Friday, October 16

Don't Stop Believin' - Harmony


The Don't Stop Believin' chord progression is one of the most famous piano progressions in rock and roll. (I completely LOVE the tone of the bass guitar! I hear that Ross Valory, the bass player, used (uses?) the lower four strings off a 5-string bass on his 4-string bass to get that bottom end growl. I haven't verified that...but it still sounds cool).   

Anywho...the progression (with only a tiny variation during the  “on, and on, and on, and on” part) is played during the verses, the guitar solo, and the chorus.

There is an interesting harmonic contrast that happens between the signature progression and what is played in the pre-chorus. Let me introduce a concept called harmonic rhythm, which is how often the chords change during a progression. For example, the signature chord progression gives us a new chord every measure, as in…


…this creates an extremely steady and stable pulse (a perfect foundation for the melody and guitar solos!).

The pre-chorus has a different harmonic rhythm. The basic harmony stays centered on an A chord for 8 beats, and then an E chord for 8 beats*….


…okay, I KNOW the band isn’t playing A and then E exclusively, but the harmony is centered around those two chords instead of steadily changing every four beats.  The band is actually playing B/A* to A in the first line, and then B/E to E in the second line.

*A slash / means the bass note is different than the root of the chord you are playing. So B/A mean you are playing a B major chord over an A bass note.

…what I’m trying to say [c’mon Shane…what are you trying to say?] is the pre-chorus has a SLOWER harmonic rhythm compared to the rest of the song. This creates a nice harmonic contrast between the verses and prechoruses. The verses steadily pulse forward with their one-chord-per-measure march, while the pre-choruses lay back more with a new chord every TWO measures. You wouldn’t think a single measure wouldn’t make that much a difference, but it does. Listen how the verse really kicks back in when Neil Schon starts his guitar solo. The momentum of the song terrifically lurches back forward when the pre-chorus ends and the verse starts again.

 The pre-chorus feels more contemplative, more reflective, while the verse is more driven.

Harmonic rhythm is a great way to mess with the momentum of a song without altering the actual tempo.  It’s really quite cool.

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One of my readers (that really thrills me to write that!...just so you know J) asked me a question yesterday that I thought I would share, along with my answer.  Even though I was being asked about melody, the question really applies to all the characteristics  I’ve been writing about this week.

Doug writes:

As a songwriter, how do you balance finding a natural melody that just feels right (with) trying to create something using theories and rules, such as those revealed in this post?

Shane replies:
Instead of thinking of these techniques as “rules to follow”, think of them as things to try when you find yourself in a similar situation. That’s more of the purpose of this blog. For example*…try a pentatonic melody, and if you do, use a note that isn’t pentatonic to start your chorus.

*(The example is based on yesterday’s blog about a song whose melody is primarily pentatonic. Read the article HERE.)

These guys (and girls) aren’t writing these songs based on rules. They aren’t thinking “I need to slow down the harmonic rhythm for my pre-chorus”. Their gut is telling them that something different needs to happen at certain points of the song, and then they brilliantly futz around until something sounds great. Sometimes the futzing comes out amazing, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m just trying to point out areas that are working, and showing you why they are working. Rules and regulations are no substitute for good old gut feeling and inspiration. Hopefully, we can use these tricks to augment our gut feelings or to work through sections when the inspiration has run out and we’re not sure what to do next. We can say, “Well, Journey did THIS and IT worked, so maybe I can too.”

Good luck. Now, go write a song. :)



PS. By the way, there was a tie in the poll for the Saturday song. Hmmmm…most unexpected.  Most un-precedented.  I will solve this the old fashioned way by assigning Sting to one of my daughters and Maroon 5 to the other daughter and have them rock, scissor, paper it out. J See the results in tomorrow’s blog.


Doug said...

Thanks for your response. I have always been a gut feel guy (isn't everybody?) but it is nice to have a few tricks in the tool chest to try when things aren't going like you'd want. Thanks for the tools!

andreael said...

Awesome ! Love your suggestions! I am now super inspired to get busy on a Christmas CD ! So I am now going to "go write a song" - or two or three....... as for the rock paper scissors - are you going for 2 out of 3? I never did well at that game- i've heard there is a technique.....:)