Dr Ben Curry

Dr Ben Curry

Department of Music
Lecturer in Music

Contact details

Room B21, Barber Institute of Fine Arts
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a musicologist specialising in the fields of musical meaning and music analysis.  My scholarly interests stretch from the eighteenth century to the present day and focus on twentieth-century popular music, film music and late eighteenth-century music.


  • BMus Music (Cardiff)
  • MA in the Composition  of Music for Film and TV (Bristol)
  • PhD Musicology (Cardiff)


I completed my first degree in music at Cardiff University in 1996, my MA in Film and TV Composition at Bristol in 2003, and my doctoral studies in Musicology at Cardiff in 2011.  Before arriving at Birmingham I had taught music at Cardiff University, Bath Spa University, Canterbury Christchurch University and the University of Kent.  From 2002–08, I also worked as a multimedia composer trading under the name Big Ear Productions.


Year 2/3 option modules:

  • Film Music Techniques and History
  • Introduction to Jazz Styles

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome applications from research students interested in any of the following areas: music and meaning, popular music, jazz, film music, late eighteenth-century music and music analysis.

Find out more - our Music postgraduate study  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


My research focuses upon musical meaning and music analysis. In the study of musical meaning I have worked extensively on the philosophy and semiotic theories of Charles Sanders Peirce. This work has developed into a broader concern with philosophical approaches to meaning and ways of rethinking music’s place within networks of psychological, social and historical forces.

My work on musical meaning has shaded into the study of music analysis and much of my work in this area has concerned late eighteenth-century music. I have produced more thoroughly analytical research on the patterns and practices of blues music. In this work I have adapted recent analytical technologies to bring new light to the blues while attempting to remain sensitive to the complex socio-cultural contexts that articulate this fascinating body of music.

Other activities

I am External Examiner at Canterbury Christ Church University and Middlesex University and I am a member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and the Society for Music Analysis.

Recent conference and invited papers are as follows:

  • July 2021, ‘What gets lost in music analysis? Insights from Wittgenstein’ at International Conference of the Society for Music Analysis­ at University of Birmingham. (20 minutes).
  • June 2019, ‘Early African American music sources and the “origins of the blues”’, at Atlantic Crossings: Music from 1492 through the Long 18th Century at Boston University, USA. (20 minutes).
  • July 2017 ‘Musical meaning and Wilfrid Sellars’ philosophy of language’, at the RMA Music and Philosophy Study Group’s biennial conference at King’s College London. (20 minutes).
  • April 2016, ‘Towards a Peircian-semiotic understanding of empirical approaches to musical meaning’, at International Congress on Musical Signification at Canterbury Christ Church University. (20 minutes).
  • July 2015, ‘Two approaches to tonal space in the music of Muddy Waters’, at International Conference of the Society for Music Analysis­ at Keele University. (20 minutes).
  • July 2014, ‘A Peircian approach to form and meaning in music’ as part of Aesthetics Research Group Seminar Series, University of Kent. (60 minutes).
  • July 2013, ‘Theorizing the Blues: Reconsidering Tonal Spaces in Robert Johnson’ at International Conference on Analyzing Popular Music at Liverpool University.
  • October 2012, ‘Classing topics: an analysis of the music for Ken Loach’s Riff Raff’ at International Conference on Music Semiotics at University of Edinburgh.
  • September 2012, ‘A Peircian approach to music analysis: temporality and subjectivity’ at Symposium in Memory of Raymond Monelle at University of Edinburgh.
  • April 2012, ‘Explaining and Developing David Osmond Smith’s Music Semiotics’ at Sussex University (invited presentation as part of the music department’s research seminar series).
  • July 2011, ‘(Re)negotiating subjectivity, (re)shaping formal function’ at Lancaster University Music Analysis Conference.
  • November 2010, ‘The first aria of Mozart’s Idomeneo: form, reference and resistance’ at International, Interdisciplinary Conference at Rose Bruford College—Music on stage.
  • October 2010, ‘On the value of Mozart’s Symphony in A K. 201’ at Eleventh International Congress on Musical Signification at The Academy of Music in Krakow—Music: function and value.
  • September 2010, ‘Meaning and actuality in the music of The Smiths’ at International Association for the Study of Popular Music's Biennial Conference at Cardiff University—Experience - engagement - meaning.


Recent publications


Bechtold, TA, Curry, B & Witek, M 2024, 'The perceived catchiness of music affects the experience of groove', PLOS One, vol. 19, no. 5, e0303309. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0303309

Bechtold, T, Kilchenmann, L, Curry, B & Witek, M 2023, 'Understanding the Relationship Between Catchiness and Groove: A Qualitative Study with Popular Music Creators', Music Perception, vol. 40, no. 5, pp. 353–372. https://doi.org/10.1525/mp.2023.40.5.353

Curry, B 2017, 'Two Approaches to Tonal Space in the Music of Muddy Waters', Music Analysis, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 37-58. https://doi.org/10.1111/musa.12084

Curry, B 2017, 'Valency - Actuality - Meaning: A Peircean Semiotic Approach to Music', Journal of the Royal Musical Association, vol. 142, no. 2, pp. 401-443. https://doi.org/10.1080/02690403.2017.1361177

Curry, B 2015, 'Blues Music Theory and the Songs of Robert Johnson: Ladder, Level and Chromatic Cycle', Popular Music, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 245-273. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143015000276

Curry, B 2012, 'Resituating the Icon: David Osmond-Smith’s Contribution to Music Semiotics', Twentieth-Century Music, vol. 9, no. 1-2, pp. 177-200. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1478572212000254

Curry, B 2010, 'Musical Semiotics in Action: Applying and Debating Hatten’s Semiotics in a Musico-Dramatic Context', Studies in Musical Theatre, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 53-65. https://doi.org/10.1386/smt.4.1.53_1

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Curry, B 2018, Music and Reality. in E Sheinberg & W Dougherty (eds), Routledge Companion to Musical Signification. Routledge.

Curry, B 2012, Time, Subjectivity and Contested Signs: Developing Monelle’s Application of Peirce’s 1903 Typology to Music. in Music Semiotics: A Network of Significations. Routledge, pp. 149-161.


Curry, B 2021, 'What Gets Lost in Music Analysis? Insights from Wittgenstein', Paper presented at Birmingham Music Analysis Conference 2021, Birmingham, United Kingdom, 28/07/21 - 30/07/21.

Curry, B 2019, 'Early African American Music Sources and the 'Origins of the Blues''.

View all publications in research portal