Learning from the Masters – Part 2

Posted on April 27, 2016 by editor

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Hi there! Today in Songtive we’re going to follow our ‘Learning from the Masters’ series reviewing another part of Led Zeppelin’s immortal classic Stairway to Heaven. But first let’s check out what we’ve already gathered from our analysis:

  • For analysis purposes the most convenient way to get into it is to get the structure first.
  • The introduction will give you the essential information you need: the key, the main theme(s) and the character.
  • Verses present the main vocal ideas, and usually are repeated with only a variation in the lyrics, conserving the underlying chord progression to keep the balance and symmetry.
  • Chord-melody relationship will provide you information on why things sound appealing to our ears, and is via chord tones and melody’s notes that this relation is established.

These bullet points will be our guidelines for what’s coming next!

From 4:18 a new verse starts, maintaining the same vocal and harmonic ideas we have heard at this point. So how can the same ideas sound fresh if they are being repeated all over? Thanks to the addition of new elements into the texture: the drum set entrance will give interest by the moving sensation its rhythm has.


The verses idea gets to 5:33 to a point where all the material we heard before reach to a climax and culminating point: a repeated Dsus2, D major, Dsus4, C major progression serves as a transition point to one of the most memorable rock solos ever heard!


The solo section starts at 5:56 with a chord progression that will be repeated to the end of the song: A minor – G major – F major. We will extend on this point because of the relevance it has, even when we discussed it in a previous article.
The first interesting to observe is the function of an instrumental solo: it is used as a way of reinforcing the character and the mood of a composition with melodic ideas, as a transitional moment. This one is based on successive little musical ideas (motives, from now on) that will fit the underlying chord progression.
From 5:56 to 6:15 we hear three motives based on the minor pentatonic scale of A minor (use our scale tool to see the notes!), listen how the pitch is getting higher as it continues! From 6:15 to 6:24 we hear the climax of the whole song with a high C note being the peak and a descending scale run that acts as a conclusive tool.


Contrary to the introduction, a coda section (sometimes called outro) will bring closure to all the themes that have been exposed in the whole song. It constitutes a new theme by itself, reaffirming the original key – A minor in this case. It starts at 6:42 with a repeated vocal line consisting of:

A – A – A – C – B – A – G – A (And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls, etc.) being drawn over the A minor – G major – F major chord progression.

And a final guitar solo at 7:26 will come to maintain the original climatic character of the song! A ritardando (which is an Italian musical expression for ‘slowing down`) at 7:41 will tell us that the song is coming to an end, and the final solo vocal line at 7:46 gives the conclusion to an epic song.

So that’s it!

We reviewed many musical elements in this part! I hope you enjoyed the trip as much as we did! Remember that everything you learn is to be applied to your own music, and here in Songtive we give you the tools you’ll be needing to get those sounds into the real world! In the next article we will get through Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen’s masterpiece! See you next time!

Learning from the Masters – Part 1

Posted on April 21, 2016 by editor

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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!

The Structure

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!

The Four Chords of Pop

Posted on April 13, 2016 by editor

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Today we are talking about the four chords of pop! It is a four chord progression widely used in pop music through the years, and it has a natural attraction that leaves no indifferent listeners. Based in the previous Doo Wop progression we discussed before, it consists of a I – V – vi – IV sequence played in major mode.

Check out these popular songs that use the four chords of pop!

  • Adele – “Someone Like You”
  • Bruno Mars – “The Lazy Song”
  • Imagine Dragons – “Demons”
  • James Blunt – “You’re Beautiful”
  • Journey – “Don’t Stop Believing”
  • Men At Work – “Down Under”
  • The Police – “So Lonely”

So the variety of the genres comprehended in this list will give you the idea of how used is this progression in a popular music context!

The Inside

How these simple chords work so well when put together? Let’s take a look at the musical techs that will answer that:

  1. Common Notes: The major part of the most catchy chord progressions we know share this particular aspect. As long as two chords with two or more common notes are put together, a well sounding effect will be achieved. Dividing the progression in two parts we get two common notes chords linked: I – V and VI – IV.
  2. Length: The duration of a chord progression is important when it comes to the song structure. Longer progressions will be used to punctuate a certain musical idea, which helps to the lyrics-music relationship. This particular progression of four chords is mostly used to express a single musical idea because of the amount of chords involved.
  3. Contrast: When putting a VI chord after a V chord, since they do not share any common notes, a surprising effect is achieved. The drastic change of moods when going from a major chord (V) to a minor chord placed just a degree above (VI) gives this progression a contrasting factor that engages the listener.

A Practical Example

We are reviewing Journey’s timeless classic Don’t Stop Believing for you to take a look at how this progression works and structures a song:

The first thing to do is to check out the key in which is it’s written: since the first chord is an E major chord and our progression starts at I (first degree), we will assume we are on E major key. Then we break said major key in its own chords and chord tones:

I – E major: E – G# – B

II – F# minor: F# – A – C#

III – G# minor: G# – B – D#

IV – A major: A – C# – E

V – B major: B – D# – F#

VI – C# minor: C# – E – G#

VII – D# minor: D# – F# – A#

After we do so, it is time to form a four-chords-of-pop progression with:

If you play this progression against Journey’s first verse you’ll see how perfectly it fits! Meaning Don’t Stop Believing first line – “She’s just a small town girl, living in a lonely world” makes use of four chords of pop to express a complete lyrical idea!

Now take a look at how common chord tones interact with each other:

Major key introduction:

I – V: E major and B major are sharing one common note – B note – and make the perfect point to establish the major key since it starts with the chord that gives it the name.

Contrasting turn:

V – VI: B major and C# minor doesn’t share any common notes. This will cause a contrasting and engaging effect on the listener. Since both chords are contained in E major key it won’t hurt the stability of the song.

Wrapping it up

VI – IV: The closing of the progression makes use of the two common notes sharing between these two chords. C# minor and A major shares both E and C# as their common notes! The subtle change of mood between them makes it a delightful closing.

Now it’s time to practice the effectiveness of this progression in your own songs and musical ideas! Remember to try all these progressions with all the major keys you can think of, so you get used to its sonority! See you next time, when we will talk about modulation – or ‘chord borrowing’, as you may heard it!