#1
I was just learning this alt rock / grunge song over the weekend. It may be my favorite of this particular type of song, even though it's a bit of a one hit wonder. Very much in the same vein (IMO) as some Green Day, Blink 182, but I find something particularly appealing about Harvey Danger's Flagpole Sitta... perhaps something more raw, more honest, or who knows?

I was looking at progressions, and it seems to use more unusual chords than I'm used to seeing, like C/B, C/A, C4, D2/F#, D11/F#.

It appears to be key of D, but also has Am (not A) and C, which would make me think of G major except that there is no G major in the song (well, except one tucked away in the middle of a bridge).

In the key of D, I'd map it out like this:

verse:
| I | v | VIIb | VIIb/vi - I | (played twice)

chorus:
| I | v7 | VIIb | VIIbsus4 |

bridge: (not sure if "bridge" is right term for this section of song)
| V | IV | IIIb/VIIb | Iadd2/III | IV | IIIb/VIIb | I2/III - I11/III | I2/III - I11/III |

Well, given the lack of an IV or V in the verse or chorus, and the fact the verse and chorus move very energetically along, I'm a bit confused. Is this in D major? How would you explain why this song "works," if that's possible?

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#2
It's not unusual in Rock to use a major harmony for the I and then borrow minor harmonies elsewhere in the key. A lot of alt-rock was written diatonic to the mixolydian scale, which would include the minor v and bVII (and no this is NOT modal music).

That chord thing also has some overanalysis, at least as a guitar resource. Those slash chords are showing that the bass itself is playing the note after the slash. The guitars are kinda thick, so maybe there's a parallel guitar part, but I didn't hear it just now.

when you see slash chords bear in mind they're not always just showing the guitar part. In formal contexts, like jazz charts, slash chords specifically indicate a bass part. If you're in a band with a bass range instrument, they'll be playing the slash notes and the guitar/piano plays whatever form of the chord it wants. You would also use them if you're playing a solo guitar piece where you're playing the bass, chords, and melody all yourself.

Also, you don't use slash notation for Roman numerals. There are specific symbols to indicate inversion (6=first inversion, 6/5=2nd), and the numerals themselves only refer to the actual chord/harmony, not individual tones. Slash notation usually indicates a non-chord tone in the bass, which is something that Roman numerals don't account for.

Slashes in Roman numerals have very specific and completely unrelated meaning, which is to indicate that a chord is being measured relative to something other than the I. V/ii for example means "V of ii", a chord major chord a fifth away from the ii, and meant to sound like it's resolving to ii.

If you want to combine slashes with Roman numerals to indicate non-chord tones in the bass, I'd suggest doing something like ii/D iii/D. Just put the actual note name after the slash.
#3
I would say the bridge modulates to A major and the progression is A-G-F-D-A-G-F-G-D (I-bVII-bVI-IV-I-bVII-bVI-bVII-IV) and then it modulates back to D. There's just lots of non-diatonic chords. And non-diatonic chords are used everywhere. Why does it work? I don't know, we just like the sound. Why does playing the major scale work?

It is not against the rules to use accidentals. I don't know where the misconception comes from. And it's completely normal in rock music to use the b7, b3 and b6 accidentals (it's just borrowing from the parallel minor - for example if you are in D major, you borrow chords from D minor - bVII, bIII, bVI, iv and v are the most common borrowed chords in a major key). There are really no rules in music. Everything can be explained with theory. Using accidentals is really usual.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
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#4
Quote by MaggaraMarine
Why does it work? I don't know, we just like the sound. Why does playing the major scale work?


This is sort of the opposite of my approach. I assume that, with analysis and comparison to other works that evoke a similar emotional response, we learn why things "work."

I am not ruling out the possibility some one might come up with a song that "works" for entirely new reasons, never discovered or appreciated before, so it sort of breaks new ground... But then other songs / songwriters will follow that uncharted territory until it becomes a more familiar and developed landscape.

Anyway, I think it is kind of self-defeating to assume, from the get-go, that a really catchy hit song like Flagpole Sitta managed to chart new territory and works for entirely new and currently indiscernible reasons. While that is certainly a possibility, my gut tells me it's far more often the case, and thus more likely in this case, that the song is doing something that has already been successfully done, with perhaps a bit of variation. Like a new hit song is almost always an evolution from a prior hit song.

