Learning from the Masters – Part 3

Posted on September 29, 2017 by songtive

funny girl student with glasses reading books

Hi there! Today in Songtive we’re going to follow our ‘Learning from the Masters’ series reviewing the legendary Queen classic Bohemian Rhapsody! This worldwide known song has many interesting aspects worth to analyze and to incorporate in your composer’s toolbox. The singular structure, the musical approach of the ideas we’re listening, the combination of classical music elements into a (for that time) modern rock and roll setting; all of it combined to shape one of the most memorable songs ever written!

Before getting into it, let’s remember some bullet points that we will observe:

  • 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 are via chord tones and melody’s notes that this relation is established.

Released in 1975 as one of the lead singles from their A Night at the Opera album, the song stands as one of the most emblematic rock icons of the last 40 years! And much of its success can be owed to Freddie Mercury’s outstanding songwriting work on it.

First things first: the thing that makes Bohemian Rhapsody a timeless classic is its structure’s complexity. The song departs from the common verse – chorus – verse – solo – chorus formula, and it is set as more of a musical suite than anything else. That is, the song is planned to tell a story through multiple musical episodes, each one approaching a particular point of the main character. Let’s check it out!

Intro

At 0:05 starts the memorable introduction of Bohemian Rhapsody and it goes to 0:53. It presents the character and something that would be a recurring element throughout the song: an a capella choral arrangement (made entirely of chord tones) and the theme of the poor boy in trouble, which is the principal argument of the song. The main pieces of what Bohemian Rhapsody are established during this introduction section.
Lessons: Intro section needs to set the mood of your song, so keep it soft and with few instruments to make it a ballad.

1st Verse

The first verse starts at 0:54, the piano accompaniment pattern is established and will last the whole song, using the following chord progression: Bb – Gm – Cm – F. This can be read as I – vi – iv – V. We can hear the piano and electric bass supporting the melody Freddie sings, so the intention is to keep it subtle, as it is the story of an incident. The mood is that of a slow ballad.

Lessons: Using sparse writing, like arpeggios, chord tones for the bass and subtle-to-non percussion is useful to set a light mood for your ballads.

Bridge

At 1:24 begins the bridge, a section that will be used as a transition point between verses. Roger Taylor’s kits start here, to add motion and intensity to the song, as the melody goes higher. Note how the melody descends as Freddie sings “carry on, carry on”, adding more meaning to the fateful phrase.

Lessons: Enhance the emotional range of your melodies by placing them properly. Use middle-range melodies to establish the mood, ascending lines for stronger emotions and descending ones to release the tension of the moment.
The chords are: Eb – Bb – Cm – Fm

2nd Verse

Starting at 1:53, the second verse explains what is going on in the poor boy’s head as he has to face the consequences of his actions. Note how the same pattern is repeated: the piano+bass accompaniment, followed by the drums. Now, instead of a sung bridge, we get the same chords with a new addition: the first guitar solo.

Lessons: To add more verses, you can use the same chords as in the first one. Make sure to bring something different

1st Solo

Starting at 2:40, the solo serves two purposes for this song: as the close of the first section, exposing the situation (how the boy murdered someone) and the unforeseen consequences (the boy dealing with it by writing a letter to his mother). The second function is to serve as an interlude for the beautiful and legendary a capella choir that follows, in four-part harmony!

Lessons: Expand your solo ideas by recycling material. This is good to keep coherence. Note how the solo is being played over the same chords as the bridge: Eb – Bb – Cm – Fm

We hope that you have enjoyed the first section of Bohemian Rhapsody and got some great ideas from it using our lessons! In the following article, we’ll get deeper in the interesting a capella section and the exciting second half of this timeless rock classic!

Popular progression I-V-vi-IV

Posted on July 19, 2016 by editor

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In this post, we are going to talk more about one of the one of the most popular chord progressions that exists. This progression is

and it is used across all genres of music. It turns out that these four chords in this particular formation can make for some seriously memorable music. Here are just a few examples of songs where you can hear this progression come to life.

  • Adele – Someone Like You
  • Idina Menzel – Let it Go
  • James Blunt – You’re Beautiful
  • P!nk – Perfect
  • Green Day – When I Come Around

You might recognize these chord types from a different progression, the 50s progression. It uses the very same chords, just in a different order. The progression has also been said to have a heroic sound to it. It has been used in many major Hollywood movie trailers, especially ones released after the year 2000.

The progression has been called many other things as well. It was dubbed “the sensitive female” progression by Marc Hirsh of the Boston Globe. It has also been called the “pop-punk” progression by Dan Bennett. The bottom line is that this progression goes by many names because it has been used in so many pieces of music and crosses genre lines.

Let’s look at an example:

In “Let it Go” as performed by Idina Menzel in the Disney movie, Frozen you can hear this progression in the chorus. Have you ever wondered why you just can’t get that song out of your head? We’ve explained below.

Why does this work? Well, there are many reasons, but here are a few. You’ll noticed that this progression is used often in songs written in a major key. That said, I, IV and V are always good chords to use together in a major key. This is because they will harmonize well with any note in the key. The vi chord is a natural next step because it is also a good fit. This progression is, like the 50s progression, “catchy”. For that reason, the melodies written over the chords always stick.

