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What is it that makes certain notes/chords especially appealing in "that certain song"?

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Showing 1-25 of 37 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 24, 2012, 3:50:51 PM PDT
DK Pete says:
While this may appeal primarily to musicians and aspiring songwriters, the opinions of anyone who becomes structurally concious of a song are valid.

My particular song in question is Satisfaction by The Stones...most specifically, the songs' historic riff-an extremely simple three-note run which stands for everything magical about rock and roll guitar playing.

While the riff and it's cutting fuzz tone are, in themselves, enough to make any guitar-hero buff stand at attention, there's a bit more to it than that for me.

I always wondered why, the "coolness' of the riff notwithstanding, it never sounded "quite right" in Stones performances-especially the later ones (seventies and beyond).

The "secret", I discovered, lies-not only in the riff itself-but the combination of the chords and BASS NOTES behind it. Specifically, while the chords basically follow the E-D-A pattern of the riff, the bass goes to an A note when the riff and the chords go to a D; to the ear, this essentially turns the D chord into an Asus giving it an entirely differently feel from the live performances where everyone basically follows the E-D-A pattern.

This harmony type bass playing-something which oftentime has to be LISTENED for-is what I think gives the riff that extra "touch" of melodic specialness which, initially, is not realized by the listener.

I could be going a bit over the top with this but i was always fascinated by what makes a special song 'special"...and many times, it's within a very clever arrangement which is not instantly apparent.

if anyone has bothered to read this through, I'm very curious on your thoughts concerning this song and any others you've loved over the years for similar reasons.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2012, 6:08:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 24, 2012, 6:15:27 PM PDT

I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're referring to, but, if I'm understanding you correctly, it reminds me of the Bass lines McCartney employs throughout "Rain", particularly on the chorus, where he plays a very discordant Riff based on non-root notes which don't resolve until the last note of the chorus.

Unfortunately, I no longer own a guitar or any musical instrument so I'm unable to provide the exact note details as you do in your example. I'm relying solely on memory here. I'm sure I'm not describing it very well so you'll have to listen to the chorus for the bass line to hear what I'm talking about.

It made an impression on me at the time and I THINK it's a good example of what you're describing.
(But, if I'm way off the point, I apologize for not completely understanding your post.)


I just remembered what it was. In the Chorus, where the vocals are singing "RAAAAAAAINNNNN" There are 2 chords. That is the word "Rain" starts on one chord but ends on another. HOWEVER, as I recall, where the chord changes at the end of the word, McCartney DOESN'T change his Bass to reflect the 2nd Chord but rather continues to play the same first chord which results in that very discordant sound which doesn't resolve until the chord changes again on the last note of the chorus.

(Again, this is just the way I remember it and my memory is far from perfect!)

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2012, 7:33:23 PM PDT
DK Pete says:
Cyberian, you understood perfectly and I kow exactly what you're talking about with Rain and, as far as that specific part of the song goes, I agree 100%.

Part of the charm of that chorus (actually, both of them) is how McCartney, indeed, stays on the first "chord" as the guitars change. Not to take away from the general appeal of the overall song but what Paul is doing there not only keeps a (basically) three chord song very interesting, he shows why he deserves the title of being one of the most creative players in Rock.

Just to add, he stays on the "first chord" during both choruses but in two completely different ways. For the first, he does that quick upwards two note "snap" throughout both halves of the chorus (and stays in "G" mode). In the second chorus, he does that-almost intentionally awkward-three note downstep...again, staying in "G" as the guitars go down to "F".

Great song, great post. And your memory is still in very top form.

Posted on Nov 2, 2012, 11:22:38 PM PDT
Miriam says:
In Barber's Adagio,'there is a point near the end where a note is held while the chord changes. That change to the subdominant is like a blast of cold air.

Posted on Nov 3, 2012, 5:34:21 AM PDT
I am not a musician so I can't grasp the technical part of this but I find the question a good one. I really enjoy watching those album tracks series on DVD because you get to hear seperation of parts of a song and they sometimes explain what I am hearing but don't quite realize. But as I said, I am not a muscian so the notes don't really help me understand. Still, I kind of get the creative players as opossed to the run of the mill players. I can also seem to pick up some dynamics when watching a band live. But sometimes I wish I understood more. I saw an interview with Paul McCartney and he talked about how he enjoyed playing on Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds because of the melodic bass line. I am not sure what that means but I have always enjoyed the bass in that song anyway. It's kind of like I HEAR what I don't really understand. I don't even though if that makes sense. LOL.

Posted on Nov 3, 2012, 7:16:25 AM PDT
Stratocaster says:
I AM a musician, but completely self-taught, and I basically just play everything by ear. So excuse my nescience in terms of discussing the deep technical aspects of music theory here. (I hate to admit it, but this is a subject where Werranth413's expertise would be invaluable!)

