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Song structure analysis and terminology
26 February 2015
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Von Bontee
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Sure made reading it a lot more incomprehensible, anyways... :(

One day, a tape-op got a tape on backwards, he went to play it, and it was all "Neeeradno-undowarrroom" and it was "Wow! Sounds Indian!"
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26 February 2015
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ewe2
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Roll the eyes and continue @Oudis, it makes not a dent in my enthusiasm.

One of the formative influences on my guitar playing (such as it is because I'm more of a bassist) was learning fingerpicking styles and it's one of the things that interest me about the changes in the Beatles songwriting when first McCartney and later Lennon learnt to do this. Blackbird and Julia are the prime examples here. Julia is pretty close to a bluegrass style but is harmonically far from that and Blackbird is an awesome chromatic piece that noone I know can replicate because of McCartney's half-strumming style. I find it fascinating that both songs are heavily chromatic.

Julia has that nice hanging F#m that finally resolves to A, it's a study in chromatics and relative minors with a bonus chromatic turn in the middle eight with a rare minor 9th and reproduces that hanging chromatic pause as a way of resolving the final verse. It's in a major key but you wouldn't know it.

Blackbird always feels like a harmony textbook to listen to. It makes heavy use of the III, even flattening it to turn back to the II in the middle eight, and there's a nice symmetry in the chromatic slide up the G scale in the verse and down via a flattened VI in the middle. This song was apparently inspired by Bach's Bourrée in E minor and it has a touch of the baroque about it :D

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26 February 2015
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Joe
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Thanks for rerailing this thread @ewe2.

Paul does often cite Bach as an inspiration for Blackbird . However, give this a listen and tell me what you think:

McCartney originally claimed he didn't know the title of the Bach piece, then at some point settled on Bourrée. In 1997 he said:

"The original inspiration was from a well-known piece by Bach, which I never know the title of, which George and I had learned to play at early age; he better than me actually."

He's notoriously bad at remembering details, and might have got the composer and title wrong, retrofitting it years later. Then again, who am I to know what actually inspired Blackbird

(I think I've posted this before; apologies if so.)

Here's the Bach, for comparison:

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26 February 2015
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The similitude between “Blackbird ” and the Etude by Fernando Sor is striking, @Joe. However, I don’t see any influence from Bach’s Bouree in E minor, a well-known piece. What do you guys think?

Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit” (“Perhaps one day it will be a pleasure to look back on even this”; Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 1, line 203, where Aeneas says this to his men after the shipwreck that put them on the shores of Africa)

26 February 2015
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Oudis said
I don’t see any influence from Bach’s Bouree in E minor, a well-known piece. What do you guys think?

I don't see it in the structure of the melody or chord progression, per se, but I have played the Bouree on guitar before, and I do see certain similarities in the chord voicings -- plucking a G with the voicing 3xx00x instead of the usual strum on 320003, or fingering the B major chord using just two strings as in x2xx4x. In fact, that very same chord "shape" with two fingers shows up a few times in Blackbird .

Not a bit like Cagney.

26 February 2015
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Wow that Etude is quite the dead-ringer. But McCartney may well have picked up the voicings from attempting the Bourrée as @PeterWeatherby suggests, or perhaps its a completely different piece he's misremembering, because as close as the Etude is, he's got the idea of the repeated sections and the little recap in the middle from somewhere else. Good point on Paul's fascinating memory, @Joe :D Another song that comes to mind is Alice's Restaurant which begins with a similar progression and is a fingerpickin' ragtime tune that was around before the White Album and has a small but significant chromatic F#dim7 progression.

Another McCartney guitar tune is the OMG-why-didn't-I-write-that Mother Nature's Son with the clever relative minor intro taken from the refrain. This is a more standard strum with almost all the chromatic D chord bits you can do on a guitar but instead of a chromatic progression it flips from major to minor sevenths after a nice I-VI-II-V turn that exploits the scale, with a little figure that he probably pinched from somewhere, and only on the last chord does it "resolve" to a major seventh. As noted elsewhere, McCartney didn't have a massive presence on the White Album but this Blackbird and Martha My Dear (note the similar use of a II-based harmonic turn) are the big melodic takeaways.

