Steven Rings

Steven Rings
Associate Professor in the Department of Music
Goodspeed 304
Office Hours: Fridays, 1-3 p.m.
PhD, Yale University, 2006

Steven Rings’s research focuses on popular music, voice, and transformational theory. Rings is currently completing his second book, titled Sounding Bob Dylan: Music in the Imperfect Tense. His  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.

Rings’s first book, Tonality and Transformation (Oxford, 2011) develops a transformational model of tonal hearing, employing it in interpretive essays on music from Bach to Mahler. Rings also co-edited, with Alexander Rehding,The Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory (Oxford, 2019), to which he contributed the chapter on “Tonic.” Both of these volumes received awards from the Society for Music Theory.

Beginning in 2017, Rings participated in a Mellon-funded collaboration with composer and percussionist Glenn Kotche—best known as the drummer for the band Wilco—under the auspices of the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry. As part of their collaboration, Kotche and Rings taught a course that sought to rethink the three musical categories of voice, groove, and song. In recent years, Rings’s graduate and undergraduate courses have focused extensively on Black experimental musicians ranging from Albert Ayler to Matana Roberts. Earlier seminars explored the concept of melody; the relationship between song, track, and performance in diverse vernacular music traditions; the music of Bob Dylan; Lewinian transformational theory; and musical presence. Rings teaches tonal and post-tonal theory at the undergraduate and graduate levels, the history of theory, and a class on musical interpretation and criticism in the College Core (Music 10400).

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 has also served as Chair of the University of Chicago Society of Fellows and is Resident Dean at Campus North Residential Commons. Rings also co-founded City Elementary, a therapeutic elementary school in Hyde Park. 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.

Photograph by Erielle Bakkum:




Selected Publications

“Tonic.” In Oxford Handbook on Concepts in Music Theory, ed. Alexander Rehding and Steven Rings, 106–35. Also available via Oxford Handbooks Online.

“Sounding Debussy: Race and Radio, 1936.” Naxos Musicology International.

“Speech and/in Song.” In A Voice as Something More, ed. Martha Feldman and Judith Zeitlin, 37–53. University of Chicago Press.

“On Bob Dylan’s Nobel Speech: Sound, Medium, and Genre.” Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 4.1.

“Music’s Stubborn Enchantments (and Music Theory’s).” Music Theory Online 24.1.

“Analyzing the Popular Singing Voice: Sense and Surplus.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 68: 663–71.

“A Foreign Sound to Your Ear: Bob Dylan Performs ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),’ 1964–2009.” Music Theory Online 19.4.