One thing I do know for sure is my favorite bass players (and consequently, favorite bands) are the ones who would not simply follow the root notes of any given chord structure. They would add harmony, polyrhythm and/or a "counterpoint" melody, so to speak, to the overall structure. Early on, this was a big change for rock/pop music, and McCartney was one of the first innovators.

Keeping in mind that in the early days of Blues, Folk and Country (the 3 primary genres that ultimately converged into Rock & Roll) the only job of the bass player was to
A) Keep rhythm with the percussionist
B) Emphasize the root note of the chord structure.
Then came along some "progressive" minded bass players (not progressive in the sense of "Prog Rock", but progressive in the sense that they would break the "conventions") who kind of took a cue from Classical and Jazz music structures where the bass lines were more "orchestrated". The most obvious example that comes to mind would be Bach. Listen to any of Bach's Concertos or Fugues and you'll hear what is known as "counterpoint" (in fact, Bach pretty much invented the concept). The bass lines almost have a life of their own, so to speak, completely separate from the main chord structure, melody and even rhythm. It's like a second melody line counterpointing the main melody line.

As I said, at the risk of sounding like a dope (which I probably already have) there are more technical ways of explaining these concepts. But I think that's kind of the gist of what you're hearing with bass lines like those in "Satisfaction" and "Rain" - a very rudimentary version of a "classical" bass structure. And IMO, this is when and where the rock music of the early to mid `60's REALLY started to get more interesting. With guys like McCartney, Bill Wyman, John Entwistle, etc who started to realize there was SO much more they could do with their instrument as opposed to just standing at the back of the stage next to the drummer and plucking a root note to a 4/4 beat.

I like Miriam's "Barber" example too.

Posted on Nov 3, 2012, 8:26:59 AM PDT
KBIC says:
I particularly like Radiohead track Street Sprit (Fade Out) for similar reasons. It uses plucked chords where each note hangs. There are three chords that hang over the top of each other making the acoustic guitar sound so cool.

Posted on Nov 3, 2012, 9:25:30 AM PDT
B-Jak says:
Again, not to get technical, just an instance of that certain magic -
The trumpet solo that comes after the swirling, dreamy part of Joni Mitchell's "Harry's House / Centerpiece" is just so perfect, even though it so abruptly changes the mood. One of my favorite moments in music for some weird reason.

Posted on Nov 3, 2012, 11:27:16 AM PDT
Stratocaster, you DO NOT sound like a dope and I found your post informative and interesting. I think my ears always focused on other things, lead guitar, vocals, ETC. I never used to pay much attention to the bass but I do now. Thanks for the insight!

Posted on Nov 3, 2012, 12:24:32 PM PDT
Dr. Mikey says:
Pete, great idea for a thread. Sticking with McCartney for a minute, I have always loved "You Gave Me The Answer" from Wings' "Venus and Mars" which Paul used to dedicate to Fred Astaire in concert. And, indeed, it sounds right out of the 40s. I find it cooler that Paul's similar ideas with the Beatles in undoubtedly the better known "When I'm 64" and Honey Pie." Specifically, the song is in D, and in the first phrase, Paul resolves the melody on the tonic (D) as expected ("you seem to like ME"). But in the next phrase he goes up high with an F# (an Amaj 7th chord) ("the local folk AGREE"). This unexpected twist drives the song along beautifully. I love the way Paul keeps going up the scales with a G on "familiar PLAces" and a high A over a D7 chord on "airs and GRAces." I once heard Reba McEntire say that Paul McCartney is a genius. I don't doubt it.

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 3:34:42 AM PST
KBIC says:
I know you guys are all looking at the older stuff but there is music out there made in the last decade that has these same qualities. I don't know the chord progressions because When I listen to music I want to hear the music. There are times when I anilize the music but still not for chord progressions. Then it is for details that I may have missed in casual listening. When I am writing my own music I will then pay attention to chord progressions. This track is one of my favorites for relaxing. Here is Sigur Ros playing Svefn-g-englar:

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 8:17:36 AM PST
Sometimes its the chords themselves. For years Country music did not use minor chords. Songs had a sameness about them. One of the first country flavored songs I remember that used minor chords was The Monkees version of "What Am I doing Hanging Round"
George Harrison heavily used Diminished chords that gave his songs a unique feel to them. Jeff Lynne folowed suite with his songs. My Sweet Lord , Give me love, Isnt it a pity, are examples of George Harrison's use. I write songs and I use them when I want a Beatle flavor.