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26 February 2015
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ewe2 said
it flips from major to minor sevenths after a nice I-VI-II-V turn 

You'll have to remind me -- I'm running through all the chords in my head and I don't recall that progression occurring in "Mother Nature's Son ."

Not a bit like Cagney.

27 February 2015
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PeterWeatherby said

ewe2 said
it flips from major to minor sevenths after a nice I-VI-II-V turn 

You'll have to remind me -- I'm running through all the chords in my head and I don't recall that progression occurring in "Mother Nature's Son ."

Apologies, got my chords mixed up, its a I-VI-V-II-V turn (not sure whether to ignore the flattened V and googling it seems to bring up a confusing array of opinion). I tend to look at chord progressions from a bassist point of view so sometimes I'm more literal with it than a guitarist might be.

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3 March 2015
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ewe2 said

PeterWeatherby said

ewe2 said
it flips from major to minor sevenths after a nice I-VI-II-V turn 

You'll have to remind me -- I'm running through all the chords in my head and I don't recall that progression occurring in "Mother Nature's Son ."

Apologies, got my chords mixed up, its a I-VI-V-II-V turn (not sure whether to ignore the flattened V and googling it seems to bring up a confusing array of opinion). I tend to look at chord progressions from a bassist point of view so sometimes I'm more literal with it than a guitarist might be.

Hmm, I'm still not connecting. I think I'm getting hung up because there isn't a II chord used in the song -- unless you're referring to the "V of V" secondary dominant (E major) that falls at the end of the line "mother nature's son"? I guess that would look like a II from a bass player's point of view, so maybe that's the disconnect.

Seems like The Beatles used that particular secondary dominant (fifth of the fifth chord) rather frequently in their songs. "You Won't See Me " comes to mind, where Paul starts with the A major and (rather boldly) goes straight to the B major from there, before moving to a more common IV (D major) chord. Dan Fogelberg used the exact same trick in "Along the Road."

"Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds " is another cool example, where the chorus is in G, so they use the five-of-five (A major) to get back to the "home" key of the verse -- which is A major to begin with. :)

Probably my favorite example, though, is the "aaah" section of "A Day In The Life ," where they use a "circle of fifths" progression -- C major to G major, G major to D major, D major to A major, A major to E major, and then back to C major (which is just a standard "borrowed chord" from the key of E major).

For a bunch of guys with no real formal musical education, they sure did some pretty inventive and fun composing.

Not a bit like Cagney.

3 March 2015
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PeterWeatherby said

Hmm, I'm still not connecting. I think I'm getting hung up because there isn't a II chord used in the song -- unless you're referring to the "V of V" secondary dominant (E major) that falls at the end of the line "mother nature's son"? I guess that would look like a II from a bass player's point of view, so maybe that's the disconnect.

Ah yes that's exactly what I meant. From the point of view of the scale, that's indeed what it looks like. I do get confused between the difference between the two. I guess it's because the E major resolves to A is why it's a V of V not a ii. Tricky stuff, I'd never realized that chord progressions could be classified according to their harmony like that! That's the sort of thing a bassist should know, when stuff is going to resolve! (I do know intuitively, just not in a formal sense). For those of us who are a bit wobbly on the theory, I've found http://covertogether.com quite helpful to follow this discussion.

Those are all great examples, particularly because I was listening/playing along with all three of them today. You Won't See Me is a real walking bass workout, and it suggests the idea of the secondary dominant, although I don't know which came first. And I didn't know that about Lucy and ADITL. The wildest progression for me is that one in YNGMYM of diminished sevenths, but I don't know the Roman numerals for it except that it starts in C and resolves to A (C-A Eb-C Gb-Eb A-Gb A-Gb-G-G# A), so I suppose it modulates to the next section "one sweet dream..." A friend and I played it, he'd learnt all the guitar parts and it's a tricky one!

