Saturday, October 17

This Love – Maroon 5 – Saturday Quickie

This Love* – Maroon 5 – Saturday Quickie

*Be careful, this video unfortunately has some suggestive content.

Since Maroon 5’s “This Love” won out over Sting’s “Shape of My Heart” I think I’ll focus on what I’ve always wanted to know about this song…that groovy piano chord progression.

Here’s what I figured out…

(Due to space, I’m only showing the main chords patterns. Transitioning between sections they usually play some variation of G7b9):

Each chord represents two beats, so two chords equal one measure

Cm… Cm…



In yesterday’s blog, I talked about harmonic rhythm, and what a great tool it is to create contrast between your main sections (the verses against the choruses). This Love is another great example of using harmonic rhythm to do just that. Here’s a reminder: Harmonic rhythm is how many beats you play a chord until it changes. The most common harmonic rhythms are…

Two different chords in every measure (every two beats there is a new chord)
A different chord EVERY measure (every four beats there is a new chord)
A different chord every TWO measures (every eight beats…)
A different chord every FOUR measures (every 16 beats…)

There are, of course, many, many variations and combination beyond those four, but they are a good starting point.

After the first listen I realized that the verse use a different chord every four beats, while the chorus uses a new chord every two beats.

This is great contrast…that is why the chorus feels like it kicks into gear and blows forward with momentum. When the chorus is over, the song settles back into the original groove…which feels laid back. This altering of harmonic rhythm keeps both sections fresh. The bridge uses the same harmonic rhythm as the verses, so you get this see-saw effect throughout the entire song…

Laid back…jump forward…laid back…jump forward…laid back…jump forward

…it’s a great way to keep interest up during the entire song.

I also thought it was cool that the verse not only starts on the V of the song (the G chord), but it starts on an inversion of the G chord…the bass is playing a B (which is the 3rd of a G chord) instead of playing a G root. This creates tension immediately in the song. The song STARTS tense. The Im chord (the Cm chord) is put in a weak position, which feels unresolved until we finally get the Im chord on beat 1 of the chorus. This is a HUGE lesson…are you paying attention? Putting the I chord (whether minor or major) on a weak position creates a little unresolved harmonic chaos.

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Another strong point about this song is its rhyme scheme. First, each of the verses have the same rhyme scheme (which is really good!), secondly, the major sections all have DIFFERENT rhyme schemes [translation: Verse = aaxx, Chorus = abab; Bridge: xaxa). This keeps the sections from being boring. Here’s the break down. Since both verses do the same thing I’ll just show you one verse…

Verse Rhyme Scheme: aaxx – (the “x” indicates a line that doesn’t rhyme
I was so high I did not recognize the fire burning in her eyes
The chaos that controlled my mind
Whispered goodbye, and she got on a plane, never to return again
But always in my heart

…this section is all about the internal rhyme. Notice the first two lines have three internal rhymes…recognize/eyes/mind. The last two lines have two internal rhymes…plane/again. (Line 3 also connects back to the previous lines with “goodbye”).

I find it interesting that they did not rhyme lines 3 and 4. [Then again, this song made a bazillion dollars. What do I know?]

The chorus rhyme scheme is pretty standard….

Chorus Rhyme Scheme: abab
This love has taken its toll on me
She said goodbye too many times before
And her heart is breaking in front of me
I have no choice cause I won
t say goodbye anymore

Notice the hook/title only happens in the opening line. This would be considered a T--- chorus form.

T = Title
- = Swing line (a line that doesn’t have the title)

Bridge Rhyme Scheme: xxaa
Ill fix these broken things, repair your broken wings
And make sure everythings alright
My pressure on her hips, sinking my fingertips into every inch of you
‘Cause I know thats what you want me to do

…notice the internal rhymes…things/wings, hips/fingertips/inch. Very cool.

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The melody of the verse and chorus stay out of each other’s hair. Verse melody is lower, chorus melody is higher. The verse is more linear, meaning the notes tend to stay the same for longer periods, staying on chord tones being played by the band. The chorus melody is more chordal, mostly built around the notes of a Cm chord. This is another area where the verse and chorus contrast each other!

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What can we learn from this song?

Musically, the main sections contrast each other very well…in rhyme scheme, harmonic rhythm, and melody. This gives each section its own personality.

Whew…that was supposed to be short. What was I thinking?

Okay…stop reading and go write something awesome. Remember, these things aren’t rules, they are tools you can try if you write yourself into a similar situation!



Advanced concepts for my students: Do you guys see the prosody in the verses. The singer, in the lyrics, talks about the chaos he feels. Musically he creates chaos, by not having the verses rhyme, by putting the Im chord in a very weak position, by starting on an inversion of the V chord, using a minor 7 flat 5 chord, etc…all those elements mess with the balance of the section. We don’t get any sense of resolution until when? When he sings the hook…”this love”! BAM! This Love is sung on what? The Im chord…the most stable chord of the entire song. The tonic! Pretty brilliant eh?!  However, the chorus, in the last line, descends back to the chaos of the signature harmonic hook piano progression! This singer gets no relief!

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.

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!



