I have been discussing melodic and harmonic analysis with my students over the last few weeks. As a random exercise – we thought it would be useful to consider how some of these techniques are incorporated into the top 10. Although it is difficult to closely consider the vertical aspect of a melody without an instrument (or great ears), it is relatively easily consider the horizontal. The general conclusion was that much of the music we managed to listened to is divided into either 2 or 4 bar question/answer phases – sometimes fluctuating between the two. Is is also interesting to consider how the interest of the piece is perpetuated when the melody and harmony is seemingly predictable – the interest has to come from somewhere: arrangement, lyrics and production being the main culprits. Many of the students also noted that it was problematic to analyse music they did not ‘like’. This resulted in a discussion surround how far a musician has to compromise in order to make a living out of music!!
What I have documented below are just a few notes of that were discussed – they require far more time to result in a comprehensive analysis – so feel free to add observations.
‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson: Makes use of lots of direct repetition or rhythmic sequence for question phrase – answer phrase. The harmonic sequence is so simple there would be no need to analyse – but lots could be said about the production.
‘Thinking Out Loud’. The opening phrase of the verse is very close to ‘direct repetition’ between question phrase and answer phrase. However the subtle change makes the classification ‘rhythmic sequence (See previous posts to understand what this means). The refrain section (2nd section of verse) doubles the length of the question phrase. It is interesting to consider how expectation is set up in the listener – we sort of know what will happen before it happens – the sign of a good pop song! Interestingly – songs like ‘Wish You Were Mine’ play around with the expectations of the listener – as it is difficult to know exactly when a particular section (the verse) is coming to an end until you are more familiar with the song.
These pieces were not closely analysed as we only had time for one listen to all ten songs – but it is clear that the same sort of melodic formulas that were used to write popular song 50 years ago – are still used today – but not all of the time! Some of the dance related tracks, which rely so heavily on repetition sometimes break some of the traditional ‘rules’. As previously stated – once my Sting book is finished – this is an area I will be investigating further – toward the end of the year.