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3 March 2015
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ewe2 said 

Tricky stuff, I'd never realized that chord progressions could be classified according to their harmony like that! 

Yeah, it can be a bit hard to keep track of the proper nomenclature, so I just try to remember the bits about secondary dominants and borrowed chords. (Borrowed chord = a chord taken from a key's minor counterpart, so in the key of C major, the C minor counterpart includes the F minor chord -- using an F minor chord in the key of C, as Paul does in "I'll Follow The Sun ," would be using a "borrowed chord.")

You Won't See Me is a real walking bass workout

 Oh good lordy, yes! Love that bass line, though, along with the bass line from "Nowhere Man " and "With A Little Help From My Friends ."

The wildest progression for me is that one in YNGMYM of diminished sevenths, but I don't know the Roman numerals for it 

Oy. I could probably sit down and figure out the "formula," but yeah, that progression is a hot mess. Somehow they make it work, though.

Not a bit like Cagney.

3 March 2015
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Joe left a note stating

<trim>
Paul does often cite Bach as an inspiration for Blackbird . However, give this a listen and tell me what you think:

<snip>

I had a listen. It does sound like Blackbird ! Particularly the opening. 

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3 March 2015
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@PeterWeatherby, @ewe2 

I have a request. I’d like to ask you guys to post the lyrics of the songs you analyze along with the chords above the words, like I did with “Norwegian Wood ” a few weeks earlier. Many times for many of us it is difficult to follow your analyses since we don’t know much about music theory. Having the “score” (lyrics and chords) there would help us a lot. Sorry if it’s an inconvenience for you, as I said it’s just a request.

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4 March 2015
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Oudis said
@PeterWeatherby, @ewe2 

I have a request. I’d like to ask you guys to post the lyrics of the songs you analyze along with the chords above the words, like I did with “Norwegian Wood ” a few weeks earlier. Many times for many of us it is difficult to follow your analyses since we don’t know much about music theory. Having the “score” (lyrics and chords) there would help us a lot. Sorry if it’s an inconvenience for you, as I said it’s just a request.

Yeah, for sure. So, above, I was talking about "You Won't See Me " as a case where Paul uses the secondary dominant (a B major chord in the key of A) ... here's the lyric/chord:

When I call [A] you up [B]
Your line's [D] engaged [A]

And likewise in "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds ," they're in G for the chorus, then use the secondary dominant (A major) to get back to the verse:

[G] Lucy in the [C] sky with [D] diamonds
[G] Lucy in the [C] sky with [D] diamonds
[G] Lucy in the [C] sky with [D] diamonds
[D] Ahhhh [A]

And then finally, I mentioned the use of a borrowed chord (F minor) in "I'll Follow The Sun "

But [C] tomorrow may [G] rain so
[D] I'll follow the [C] sun
And now the [F] time has come
And [Fm] so my love I must go

(Just noticed, too, that the D chord there is another use of the secondary dominant!)

Hope that clears things up a bit.

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Not a bit like Cagney.

4 March 2015
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PeterWeatherby indicated thus 

<snip> 

Yeah, for sure. So, above, I was talking about "You Won't See Me " as a case where Paul uses the secondary dominant (a B major chord in the key of A) ... here's the lyric/chord:

When I call [A] you up [B]
Your line's [D] engaged [A]

That is indeed a gear progression, to use Beatlespeak. It's also done in "Eight Days A Week ": 

"[D] Ooh I need [E] yo' love, babe..."   

I always love that nifty little progression. Sometimes I think the chords to "EDAW" are better than the song itself. ahdn_george_06

Secondary dominant, huh... I learned a new term today... that's fab. 

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4 March 2015
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(I can't make this look good in html without a lot of trouble and pre tags don't work, sorry)
Now this would seem to be used to resolve back to the tonic after the bridge:

[D]Ohhhh
V-of-V
[G]One day,[Fb7]you'll find[C]that I have gone[D]
V, IV, I, V-of-V

But this illustrates the kind of confusion you can have: Go and look at Alan Pollack's notes on this song, and look at the bridge section. Isn't that confusing. Why isn't he calling it a secondary dominant there if it's in the key of C?

