We’re going to learn composition techniques through one of the best ways there is to do so: analyzing musical masterpieces and reviewing some of the most interesting aspects they got to offer to make them the great artistic achievement they became. In order to do so we’re reviewing two of the most emblematic classic rock songs of all time: Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
So what are we going to learn? Structural aspects of the music, how these elements interact together, interesting harmonic progressions, chord-melody relationships and other relevant aspects that made these songs the masterworks that are considered today! This type of study will help you to get the best out of your favorite music and apply it to your own compositions!
In this first part we will be discussing Stairway to Heaven, which will have many things to teach us, so stay with us and check it out!
When it comes to song analysis the first thing to do is to divide it into the proper sections and review them separately. Since Stairway to Heaven is such a long song – 8:03 minutes long! – to be clear in terms of the parts that compose it is essential to get the most information out of each one of them!
The introduction section of a song is used to establish the song’s key and present some of the musical themes we are going to hear and to set the character: it can be the principal melody, the accompaniment theme, a solo over the main chord progression. From 0:00 to 0:52 we can hear the introduction section. It starts with a classical guitar arpeggio in the key of A minor, and it will be the main instrumental theme throughout the whole song. A secondary melody is played by two flutes, which present some of the vocal ideas we’re going to hear later. This is the section for which this song is recognized worldwide! Character is the one of a ballad: slow tempo, lighter texture and soft dynamics (volume).
In this section the main vocal ideas will be introduced along with the context and thematic of the whole song, the poetic message expressed through the language – lyrics. Singer Robert Plant makes his entrance with the main melody at 0:53 and exposes the ambiguous lyrical message of the song with the following notes:
A – B – C – B – A – B (There’s a lady who’s sure) against an A minor chord
B – C – D – C – B – A (all that glitters is gold) against a G# diminished chord
C – D – E – D – C – B –A – G – A (and she’s buying a stairway to heaven) against A minor and D major chords
As you can see, we can find passing tones between the chord tones and the melody notes, which, as we discussed before in the 4 ways to Develop Instrumental Solos article, adds variety and the singing quality this vocal melody has. If you have any doubts on how to get your chord tones, check out our previous articles where we give you all the info you need!
The verse’s musical idea goes from 0:53 to 2:06, in which a small interlude of the guitar presents a transitional idea consisting of a varied version of the verse and chord progression:
C – C – D – C – B – A (Oh, and it makes me wonder) which repeats twice against an A minor, G major, D major chord progression
After this, we hear the second verse with only a lyrics variation with the same musical ideas we heard before, making it a second verse and extending it to 3:33 for a third variation of the lyrics (therefore it is a third verse) which lasts until 4:18.
At 4:18 another new verse is introduced with the addition of the drum set, which adds for interest, contrasting with the mainly acoustic ideas previously exposed.
In the next part we will discuss and review the rest of the structure, so you can open Songtive and start to develop your own songs with the ideas we learned today from Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven! See you next time!