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In order to grasp the point of the generative theory of tonal music it is important to distinguish two kinds of hierarchy: generative and cumulative.
Lerdahl has written two books, A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (with linguist Ray Jackendoff) and Tonal Pitch Space, both of which model musical listening from the perspective of cognitive science.
One should not approach music with any preconceptions that the substance of music theory will look at all like linguistic theory" (Fred Lehrdahl and Ray Jackendoff, A Generative Theory of Tonal Music [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983], 5, quoted by Agawu on p.
This layer cor responds to what Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff refer to as the "tactus" (A Generative Theory of Tonal Music [Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983], 21) and what Joel Lester calls the "primary metric layer" (The Rhythms of Tonal Music [Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986], 50).
First, he considers several linguistic theories (semiology, the generative theory of tonal music, Deryck Cooke's theory of musical language) to show that musical meaning is not given by convention, as it is in language, but by perception (chap.
But earlier chapters are devoted to more formal, structuralist approaches--first as found in linguistic theory (from segmentation to generation and transformation) and then as applied to music, from the paradigmatic segmentations of Nicholas Ruwet (Language, Musique, Poesie [Paris: Le Seuil, 1972]) and Jean-Jacques Nattiez (Fondements d'une semiologie de la musique [Paris: Union generale d'editions, 1975]) to the generative analyses of Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff (A Generative Theory of Tonal Music [Cambridge, Mass.