Cross-national attunement to popular songs across time and place: A sociology of popular music in the United States, Germany, Thailand, and Tanzania

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


This paper explores empirically Edward T. Hall's assertion about the role of musical elements, including rhythm recognition and what are called "ear worms" in popular culture. To test Hall's assertion, data were collected from the United States, Germany, Tanzania, and Thailand in 2015-2017 using a 26 brief "song intros. " Data were also collected from exchange students from South Korea and Turkey. Survey responses were analyzed using factor analysis in order to identify patterns of recognition. It was found that there were indeed patterns of recognition apparently reflecting national boundaries for some song recognition, but others crossed boundaries. A separate analysis of patterned recognition comparing American youth under thirty, with elders over 60 indicated that there were also boundaries between age groups. Such experiments in music recognition are an effective methodology for Culture Studies given that musical elements are tied to issues of identity, culture, and even politics. Music recognition can be used to measure elements of such subconscious habitus.

Original languageEnglish
Article number305
JournalSocial Sciences
Issue number11
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 01.11.2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research received financial support from the professional development funds from the Department of Sociology, California State University, Chico. Acknowledgments: Marcos Zepeda helped with selecting the song intros included in this paper in 2014-2015. Jamie Simpson from Midland College assisted with administering the questionnaires in Nebraska, and delivering them to Tanzania. The Rev. John Materu administered questionnaires in Tanzania. Christina L. Quigley provided editorial advice about musicology. Students and faculty at Leuphana University in Germany who informed ideas for this article include Guenter Burkart, Volker Kirchberg, Lynette Kirschner, Yvonne Foerster, Lukas Iden, Benjamin Elbers as well as others. In Thailand, the paper was enriched through discussions withWutthichula Khunpatwattana, Eva Mazharenko, and students from the General Education program of the International College.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the authors.

    Research areas

  • Attunement, Culture studies, Edward t. hall, Popular music, Theodor adorno, Youth culture
  • Sociology