LZ in Tuilleries September 2013

Lawrence Zbikowski

I am Professor of Music and the Humanities in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago. My principal research interests involve applying recent work in cognitive science (especially that done by cognitive linguists and cognitive psychologists) to various problems confronted by music scholars, with a particular focus on music theory and analysis. Much of my recent work has been drawn together in my 2017 book Foundations of Musical Grammar (OUP), but I have also been exploring the application of theories about cognitive extension to music along with topics related to music and memory.


Autumn 2017
Music 25801/31801: The Analysis of Song
Seminar: Music and Agency

Winter 2018
Music 10400: Introduction to the Analysis and Criticism of Music
Music 31100: Tonal Analysis I

Top of page


Cover of Foundations of Musical Grammar

Foundations of Musical Grammar, Oxford Studies in Music Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).

from the jacket copy for the book
How is it that humans are able to organize seemingly random sounds into the captivating sonic structures we call music? In this volume Lawrence M. Zbikowski argues that humans’ unique ability to correlate sounds with dynamic processes provides the basis for the construction of meaningful musical utterances—that is, a foundation for musical grammar. Building on a framework for grammar developed by cognitive linguists over the past three decades and the pathbreaking research set out in his earlier Conceptualizing Music (OUP 2002), Zbikowski explains how the ability to draw analogies between widely differing domains allows humans to connect sequences of musical sounds with emotion processes, physical gestures, and the steps of dance. He shows how these connections underpin an evocative movement from a cantata by J. S. Bach, guide our understanding of gestural choreographies by Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin, and frame connections between movement and music in French courtly dance and the Viennese waltz. Through thorough surveys of research in cognitive science and careful analyses of works by composers ranging from Bach, Brahms, and Schubert to Jerome Kern, Zbikowski explores the unique resources for communication offered by music and examines how these differ from those of language. Foundations of Musical Grammar is sure to be an instant—and enticingly controversial—classic within the evolving literature addressing the many complex intersections of music and language.

Cover of Conceptualizing Music

Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis, AMS Studies in Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). Conceptualizing Music was winner of the Society for Music Theory’s 2004 Wallace Berry Award.

Top of page


Articles, article-reviews, and responses.

Review of Elizabeth Margulis’s On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind, Music Theory Spectrum 39/1 (Spring 2017): 124–130. (pdf)

“Reflections on Words and Music,” Dansk Musikforskning Online/Særnummer 2016, Danish Musicology Online/Special Edition 2016, Word And Music Studies—New Paths, New Methods, 5–13 ( (pdf)

Review of Schubert (Re)Inventions (a recording by Ensemble Palladino), Nineteenth-Century Music Review (29 November 2016): DOI 10.1017/S1479409816000525 (pdf)

“Remembering Music,” for the Dutch Journal of Music Theory 17: 3 (2012): 137–154. (pdf)

“Music, Dance, and Meaning in the Early Nineteenth Century,” the Journal of Musicological Research 31:2–3 (2012): 147–165. (pdf)

“Music, Language, and What Falls in Between,” Ethnomusicology 56/1 (Winter 2012): 125–131. This brief essay is a response to Francesca R. Sborgi Lawson’s “Consilience Revisited: Musical and Scientific Responses to Chinese Performance,” published in the same issue. (pdf)

“Music Theory, Music History, and Quicksand,” Music Theory Spectrum 33/2 (Fall 2011): 226–228. This brief essay is a response to Richard Taruskin’s “Catching up with Rimsky-Korsakov,” published in the same issue. (pdf)

“Music, Emotion, Analysis,” Music Analysis 29/i-ii-iii (2011): 37–60. (pdf)

“An Introduction to voiceXchange,” voiceXchange 3/1 (Spring 2009): 1–2. (pdf)

“Ole Kühl’s Musical Semantics: Cognitive Musicology and the Challenge of Musical Meaning,” Musicæ Scientiæ 13/2 (Fall 2009): 441–473. (pdf)

“Musicology, Cognitive Science, and Metaphor: Reflections on Michael Spitzer’s Metaphor and Musical Thought,” Musica Humana 1/1 (2009): 81–104. (pdf)

“Aspects of Meaning Construction in Music: Toward a Grammar of Music,” prepared for Almen Semiotik 17 but journal ceased publication. (pdf)

“Music Theory, Multimedia, and the Construction of Meaning” (invited review of Nicholas Cook’s Analysing Musical Multimedia), Intégral 16/17 (2002/2003) [published summer 2005]: 251–268. (pdf)

“Modelling the Groove: Conceptual Structure and Popular Music,” the Journal of the Royal Musical Association 129/2 (December 2004): 272–297. (pdf) Reprinted in Pop Music and Easy Listening, ed. Stan Hawkins (Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2011): 241-266.

Review of Taylor Aitken Greer, A Question of Balance: Charles Seeger’s Philosophy of Music, Music Theory Spectrum 26/2 (Fall 2004): 305–313. (pdf)

Des Herzraums Abschied: Mark Johnson's Theory of Embodied Knowledge and Music Theory,” Theory and Practice 22–23 (1997–98; published Autumn 2000): 1–16. (pdf)

“The Blossoms of ‘Trockne Blumen’: Music and Text in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Music Analysis 18/3 (October 1999): 307–345. (pdf)

“Musical Coherence, Motive, and Categorization,” Music Perception 17/1 (Fall 1999): 5–42. (pdf)

“Metaphor and Music Theory: Reflections from Cognitive Science,” in Music Theory Online 4/1 (January 1998).
Table of contents for Music Theory Online 4/1.

