Steven Rings


Associate Professor of Music; Director of Graduate Studies


Ph.D., Yale, 2006


Office: Goodspeed Hall 304
Phone: (773) 702-8577

Steven Rings’s research focuses on transformational theory, phenomenology, popular music, and voice. His book Tonality and Transformation (Oxford, 2011) — recipient of the Society for Music Theory’s 2012 Emerging Scholar Award — develops a transformational model of tonal hearing, employing it in interpretive essays on music from Bach to Mahler. His current book project explores Bob Dylan’s fifty-year performing career. Rings’s article “A Foreign Sound to Your Ear: Bob Dylan Performs ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),’ 1964–2009” (Music Theory Online, 2013) won the 2014 Outstanding Publication Award from the Society for Music Theory’s Popular Music Interest Group. In other recent research Rings has explored the popular singing voice and the music of Gabriel Fauré. He is also co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Concepts in Music Theory with Alexander Rehding, for which he contributed the chapter on “tonic.”

Rings’s recent graduate seminars have explored the relationship between song, track, and performance in diverse popular-music traditions; the music of Bob Dylan; Lewinian transformational theory; and musical presence. Rings also teaches tonal and post-tonal theory at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as a course on musical interpretation and criticism in the College Core.

Rings has served on the faculty of the Mannes Institute for Advanced Study in Music Theory and he is the series editor of Oxford Studies in Music Theory. He is also the Chair of the University of Chicago Society of Fellows. Before becoming a music theorist, Rings was active as a classical guitarist, performing in the U.S. and in Portugal, where he was Professor of Guitar at the Conservatório Regional de Angra do Heroísmo.

Recent Courses Taught

  • Music 43214: Song, Track, Performance
  • Music 43812, Seminar: Bob Dylan as Musician
  • Music 43311, Seminar: Music’s Presence
  • Music 43309, Seminar: Bartók
  • Music 43808, Seminar: Analyzing Meaning
  • Music 43707, Seminar: Lewinian Transformational Theory
  • Music 31300, Post-Tonal Analysis (grad)
  • Music 31200, Tonal Analysis II (grad)
  • Music 25300, Analysis of Twentieth-Century Music (undergrad)
  • Music 15200, Harmony and Voice-Leading II (undergrad)
  • Music 10400, Music Analysis and Criticism (undergrad)

Selected Works

  • "Sense and Surplus: Analyzing the Popular Singing Voice," Journal of the American Musicological Society 68/3 (2015)
  • "'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right': A Genealogy,"  public lecture, Franke Institute for the Humanities, February 4, 2015
  • A Foreign Sound to Your Ear: Bob Dylan Performs ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),’ 1964–2009,Music Theory Online 19.4 (2013)
  • “Talking and Listening with Jankélévitch,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 65/1 (2012)
  • “The Learned Self: Artifice in Brahms's Late Intermezzi,” in Expressive Intersections in Brahms: Essays in Analysis and Meaning, ed. Heather Platt and Peter Smith, Indiana University Press, 2012
  • “Riemannian Analytical Values, Paleo- and Neo-,” in The Oxford Handbook of Neo-Riemannian Studies, ed. Alexander Rehding and Edward Gollin, Oxford University Press, 2011
  • Tonality and Transformation, Oxford University Press, 2011
  • Mystéres limpides: Time and Transformation in Debussy’s Des pas sur la neige,” 19th-Century Music 32/2 (2008)
  • “Perspectives on Tonality and Transformation in Schubert’s Impromptu in E-flat, D. 899,” Journal of Schenkerian Studies 2 (2007)
  • Review of three books by David Lewin, Journal of Music Theory 50/1 (2006)