Tag Archives: Pop Music

Muse – Take A Bow

By: Aaron Zimmerman

This is an ongoing series of posts called “Music Theory Rocks”, for an intro to the series and some music theory fundamentals, check out this post.

One of the eye-openingly cool things about music is the circle of fifths. A fifth (often called a “perfect” fifth) is 7 half steps. Moving by fifths up or down creates a circle that touches every note before starting over at the note you began with. If you start on a C and go up by fifths, the notes you will play will be:

Moving Up by Fifths

Moving Up by Fifths

As you move left to right in the above series, you add a sharp to the major scale that starts on that note.

Key Sharps
C Major no sharps
G Major F#
D Major F# C#
A Major F# C# G#

The inverse of this is also true, as you move right to left, you subtract a sharp (or add a flat).

Key Flats
C Major no flats
F Major Bb
Bb major Bb Eb
Eb major Bb Eb Ab

Both of these patterns will lead to the same place, and then back around, hence the name circle of fifths.

Circle of Fifths on Wikipedia

Circle of Fifths on Wikipedia

The circle of fifths is featured in Take a Bow by Muse. This piece takes a single chord progression and modulates it repeatedly downward through the circle of fifths.

Take A Bow

Take A Bow Chord Progression

This chord progression features an Augmented triad, represented with a ‘+’. This triad is formed with a major third and a minor sixth from the root. The only other chord used is the minor IV, which is only one note different from the I+.  This is a stable, easy to follow chord progression, hovering around the I chord, the lowest note never actually even changes. As the piece moves through keys, this simplicity helps the listener maintain a sense of continuity through dramatic key changes.  If it were a more complicated progression, the piece would feel scattered, confusing, rather than dramatic and sweeping.

The piece is organized in two large sections separated by an interlude. The first section features the above progression modulated 6 times through the circle of fifths, starting in D Major, and ending in Eb Major. The interlude picks up in Eb and ends up solidly in F Major. The second section picks up in F Major and goes all the way through the circle of fifths to B major, where the piece ends, just three steps in the circle of fifths from the D Major the piece started in.

Here are the elapsed time marks in the piece at which modulations occur, the new key, the number of times the chord progression sounds before moving on, and any notes.

time key times notes
0:00 D 2
0:23 G 1
0:34 C 2 Vocals
0:56 F 1
1:07 Bb 1
1:18 Eb 1+ Vamps a little bit on the end
1:40 Interlude See notes on interlude progression
2:13 F 2 Second time guitar comes in
2:35 Bb 1
2:47 Eb 1
2:58 Ab 2 Vocals back in
3:20 Db 1
3:31 F# 1
3:41 B 1
3:53 CODA

Music Theory Rocks

By: Aaron Zimmerman

Music Theory Rocks

Music theory sometimes gets a bad rap.

People tend associate music theory with tediums like naming notes, labeling chords, and determining form.   These are good skills to develop, they help answer questions about music that come up frequently.  But they are not at the core of music theory.

Music theory is an attempt to answer a simple question:

Why is this music good?

This is a different question than what makes music good.  That is a rabbit hole I’ll not venture down at the moment.  Rather, lets first just assume that a given piece is good, and try to figure out why.  What worked for this symphony?  What made this rap song memorable?  Theory is observations about music that has been created.  We learn about chords, scales, harmonies, because these form the basis for almost every piece of music we encounter.  When someone discovers a new way to make good music, we label it, share it, and discuss it.  Music evolves over time, as innovators discover new ways to create it.  Music theory is a reaction, a formalization of these discoveries.

Music theory is context, vocabulary, and enjoyment.

Most people can identify the chorus of their favorite pop songs.  This is an internalization, a labeling, of something they like in music.  Verse-chorus is a form, a pattern for organizing musical ideas.  It is an easy form for the listener to identify. There is a chorus that is always the same and a verse that is the same except for the lyrics.  By giving this pattern a name, we create three advantages:

Context –  We can identify where we are in the song, we can understand how the music will flow.

Vocabulary – We can talk about the song together – “I really like the chorus of that song”.  “I like American Pie, but it has way too many verses”, etc.

Enjoyment – We can identify what we like in music, and compare one piece to another.  A lot of music is an aquired taste, you have to develop a base line theoretical understanding of that music in order to appreciate the beauty therein.

Music theory changes how you listen.

If you listen to a pop song that doesn’t follow verse-chorus, it might take longer to appreciate, it might feel a bit awkward, and the end result could be something you like or something you don’t like. The more music you listen to, or study, the greater experience you will acquire.  The more music you have experienced, the larger your vocabulary, the more context you will have from which to appreciate a new piece you listen to, and the more enjoyment you will get from music of all kinds.

Music Theory Rocks

Along with other posts about teaching and learning piano, I’ll post an occasional analysis of a popular piece of music.  I’m not really sure how to define popular music, so I’ll just stick to the self-evident definition of “music that people seem to like”.

The purpose of the analysis is to think about why people like the piece in question.   Along the way I’ll try to point out core music theory concepts where they apply.  I’ll also be forced to use some of the jargon, I can’t explain what a scale is in every post, etc.  If you need a refresher on some basics, check out this post.

photo credit: rockfingrz Photography via photopin cc