Wednesday, October 14

Don't Stop Believin' - Rhyme Scheme and Chorus Form

Rhyme Scheme – Don’t Stop Believin’…

First, so that we’re all on the same page, here’s a quick rhyme scheme primer…

Rhyme scheme refers to the words at the END of the lines, not internal rhymes. Internal rhymes are important (they create cool boosts of momentum), but I’m looking at how the lines connect with each other, not how they work internally.

The most common rhyme schemes are…

cat/hat/mat/fat = aaaa
cat/hat/dog/fog = aabb
cat/dog/hat/fog = abab
cat/dog/man/fog = xaxa (the “x” refers to a word that doesn't have a rhyme partner)

Everyone clear? [Brushing hands together – wiping brow – Thinking: done and done!]

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Here’s the whole song, then we’ll break each section down…

(verse 1 -  xaxa – world/anywhere/Detroit/anywhere)
Just a small town girl living in a lonely world
She took the midnight train going anywhere
Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit
He took the midnight train going anywhere

(verse 2 – xx – perfume/on)
A singer in a smoky room, the smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night, it goes on, and on, and on, and on...

(prechorus – xaxa -  boulevard/night/emotion/night)
Strangers waiting up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlight people living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night

(verse 3 – xxxx – thrill/time/blues/on)
Working hard to get my fill, everybody wants a thrill
Paying anything to roll the dice just one more time
Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on, and on, and on...

Strangers waiting up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlight people living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night

(chorus - aaa)
Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’, streetlight people
Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’, streetlight people
Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’, streetlight people

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Verse 1 - xaxa – world/anywhere/Detroit/anywhere …these “rhymes” aren’t really rhymes…anywhere & anywhere are the same word.

Verse 2 - xx …perfume/on…the “m” and “n” have a slight connection because they are both “nasal consonants” but the vowel sounds don’t match

Pre-chorus - xaxa – boulevard/night/emotion/night…same deal as verse 1, not really a rhyme….

Verse 3 - xxxx – thrill/time/blues/on

Other Rhyme elements?

Don’t Stop Believin’ truly shines is the internal rhyme department. It’s chock full of them...

boy/Detroit (sung “Detroi” :)

fill, thrill

don’t stop/hold on

These internal rhymes really push the momentum of the lines forward…little bursts of speed…especially all the long “ee” vowels in the chorus. 

The internal rhymes are the key rhyme component rather than the end-of-line rhyme scheme, like most other songs.  It’s a cool trick. Usually when the rhyme scheme of a song is shaky, it feels disjointed…but all the internal rhymes in this song make the lyric EXTREMELY singable, and the flow of the song flies by.  This personality trait is augmented by something else…

[Side note: “Alliteration” usually refers to repeating the same consonant sound at the beginning of a bunch of words….Mike makes music. I’m using the broader sense here…all similar consonants, no matter where they are. We don’t want to hurt any consonants’ feelings by leaving them out...they are very sensitive.]

L sounds: small, girl, living, lonely, world, fill, thrill, roll, will, blues

T sounds: took, midnight, train

S/SH sounds (tons of these): small, she,  the “S” of city boy against the “S” of South Detroit, singer, smoky, smell, smile, share , shadows, searching, streetlife

M/N/NG sounds: small, town, living, lonely, midnight, train, going, anywhere, born, in, singer, smoky, smell, wine, perfume, smile, can, night, on (and on, and on, and on!)

W sounds: world, anywhere, wine, will, win, were, waiting

I’m sure I’m missing some…but you get the idea. [Any complaints can be addressed here.]

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The Brilliant Chorus…

Let’s tackle the chorus real quick before we end. The chorus has an aaa rhyme scheme too, with the same word…people/people/people. However, this “same word” thingy works different in choruses than in verses. Repeated words, especially the hook/title of the song are very common.

We Will Rock You – Queen - aaaa
We will, we will, rock you
We will, we will, rock you
We, will, we will rock you
We will, we will rock you

Crazy* - Gnarls Barkley - aaax
Does that make me crazy
Does that make me crazy
Does that make me crazy

*(This is the video where they dress up as Star Wars characters...cracks me up each time I see it.)

You are the Sunshine of My Life – Stevie Wonder – axax*
You are the sunshine of my life
That’s why I’ll always stay around
You are the sunshine of my life
Forever you’ll stay in my heart

*axax is a very adventurous section form. Very few writers use it. Stevie is a master at it (example: the chorus of “I Just Called to Say I Love You” among others).

I’m just saying it’s not out of the ordinary to repeat a single line for the chorus. We call this a chorus form…

T = Title/hook is in the line (or IS the line)
- = swing line (meaning: a line that doesn’t contain the hook/title)

So, Don’t Stop Believin’ has a TTT chorus form* (the title is in all three lines, no swing lines) which completely solidifies the phrase as the most important aspect of the section, if not the entire song. Remember, rhyme scheme-wise, everything up to this point has been pretty jumbly. Not until the chorus is there consistent line endings that match.  This amplifies the power of the chorus.

*(For those keeping score, We Will Rock You has a TTTT chorus form, Crazy has a TTT- chorus form, Sunshine, has a T-T- chorus form)

Whew…that was a lot today. Interesting stuff though. Who knew these songs had so much going on.

