Dissertation Index

Author: Cohen, Gilad

Title: Expansive Rock: Large-Scale Structure in the Music of Pink Floyd

Institution: Princeton University

Begun: September 2009

Completed: June 2015


The large-scale song was one of the major innovations of British rock in the 1970s. Many bands built such compositions as a series of sub-songs and instrumental interludes that varied greatly in harmony, rhythm, and instrumentation. Among the most successful bands of all time, Pink Floyd chose a fundamentally different approach: In each of their epic songs “Echoes,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” and “Dogs,” they used a small amount of cohesive thematic material and expanded it dramatically using heavy repetition and a slow harmonic pace. It seems unlikely that such a structure could retain a sense of variety, direction, and cohesiveness over the course of a prolonged duration. Through original transcriptions and analyses of harmonic progressions, guitar solos, sung melodies, accompaniment patterns, form, and sound, this dissertation explores and assesses the ways in which these three pieces meet the challenge issued by their seemingly limiting structure.

“Echoes” marks a transition from the band’s experimental era into their mature, carefully-organized style. While a considerable sense of progression is gained throughout the track by an effective harmonic skeleton as well as a motivic development of a single seed, the piece’s momentum is weakened due to lengthy static sections that do not cohere with the rest of the material. I suggest that \"Shine On You Crazy Diamond\" maintains vitality over its duration through a musical structure that corresponds to five psychological stages of grief: numbness, yearning, anger, depression, and acceptance. Possibly portraying the bereavement process of the band from its founder and original front man Syd Barrett, this emotional arc imbues the piece with a raw, genuine, and thus powerful framework. While more than half of “Dogs” is based on a single harmonic progression, the song employs an inspired scheme of structurally foundational guitar solos, a motivic use of melodic and harmonic tension, and a meticulously woven fabric of text, harmony, texture, sound, and instrumentation. As a result, this track constantly maintains a propulsive forward drive. The achievements of these three songs, especially considering their thematic economy, make them stand out within the family of epic rock songs.

Keywords: Rock, popular music, Pink Floyd, guitar solos


Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Distant, Motionless, and Submarine: Time and Movement in “Echoes”
Chapter 3: The Shadow of Yesterday’s Triumph: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and the Stage Theory of Grief
Chapter 4: “Dogs”: A Different Animal
Appendix 1: List of tracks of over 15 minutes by leading British rock bands in the 1960s and 1970s
Appendix 2: Occurrences of the F-E melodic motif in “Dogs”
Ten Variations – composition for oboe, piano and strings


Gilad Cohen, Ph.D.
Assistant professor of Music Performance and Theory
Ramapo College of New Jersey

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