“Conceptual Models and Cross-Domain Mapping: New Perspectives on Theories of Music and Hierarchy,” the Journal of Music Theory 41/2 (Fall 1997): 193–225. (pdf)

“Musical Concepts and Categories,” Music Theory Online 1/4 (July 1995).
Table of contents for Music Theory Online 1/4.

“Cooperative Learning in the Music Theory Classroom,” with Dr. Charles K. Long; the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy 8 (1994): 135–157. (pdf)

Review-article on Eugene Narmour’s The Analysis and Cognition of Basic Melodic Structures for the Journal of Music Theory 37/1 (Spring 1993): 177–206. (pdf)

Top of page


Chapters in edited books.

Routledge Companion to Music Cognition

“Music, Analogy, and Metaphor” in The Routledge Companion to Music Cognition, edited by Richard Ashley and Renee Timmers (Routledge Press, 2017). (pdf)

Music in Time

“Musical Time, Embodied and Reflected,” in Music in Time: Phenomenology, Perception, Performance, edited by Suzannah Clark and Alexander Rehding (Harvard University Press, 2016): 33–54. (pdf)

Music, Analysis, Experience

“Musical Semiotics and Analogical Reference,” in Music, Analysis, Experience: New Perspectives in Musical Semiotics, edited by Constantino Maeder and Mark Reybrouck (University of Leuven Press, 2015): 167–184.

Sémiotic de la musique

“Words, Music, and Meaning,” in Sémiotic de la musique / Music and Meaning, ed. Per Aage Brandt and José Roberto do Carmo, Jr., Signata: Annales des sémiotiques = Annals of Semiotics 6 (Liège: Presses universitaires de Liège–Sciences humaines, 2015): 143–164. (pdf)

Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory

“Dance Topics I: Music and Dance in the Ancien Régime,” in The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory, ed. Danuta Mirka (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014): 143–163. (pdf)

Speaking of Music

“Listening to Music,” in Speaking of Music: Addressing the Sonorous, ed. Keith Chapin and Andrew H. Clark (Fordham University Press, 2013): 101–119. (pdf)

Bewegungen zwischen Hören und Sehen

“Music and Movement: A View from Cognitive Musicology,” in Bewegungen zwischen Hören und Sehen: Denkbewegungen über Bewegungskünste, edited by Stephanie Schroedter (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2012): 151–162. (pdf)

Musical Consciousness

“Music, Language, and Kinds of Consciousness.” In Music and Consciousness: Philosophical, Psychological, and Cultural Perspectives, edited by Eric Clarke and David Clarke (Oxford University Press, 2011): 179–192. (pdf)

Music and Gesture 2

“Musical Gesture and Musical Grammar: A Cognitive Approach,” in New Perspectives on Music and Gesture, ed. Anthony Gritten and Elaine King (Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2011): 83–98. (pdf).

Multimodal Metaphor

“Music, Language, and Multimodal Metaphor,” in Multimodal Metaphor, eds. Charles Forceville and Eduardo Urios-Aparisi. (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2009): 359–381. (pdf)

Communication in Eighteenth Century Music

“Dance Topoi, Sonic Analogues, and Musical Grammar: Communicating with Music in the Eighteenth Century,” in Communication in Eighteenth Century Music, ed. Danuta Mirka and Kofi Agawu (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008): 283–309. (pdf)

Musik im Kontext

“Cognitive Science, Music Theory, and Music Analysis,” in Musiktheorie im Kontext: V. Kongress der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie Hamburg 2005, ed. Jan Philipp Sprick, Reinhard Bahr, and Michael von Troschke (Berlin: Weidler Buchverlag, 2008): 447–463. (pdf)

Cover of The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought

“Metaphor and Music,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought, ed. Raymond W. Gibbs, Jr. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008): 502–524. (pdf)

Cover of The Artful Mind

“The Cognitive Tango: Music, Mind and Brain,” in The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity, ed. Mark Turner (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). (pdf)

Cover of Understanding Charles Seeger

“Seeger’s Unitary Field Theory Reconsidered,” in Understanding Charles Seeger, Pioneer in American Musicology, edited by Bell Yung and Helen Rees (University of Illinois Press, 1999), 130–149. (pdf)

Top of page


LZ with Gibson L6S in Fulton Hall

The news office of the University of Chicago recently featured my work in a feature that includes a brief video clip.

The photograph at the right is by Dan Dry, and was used in the feature. It was taken in Fulton Hall, the recital hall for the Department Music. The guitar here is a 1975 Gibson L6S.

Top of page


LZ with guitar at the NHCI have a range of experience as a practical musician. In solo concerts I have performed works by Augustin Barrios, Richard Rodney Bennett, Peter Maxwell Davies, Joaquin Rodrigo, Vicente Sojo, Domenico Scarlatti, Fernando Sor, Toru Takemitsu, and Heitor Villa-Lobos.

On occasion, I also provide auditory illustrations for my lectures, most recently with works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Hans Werner Henze, Toru Takemitsu, Julio Sagreras, Antonio Lauro, and Mauro Giuliani. The classical guitar I’m shown with here was built in 1983 by Steve Kakos.

Although most of my energies are directed toward classical guitar, in years past I explored somewhat lighter fare as a member of the South Side Swedes, led by the late John Berquist.

Top of page


Department of Music
Goodspeed Hall 207
1010 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 702-8788
e-mail: larry[AT]uchicago[DOT]edu

Top of page