And now the [D] time has come and [F] so my love I must go [C] [C7]
ii, iv, I, V-of-IV
And though I [D] lose a friend [F] in the end you will know [C] [D] Ohhhh
ii,iv,V-of-IV, ii

He does when it's the verse. Is he treating the initial D there as a Dm? No, he's treating it like a ii in the key of C major.

Note also that he marks the passing chord:

But [C] tomorrow may [e/b] rain so [D] I'll follow the [C] sun
I, iii, V-of-V, V

And that's the trick used in Martha My Dear , except starting with the VI instead of the I.

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4 March 2015
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Silly Girl said
Secondary dominant, huh... I learned a new term today... that's fab. 

Indeed, I thought there was only one dominant chord for each scale… Can anybody explain what a secondary dominant is? And sorry for so many questions…

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4 March 2015
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Oudis said

Silly Girl said
Secondary dominant, huh... I learned a new term today... that's fab. 

Indeed, I thought there was only one dominant chord for each scale… Can anybody explain what a secondary dominant is? And sorry for so many questions…

The short version is that it seems to be the major fifth interval of the fifth interval above the tonic, so in the key of C:

C G D
I V V-of-V

If you know your circle of fifths, take the next clockwise major key and the key after that is always the secondary dominant. Additionally the secondary dominant resolves back to the previous V so G resolves to C, D resolves to G. My confusion is about the fact that I don't pay enough attention to whether the scale is major or minor and see ii everywhere instead of V-of-V :D

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Oudis said

Silly Girl said
Secondary dominant, huh... I learned a new term today... that's fab. 

Indeed, I thought there was only one dominant chord for each scale… Can anybody explain what a secondary dominant is? And sorry for so many questions…

No need to apologize. I'm asking questions too, it's how I learn. :)

The "dominant" is the fifth chord in a key, counting up from the root, so in the key of C, the fifth chord (C, Dm, Em, F, G) is the dominant. The fourth chord is the sub-dominant.

A "secondary dominant" is the fifth chord above any other chord in that same scale. So if the fifth of C is the G major chord, the fifth of Dm is the A major chord, the fifth of Em is the B major chord, the fifth of G is the D major chord, and so on. 

Those aren't proper "dominant" chords in the key of C, but they are relative dominants on the shifting scale, which is why they're called "secondary."

Because they are only dominant chords in a relative sense, it's customary to refer to them as the "fifth of ...", or V of whatever. So the D major chord in the key of C (or, as @Beatlebug pointed out, the E chord in the key of D as is found in "Eight Days A Week ") is properly the fifth in relation to the key's fifth (G), so it would be the "five of five," or "V of V."

To use another example just mentioned, the A major chord in the key of C is properly the fifth in relation to the key's second (Dm), so it would be the "five of two," or "V of ii." Paul uses this very sequence in "For No One " when he goes to the bridge. The song is in C (ok, technically it's in B, but for the sake of simplicity, we'll raise it up a half-step), so the first six chords in the scale would be C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor (not major).

But in the bridge, the progression goes:

And in her [Dm] eyes you see [A] nothing
[Dm] No sign of love behind [A] the tears

So in that case, he's using the secondary dominant, the V of ii.

One of the most common secondary dominants (after the V of V) is the V of vi -- in C major, this would be the E major, the fifth of the Am. For an instance of this progression, look at "We Can Work It Out " in the bridge. The song is in D major, the vi would be Bm, so the V of vi would be F# major:

[Bm] Life is very short
And there's no [G] time [F#] ...

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11 March 2015
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Hi folks, I've been super busy and in and out of town for the past little while, so haven't contributed to the thread recently, but it's REALLY good to see that it's back on track and active again!

Unfortunately I've got a stupid schedule for the next couple of months coming up, but if I get a chance to drop in and feel like I can add to the discussion, I will.

Cheers for now.

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