Meaning, Communication, Music: Towards a Revised Communication Model

Charles Inskip, Andrew MacFarlane, Pauline Margaret Rafferty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (SciVal)


Purpose – If an information retrieval system is going to be of value to the user then it must give meaning to the information which matches the meaning given to it by the user. The meaning given to music varies according to who is interpreting it – the author/composer, the performer, cataloguer or the listener – and this affects how music is organized and retrieved. This paper aims to examine the meaning of music, how meaning is communicated and suggests this may affect music retrieval.

Design/methodology/approach – Musicology is used to define music and examine its functions leading to a discussion of how music has been organised and described. Various ways of establishing the meaning of music are reviewed, focussing on established musical analysis techniques. It is suggested that traditional methods are of limited use with digitised popular music. A discussion of semiotics and a review of semiotic analysis in western art music leads to a discussion of semiotics of popular music and examines ideas of Middleton, Stefani and Tagg.

Findings – Agreeing that music exists when communication takes place, a discussion of selected communication models leads to the proposal of a revised version of Tagg's model, adjusting it to include listener feedback.

Originality/value – The outcome of the analysis is a revised version of Tagg's communication model, adapted to reflect user feedback. It is suggested that this revised communication model reflects the way in which meaning is given to music.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-706
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Documentation
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Communication
  • Information retrieval
  • Music


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