(born 1944 in Oundle
, UK) is a British musicologist
, writer and educator. He is co-founder of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music
(IASPM) and author of several influential books on popular music
and music semiotics
Tagg attended The Leys School
in 1957–1962. He has mentioned his organ teacher, Ken Naylor, as particularly influential on his development as a musician and thinker. 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
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.
Dismayed at the prospect of becoming a music teacher in 1966, Tagg moved to Sweden
where he taught English in Filipstad
while running a youth club and playing keyboards in two local bands (1966–68). 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
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.
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) and the reception tests at the basis of his book Ten Little Title Tunes
(2003). Tagg was at this time also songwriter and keyboard player in the left-wing “rock cabaret” band Röda Kapellet (1972–76). In June 1981 he co-organised, together with Gerard Kempers
and David Horn
, 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.
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.
Dismayed by the increasing rigidity of the UK's managerialist university system, 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). In January 2010 he returned as a pensioner to the UK, since when he has been writing books and producing his “edutainment videos”.
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.
Semiotic music analysis
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. 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. The semiotic theory is basically Peircean
but it draws also on Umberto Eco
's theories of connotation. 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), 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. 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
In 2011 Tagg started working for the reform of music theory terminology on two fronts. His views are:  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;  that the denotation of non-notated musical structures, rarely covered in conventional music theory, needs urgent attention.
In June 2014, Tagg received a Lifetime Recognition Award from the International Semiotics Institute
at its conference in Kaunas
1966. [http://tagg.org/articles/xpdfs/mcr1966.pdf Popular music as a possible medium in secondary school education] Cert. Ed. diss., University of Manchester.
1979. Kojak – 50 Seconds of TV Music: see 2000a.
1987. [http://tagg.org/articles/xpdfs/semiota.pdf "Musicology and the Semiotics of Popular Music"]. In Semiotica, 66 (1/3): 279–298.
1993. [http://tagg.org/articles/deathmus.html "‘Universal’ music and the case of death"]. In Critical Quarterly, 1993
1998. [http://tagg.org/articles/xpdfs/gbgcnnct.pdf "The Göteborg connection: Lessons in the history and politics of popular music education and research"]. In Popular Music, 17/2: 219–242.
2000a. [http://tagg.org/mmmsp/kojak.html Kojak – 50 Seconds of TV Music – Towards the analysis of affect in popular music] (2nd edition of PhD thesis from 1979). New York & Montréal: MMMSP, 424 pp. .
2000b. [http://tagg.org/mmmsp/fernando.html Fernando the Flute: analysis of the music in an Abba mega-hit]. New York & Montréal: MMMSP, 144 PP. .
2003 (with Bob Clarida) [http://tagg.org/mmmsp/10Titles.html Ten Little Title Tunes: Towards a musicology of the mass media]. New York & Montréal: MMMSP, xvi+898 pp. .
2009. Everyday Tonality. New York & Montréal: MMMSP. iv + 334 pp. . Italian translation: La tonalità di tutti i giorni: armonia, modalità, tonalità nella popular music: un manuale, edited by Franco Fabbri, translated by Jacopo Conti. Milano: Il Saggiatore, 2011. 432 pp. .
2013. [http://tagg.org/mmmsp/NonMusoInfo.htm Music's Meanings: a modern musicology for non-musos]. New York & Huddersfield: MMMSP, 710 pp. (e-book); (hard copy).
2013b. [http://tagg.org/articles/xpdfs/Aharonian2011.pdf Troubles with Tonal Terminology]. 32 pp. (under ongoing revision)
2014. [http://tagg.org/mmmsp/EverydayTonalityInfo.htm Everyday Tonality II: towards a tonal theory of what most people hear] (2nd edition). New York & Huddersfield: MMMSP, 600 pp. (e-book).