I cannot tell you how often I start to look closely at a "hit" song, the progressions and stuff, and realize, "Oh, this is just 'Brown-Eyed Girl in a different key with a slightly different cadence and one substitute chord," or something to that effect. (Of course, Brown-Eyed Girl was no doubt derivative of some prior hit song or songs.)

When I first started learning to play chords, and learning songs by chord progression (as opposed to learning the lead parts, or how to play them exactly as they are on the radio), I started a project of reducing all the song I loved, and was trying to learn, to their Roman Numeral patterns, and then putting them in order of those patterns (like the first progression in my list, alphabetically, was I-I-ii-I or something like that and the last was something like VIIb - vi - V - I -- those are not real songs, I'm just making it up to illustrate what I mean by "alphabetical" sorting... I have not revisited that project in over a year, so I do not actually recall what came first or last on the list.) Anyway, I had over 100 songs on it, mostly hits, from 50s, 60s, 70s, and some more modern. Beatles, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, etc.

It was an imperfect system, but it did really help me see the common overlaps in chord movements in hit / popular rock music, and clued me in to some of the ways it has evolved.

So, basically, I'm looking to go deeper, not just write off why a song works by saying, "who knows why music affects us like it does?" I may be wrong...but isn't a lot of classical / regimented music training about learning the particular emotive aspects of certain movements...like so when you get to a certain level of understanding, then writing songs to fit, say, a play or movie becomes a piece of cake... Like you want some patriotic, macho, let's go out and get the enemy for the good of home, type music, you KNOW what chord movements and cadences will do that, and it's more a matter of tweaking it with selecting the key, the chord substitutions, embellishments, tweaking the cadence to find a somewhat original groove (though definitely rather derivative).

I don't think there's anything wrong with derivative music, or borrowed music. I think that's the whole point, to stand on the shoulders of those who came before and to 'evolve' music in a way that feels true to you. So I do not look down on those pop song when I see they are a slight deviation from, say, Brown-Eyed Girl...or those songs that a lot of people like to insult because they use a I-V-vi-IV progression... The fact that you can have so many songs use the same chord progressions and keep being so well-received by the masses, so catchy, tells me there's something to be learned there... something about those frequencies, those wave formations and our biology... I think some kind of science that takes aspects of psychology, neurology, neurochemistry, music theory, and whatever branch of physics focuses on sound waves, could really do some interesting work trying to find a deeper understanding for why we like some music more than other music. On some level, music is a form of mind control, changing out people feel. With all the psychological dysfunctions running around these days, ADHD, autism, OCD, and the side effects of drugs, maybe sonic treatments -- musical therapies -- could be developed. These are feeling-based disorders, involving anxiety, and as they say, "music soothes the savage beast."

Sorry for the tl;dr post...I got on a philosophical high horse and I guess I'd rather not delete the foregoing content. I have a notion (perhaps foolish, egotistical, or naive) I might one day actually write a book or something on some philosophical notions, and may use my longer, philosophical posts on forums like this as the skeleton for that work. (Yeah, a blog would probably be more appropriate, gotta' find time to figure how to set up a blog and then I can do all my tl:dr / philosophical meandering posts in one place and not clutter forums with them...it's on my to-do list, but alas not in the top 10, I welcome mods to address my tl:dr as they see fit, pare 'em down, whatever, it's your world, I'm just a nut hiding from squirrels.)

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#5
I like it. Regardless of A or D or '?'. It just highlights the key, what, the ?M7?. Playing the 7th and 2nd just give it a little twist. Do they use the minor 5th chord? What was the question? It's 'No Rain', 'Been A Son' and even most Mario songs.

'''''
We can trace most music to Mario. Sankayuu''


I have no idea.
#6
You just can't know why major scale works. People in Western culture started using it and all music is based on it. There are other "natural" scales in other cultures. For example if you listen to Arabic music, they don't really use the major scale. But major scale was what we got used to and that's why we like it. And why I-V-vi-IV is everywhere is because it usually fits the simple melodies we come up with perfectly. The chord progression by itself sounds pretty melodic. And it's easy to come up with melodies over it and almost everything you play over the progression sounds melodic.

