Thursday, October 15

Don't Stop Believin' - Melody


Another area this song shines is in it's melody. It's funny though, in analyzing it, I expected it to be, I don't know, more complex?...but it's not. It's very simple (as all great melodies usually turn out to be). To be honest, I hesitate to overanalyze this because the melody is so elegant, and sometimes breaking something down into its pieces can diminish its worth. So keep in mind, these are just words. 

Steve Perry, in the verse and pre-chorus is basically singing a pentatonic melody...a five note melody. Some would say THE five note melody. ( MUST watch THIS video with Bobby McFerrin "playing" his audience...using a pentatonic scale).

I'm not going to say much more about the pentatonic scale [side note: did you watch the video? How completely rad was that?! See, aren't you glad you are following my blog?]. What is worth noting is HOW Perry uses the pentatonic scale. Particularly in the chorus, versus what he just sang in the verse. 

Here are the five notes of the E pentatonic scale, which Perry is singing...

E  F#  G#  B  C# ...etc

Only once in the pre-chorus does he sing a note other than those five notes...when he sings "boulevard" he briefly hits an A note, which is between B and G#. You almost barely hear it though. I had to play it several times to make sure. It is safe to say that the verse is firmly rooted in those 5 notes. 

Here's the cool part. When he finally sings the first note of the chorus, the "don't" of "don't stop" is on an A! A note for all intent and purpose he hasn't used yet. Because the verse is so rooted in those 5 notes, this new note is a breath of fresh air and completely sticks out. 

Here is why that is significant. Normally (I use that term broadly), in pop music, songwriters like the first note of their chorus to be higher than anything they've sung in the verse. This isn't always true of course, but it is true by a strong majority. What we learn is: that you don't necessarily need a higher note, as long as the note is NEW! Which is what happens here. [grinning to self...that's so cool]

Lastly, HOW he uses the pentatonic scale against the chord progression is worth noting.  Notice that he highlights some words by singing non-chord tones. 

For example, here's the chord progression the band is playing...


Most of that pentatonic melody falls on notes of the chords that the band is playing. (Did that make sense? In other words, when you hear the E chord, he is singing a note that is used to build the E chord, so there is no tension, it is a very stable note). However, on "girl" and "world"...

Just a small town girl living in a lonely world

...which use the B chord, and the A chord, he sings a NON-chord tone. So there's this momentary shot of tension. His melody momentarily changes the quality of those chords from B and A, to B6 and A6 (my apologies to all you non-musicians who don't understand that).  [I'm making the assumption that people are actually reading this blog! :)]

The same effect happens in the pre-chorus where the band plays and A chord under "strangers waiting" and "streetlight people". The melody changes the A chord to this...


Even if you don't understand what those chords are, just know that using the melody to add color to what would normally be...


He's giving shade and depth to that progression. [In the spirit of full disclosure, the band is also coloring the A chords...which helps support the melody. We'll look at the chords tomorrow.]

To sum up: simple, elegant pentatonic melody that supports the chords, but highlights key words with jolts of non-chord colors. 

Thanks for reading!




Doug said...

My good buddy and songwriting partner, James Krause said I would like your blog. He was right! Thanks for writing. As a songwriter, how do you balance finding a natural melody that just feels right and trying to create something using theories and rules such as those revealed in this post?

Shane Adams said...

Thanks for the shout out. Tell you your songwriting friends about it. :)

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. Good luck!

Shayna Tulane said...

I heard "Don't Stop Believing" on the radio as I was driving tonight, and (since I just read your analysis of it) couldn't help thinking of you ; ) After reading what you wrote about it, I heard it with new awareness and a new understanding of why certain techniques make it "work"... very exciting!
I'm also very excited to say as I read this blog entry (now after taking the Berklee Music Theory and Getting Into Harmony courses) that I actually understand the chords you're talking about that I was so clueless about during that first course I took with you! - Ha! ; )
I shared about this blog in our class forum and posted a link for my classmates, btw... and I do hope they visit - cuz I think this is so valuable. It's seems like a class itself!