Have a great day!



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iTune links to songs in this article...

Tuesday, October 13

Don't Stop Believin' - Song Form - continued...

Song Form – Part 1

The most unique (and my favorite) characteristic of Don’t Stop Believin’ is its remarkably strange song form, especially the three line chorus*…

Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’, streetlight people
Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’, streetlight people
Don’t stop believin’, hold on to the feelin’, streetlight people

What’s so remarkable about that, you ask? Well, did you realize that we only hear the chorus once? the end? That blows my mind. The chorus is so incredibly memorable, yet it only happens ONCE!

Structurally, most songs fall into one of two categories...

ABABAB other words…

A – verse 1
B – chorus
A – verse 2
B – chorus
A – verse 3
B – chorus



A – verse 1
B – chorus
A – verse 2
B – chorus
A – bridge
B – chorus

Most songs in all genres use slight variations of these two forms (such as additional verses, etc).  [Side note: There’s also a  song form called “verse/refrain” which we’ll address at a some future point.]

Don’t Stop Believin’ uses a unique song structure....


A – verse 1 - Just a small town girl....
A – verse 2* - A singer in a smoky room....
B – pre-chorus - Strangers waiting....
A – verse 3 - Working hard to get my fill....
B – pre-chorus - Strangers waiting....
C – Chorus - Don’t stop....

*verse 2 is really half a verse.

Verse/chorus songs, with only one chorus, are extremely rare,  I can only think of two other major pop songs that have a single chorus; Sail On, by the Commodores; and Your Smiling Face, by James Taylor (I’m sure there are more, email me if you think of others). Both of these songs are ABABC, with the chorus on the end...just like Don’t Stop.

What’s remarkable about this song form (in all three songs!) is it FEELS like the chorus happens more than it really does. The power of the title/hook isn’t diminished because the chorus happens once. Who knew?!



For my songwriting students:  The title is considered parasitic. By itself, "don't stop believing" doesn't say what to don't stop believing in. The title depends on the information given in the verses to provide its meaning. (Now that I think of it, the song never really tells us specifically what to don't stop believing in. :))

Also: The chorus is considered to be unbalanced since it has an odd number of lines. The other sections are all balanced, with an even amount of lines. This is another area of great contrast. You have four balanced sections in a row, followed by the unbalanced chorus...which leaves you wanting more. 

PS. My initial idea was to have Song Form and Rhyme Scheme on the same day, but this post feels about the right length, so I’ll continue with Rhyme Scheme tomorrow. Please address any complaints here. :)

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iTune Links to Songs in this article:
Don't Stop Believin'
Sail On
Your Smiling Face

Monday, October 12

Don't Stop Believin' - Journey - Monday Musings

Main Musing:

Seeing Journey at the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas altered the course of my life. I had never been to a concert before (it felt like the closets of all my friends were stuffed with cool concert know, the old baseball jersey kind with the blue half-sleeves).  I was worried that not knowing any of their songs [except maybe Open Arms] would make me look like a fool. I decided I would just “mouth” nonsense if someone happened to be looking my way.  I did however have my parents permission [which surprised me], the coolest chaperones (who took us to get a Naugles burger afterwards – thanks Mahaffeys!), and my own balcony seat ticket that overlooked their keyboard player Jonathan Cain playing “the whale”, his big red grand piano.

The first song started and BAM, everyone stood up! Nobody, and I mean NOBODY sat down for two hours. I walked out of the concert with my ears ringing and my little life completely blown away. I was baptized by rock and roll [insert: image of snobs fans of the Stones, Sabbath, Zep’lin, G n’ R, Nirvana, Metallica, etc., rolling their eyes at me].  
I HAD to do music.

Since that concert, I’ve played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” at the start of every road trip I’ve ever taken. The first piano notes come on and I’m that balcony boy again. I thought “Don’t Stop Believin” would be the perfect song to start this blog.  (I was going to write “this journey”, but for the first time in my life I am going to avoid the easy, obvious pun) [insert: people fainting].



Random Musing: 

Stuart Croslin…a VERY talented musician, actor*, all around amazing guy [insert: that I was very jealous of in High School]...wrote a song based on the Don’t Stop Believing chords…I was totally on to him! I was so mad that I didn't think of it first...using chords from SOMEONE ELSE'S SONG. What a great idea...but songwriting was MY thing, piano playing was MY thing. How dare he be talented. How dare he. [Jump to the present] Kudo's for being awesome Stuart.

*Stuart got to play Danny in our high school’s production of Grease when the lead actor contracted jaundice (which is another story).  I secretly wanted to be Danny so bad, but was stuck singing “Beauty School Drop Out”.  Stuart nailed it though...he was always so prepared. Stuart was, um, height restricted though, and had to stand on a box to kiss Alison Keele, the Mormon girl playing Sandra Dee in hot pants...those Suh-uh-mer Niiiii-aights!)

Coming up: Song Form and Rhyme Scheme on Tuesday…

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iTune links to song mentioned in this article:
Don't Stop Believin'
Open Arms
Beauty School Dropout