That’s it! What will you create with this awesome progression? Take your new knowledge to use on Songtive for iOS/Android/Web. Remember to keep coming back to our blog to expand your knowledge of theory. Thanks for reading.

Andalusian Cadence: vi–V–IV–III

Posted on July 12, 2016 by editor

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From Classical to Flamenco to Pop

What is the Andalusian cadence?

The Andalusian cadence is the name of a chord progression that was made popular in flamenco music. This progression is made up of four chords that descend stepwise (from the vi to the V to the IV and finally the III chords. This progression can be traced back to the Renaissance period, and the beauty of the exotic sound created by this chord sequence it one of the most popular progressions in classical music and popular music.

Before we examine this Andalusian cadence further we need to discuss a few terms to make the explanation easier to understand.

Scales

Notes can be arranged in a specific sequence called a scale. Different sequences create different types (or qualities) of scales. To keep it simple we’ll look at the C major scale.

The C major scale is the usual starting point of any music theory discussion because this scale sequence does not use any accidentals (sharps or flats). If you’re sitting at a piano (a piano app is fine) then simply find C. The piano keyboard is arranged in a series of white keys and black keys. The black keys are in groups of two and three. Directly to the left of the group of two black keys is the C note. Play that note and move from left to right one white key at a time until you reach the next C. This produces the familiar sound of the major scale and, in this case, the C major scale.

Next, these sequences that form scales can be assigned a formula. The formula for the major scale is 1–2–3–4–5–6–7–8. The chart below will make it easier to visualize:

Regular whole numbers are used to identify the note and its function: for example:

  • C is the 1 note,
  • D is the 2 note,
  • G is the 5 note, etc.

Chords

Chords are three or more notes played at the same time. You can create a chord by stacking every other note in the scale; for example, C–E–G create a C chord.
We’re building the chord on the C so we begin on C, then skip the D, add the E, skip the F, and add the G to get C–E–G. These three notes are played together to form the C chord.

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Here’s the D minor chord:

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Next, the E minor chord:

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You can use this system for each note (or degree) in the scale. But, in order to determine when we are speaking about the chord and not the note we need to use Roman numerals.

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The I–IV–V chords are major that’s why they’re uppercase. The ii–iii–vi chords are minor and that’s why they’re lowercase. The vii° is diminished which is why it’s lowercase with the degree symbol.

How does the Andalusian cadence work?

The Andalusian cadence is referred to as the vi–V–IV–III progression because it naturally occurs in the vi, V, and IV chords of a major scale. The iii chord is minor and, with a simple adjustment, the iii chord can be made major and then represented with the uppercase Roman numeral III.

However, many contemporary musicians don’t think of it in those terms. They will think of the first chord as the one chord as in the table below. Notice how it changes the functions of the subsequent chords.

A Minor: i, bVII, bVI, V.

Author’s note: A formal discussion regarding the aspects of music theory is beyond the scope of this article; however, certain terms are mentioned and explained for the purpose of this article.

In this case, the A is the one chord and it’s minor. This will create a chord progression that is diatonic (means that it belongs to the key or naturally occurs in that key) to the A natural minor scale with the exception of the E chord. Again, an alteration is used to turn the naturally occurring E minor chord into an E major chord. This alteration changes the scale from A natural minor to A Harmonic minor throughout the duration of the E major chord.

15 Popular Songs Using the Andalusian Cadence

These songs are listed alphabetically by song title and used here simply to illustrate the variety of situations that the Andalusian progression can appear in pop music.

  1. Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You (Led Zeppelin)
  2. China Girl (David Bowie)
  3. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Nina Simone)
  4. Feel Good Inc (The Gorillaz)
  5. Genie in a Bottle (Christina Aguilera)
  6. Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys)
  7. Hazy Shade of Winter (Paul Simon)
  8. Hit the Road, Jack (Ray Charles)
  9. Like a Hurricane (Neil Young)
  10. Maneater (Hall and Oates)
  11. Objection (Shakira)
  12. Runaway (Del Shannon)
  13. Stray Cat Strut (The Stray Cats)
  14. Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits)
  15. Wild World (Cat Stevens)

How to Use It in Your Own Songwriting

The best way to understand songwriting is by analyzing other songs—as in the list above. For example, “Hit the Road, Jack” is the same Andalusian cadence over and over, whereas, “Stray Cat Strut” uses the progression in the verse and, for the chorus, uses the same progression in a different key.

How to Analyze Songs

  1. Pick one of your favorite songs. It’s usually best to start with something that you’re already familiar with. A favorite song usually offers you something that you already know by heart. It’s also something that holds no surprises and you’ll be enthusiastic about learning more.
  2. Identify the song structure: intro, verse, chorus, etc. The Beatles were masters of this. They played cover versions of songs that they liked at the very beginning of their career. Then, they wrote songs based on what they knew—variations of songs they covered. Analyze their songwriting and notice how it developed from album to album.
  3. Determine the chord progressions that are in each part of the song. Songs are made up of patterns, these patterns are chord progressions that repeat. Sometimes with a twist or slight alteration, but there will always be a pattern. The verse may begin on the I chord and the chorus may begin on the V chord or vice versa.

In the early stages you may find this difficult and time consuming. But, after a while you’ll become quite proficient at it. So much so, that you will develop your ears and musicianship to the point that you can determine song structures and chord progressions by simply listening to a song.

UPDATE: One of our community user created an amazing remix: