reform of music theory terminology on two fronts. His views are:

[1] that conventional music theory terminology, based mainly on the euroclassical and jazz repertoires, is often both inaccurate and ethnocentric – he cites the widespread use of “tonality” to denote just one type of tonality and its simultaneous conceptual opposition to both “atonality” and “modality” as one example of the problem;

[2] that the denotation of non-notated musical structures, rarely covered in conventional music theory, needs urgent attention.[26]


In June 2014, Tagg received a Lifetime Recognition Award from the International Semiotics Institute at its conference in Kaunas, Lithuania.[27]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  1. ^ "IASPM — International Association for the Study of Popular Music". Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  2. ^ Philip Tagg, Music’s Meanings, 2013, pp. 7, ff.
  3. ^ "In Festo S.S. Trinit. ap. Colleg. Reg. Cantab. MXIXLXII : Philip Tagg : Musical score" (PDF). Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  4. ^ "The two bands were The Soulbenders (Cambridge, 1964–66), and the Mike Finesilver-Pete Ker Quintet (Manchester, 1965–66)". Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  5. ^ Philip Tagg, Music’s Meanings, 2013, pp. 13–14.
  6. ^ See, for example, Filipstads Tidningen, 13 July 1967.
  7. ^ "The two bands were The Nazz (Filipstad) and The Disturbance (Säffle)". Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  8. ^ "Jan Ling 1934-2013". Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  9. ^ “The Göteborg Connection: lessons in the history and politics of popular music education and research”, originally published in Popular Music, 17/2, 1998, 219–242.
  10. ^ "Kojak - details". 1 March 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  11. ^ "Ten Little Title Tunes - details". Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  12. ^ "Röda Kapellet Recordings 1972-76". Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  13. ^ "Gerard Kempers (1948-2005)". Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  14. ^ For a basic history of IASPM's early days see "Proposals concerning the Establishment of an International Society for Popular Music" (1980) and the start of "Twenty Years After: Speech at Founder's Event, IASPM Conference, Turku, July 2001." (Tagg, 2001).
  15. ^ Karen Collins Philip Tagg (3 January 2013). "mmmsp- background". Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  16. ^ "Audititis - inflammation caused by audits". Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  17. ^ "Enseignement à l'Université de Montréal". Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  18. ^ Philip Tagg. "Philip Tagg: Links to Online Audiovisuals". Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  19. ^ EniDurb (9 November 1973). "etymophony". Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  20. ^ "Network for the Inclusion of Music in Music Studies". Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  21. ^ See chapters 11–12 in Philip Tagg, Music’s Meanings, 2013.
  22. ^ See chapter 13 in Philip Tagg, Music’s Meanings, 2013.
  23. ^ See chapter 5 in Philip Tagg, Music’s Meanings, 2013, esp. pp. 158–171.
  24. ^ See chapter 6 in Philip Tagg, Music’s Meanings, 2013.
  25. ^ See chapter 7 in Philip Tagg, Music’s Meanings, 2013.
  26. ^ "Troubles with Tonal Terminology" (PDF). Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  27. ^ "Philip Tagg: Lifetime Award, International Semiotics Institute on Vimeo". 27 January 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015.

External links[edit]