And yeah, the song is clearly in D major (other than the bridge which I would say is in A). It just uses accidentals. Not really unusual chords if you ask me. You don't need to use all the 7 notes in the scale to be in a key. You just need to listen to the song and where it resolves to. If the tonic is a major chord, you are in a major key and if it's a minor chord, you are in a minor key. It doesn't matter what other chords there are. Tonic is what determines the key you are in (and you need to use your ears to find it - you can't just decide "this chord is the tonic").

IMO the song didn't have anything unusual in it. It was a pretty basic rock song.

Music evolves all the time. Some things are used a lot and when they are used enough, they become standards. For example before keys were "discovered", there was modal music. Also, there were different eras. For example if you had played jazz music in the 17th century, I don't think people would have liked it. For example maj7 and m7 chords (let alone chords like 7#9) weren't used that much in the baroque era - they would have sounded really dissonant. But today people have got used to the sound of chords like 7#9 (the "Hendrix chord"). So people hear music differently.

Also, music isn't chords. You can make the same chord progression sound different. There is no "macho chord progression". I think it has more to do with dynamics, rhythm and instrumentation than just chords. Of course it's easier to write upbeat songs in a major than a minor key but that doesn't mean you can't write upbeat songs in a minor key. Minor isn't always sad and major isn't always happy. It has to do with more than chords. Many times it's about the dynamics, tempo, rhythm, instrumentation...
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#7
Well, I was singing the song today and noticed a couple things. The D to Am move at the outset is the same as GNR's Sweet Child of Mine. I could see some other parallels, though not perfect. I think when a song is as huge a hit as Sweet Child, it breaks ground for other artists to piggy back on it by creating something that has a vague reminiscence, but not obvious.

I also noticed the cadence was interesting, a lot of the lyrical phrases do not start on the 1 / downbeat. Some are on the backbeat, some start halfway through the measure. The result is an interesting pacing to the lyrics and are somewhat driving.

I think avoiding lyrics that start each phrase on the 1 is perhaps one tool that is often used to create interest within a song, swing or groove or whatever.

The fact that different scales and intervals can be seen as musical does not mean that ANY intervallic patterns between octaves could work musically -- no matter how dissonant it might sound to us -- if, for example, you played it for some babies who never heard any other music. Your sort of suggesting it is 100% relative so that those babies would grow up rocking out to that dissonant scale, that it's all nurture and no nature.

Well, I guess that's theoretically possible. I can't prove it's not right. But I'm not sure it's been proven to be right, either. Which leave open the other possibility, that the various scales that different cultures have landed on have some common features that appeal to something biological in humans. Like, if you look at the frequencies at issue, you see that we tend to like certain ratios in movement between frequencies like those that can be reduced to "clean" fractions like 2/3 or 3/4. In cultures with other scales, you still find that they may favor this, though perhaps with fractions like 5/6 or 7/8. You probably will find that NO culture favors a musical scale made up of intervals that have frequency rations of 13/24, for example.

So while the ratios may be different, there is a commonality that they tend to be smaller, "cleaner" fractions in terms of the frequencies of the intervals. Which again comes back t the notion that there is something biological being triggered by music, that it is not all relative to what we grow up listening to.

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#8
^ If we listen to Arabic music, we aren't used to it. They use notes that sound out of tune to our ears because we aren't used to them (they use 1/4 steps and stuff like that). It is all about getting used to stuff.

But yeah, not all intervals sound great. That has to do with physics. One note is not just one frequency. Actually one note includes the root, fifth, octave, major third, minor seventh... All notes in the overtone scale (1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7 - though they are really not "in tune", for example the minor 7th, augmented 4th and major 6th are pretty flat). That's why major chord sounds pretty consonant. It has the root, major third and perfect fifth. And all of those are already included in the root note of the major chord.

But for example the "Hendrix chord" (dominant 7th and minor chord played at the same time) - I guess it originally sounded pretty dissonant to somebody who only was used to classical music. But after using it enough and after blues and jazz got more popular people got used to it. Now bluesy music is everywhere and you get used to it just like you get used to a language and learn to speak it. There is some kind of logic in music and not everything works. We tend to use certain kind of chord progressions and melodies more often. Just like we learn to speak a language, we learn how music "should" sound like. You could invent a nonsense language and if you spoke it to your children, they would start understanding it. Similarly, if you play jazz music to your children, they start "understanding" it.

As I said, we are not used to Arabic music - they use notes that in our system are out of tune and we hear them as being out of tune because we are not used to them.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115