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 8:45:25 AM PST
In the book "The Twilight of the Gods", a Musicologists detailed and rather technical analysis of The Beatles' music, the author remarked on the innovation of "We Can Work It Out" in which they had modulated from a Major Key in the Verses to a Minor Key for the Chorus.
Apparently this had never before been done in a pop song.

I suspect, though, that this was simply another case of McCartney having written a Verse without a Chorus and Lennon having a Chorus without a Verse and deciding to combine the two into one song.

Whether intentional or not, however, the "modulation" resulted in a pretty unique sound at the time.

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 10:06:12 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Nov 5, 2012, 2:02:57 PM PST]

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 11:50:35 AM PST
Dr. Mikey says:
Cyberian Husky, I can hardly believe that "We Can Work It Out" was the first time for changing from major to minor (verse to chorus or any other way) in a pop song. I'll have to read "Twilight."

One interesting musical figure is the Beatles' (Lennon's really) "I'll Be Back." The song has an A major/A minor ambiguity throughout, thereby matching the uncertainly of the lyrics dealing with the questionable relationship. Sheer brilliance, but never mentioned in any top 100 Beatles song polls.

Joseph, I'll agree that country music is heavily dominated by major chords (all three coming from the bottom of the heart - to quote Martin Mull), but surely there were songs with minor chords or in a minor key. One that comes to mind is "Kaw-Liga" by Hank Williams. I chose that one because I happened to be playing Hank at the time.

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 11:57:56 AM PST
Dr. Mikey says:
Forgot to add that Kaw-Liga sort of reverses the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out." since the verse for Kaw-Liga is in D minor and it switches to D major for the chorus.

One more quote: Harlan Howard's famous description of country music: "Three chords and the truth."

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 3:07:28 PM PST
Listen to the opening chord in "A Hard Day's Night" and you feel how it almost seems to grab you by the collar and make you pay attention. A great chord or riff can have that effect. It is emotionally satisfying because it takes you to some place other than where you were when the song was just about to start. Emotions play more of a role in how we react to music, especially the sound of it, than only the words can. That's why music is so much more popular than poetry. That's my two cents, anyway.

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 4:33:55 PM PST
Dr. Mikey says:
Timothy, great example. I've read a dozen different articles on what that chord actually consists of, and I still don't think there is agreement. It is magic, though, as you so well describe.

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 4:51:46 PM PST
Stratocaster says:
Great posts on chord variations! I agree that this is probably a large component in making, and keeping, a song interesting. Although all of your basic "major" chords are quickly recognized by the ear, and initially, easy to listen to, I believe they also can get "old" very quickly. I think people who are more musically inclined wan't to hear more variation in their music. A well placed minor, or dimished 7th, for example, does much to give an otherwise simple arrangement some interesting variation. With many, more "simple" arrangements (Country music, for example), the mind can kind of figure out where the structure of the song is going before the music even gets there......if you know what I mean. Maybe that's what a lot of people like in their music - predictabilty?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2012, 5:28:13 PM PST
Dr. Mikey,

I agree that the idea of "We Can Work It Out" being the first Pop Song to modulate from a Major to Minor Key for the Chorus seemed unlikely to me as well. But over the years I've tried to think of an earlier example and have never been able to come up with one.

Good call on "I'll Be Back", it always struck me as one of their more original chord sequences, shifting between the Major & Minor Chords.

Be forewarned, "Twilight of the Gods" is *REALLY* Dry Reading!

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 5:39:06 PM PST
Stratocaster says:
KBIC says: "I know you guys are all looking at the older stuff but there is music out there made in the last decade that has these same qualities".

Here's one that came to mind, almost from the "last decade" - Radiohead's "Creep".

The song uses the same 4 chord structure throughout the entire song - verses and chorus. And when you see the chord structure on paper, so to speak, you think "These can't be right. This chord structure just doesn't work". But somehow it does.

The chords: G B C C minor

That's it!

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 5:54:23 PM PST
Dr. Mikey says:
Strat - I just played "Creep" on YouTube and you are right about the chord progressions. They get the most out of them. I esp. like the c to c minor. You kids with your modern music! I know I'm still stuck in the 60s, but do venture out once in a while. Thanks.

Posted on Nov 4, 2012, 11:29:20 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Nov 5, 2012, 11:36:27 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012, 2:18:04 PM PST
MTK says:
DKPete: This question had me listening extra hard this week as I went through my usual rounds of albums I had in the car. I played the 1970 "Derek and the Dominos" album and I knew I had to post my thoughts on some of those classic songs. There are countless times throughout the album, particularly on the louder hitting songs like "Tell the Truth", but particularly on "It's Too Late" "Anyday" and of "Little Wing".

Perhaps there's something in the amazing mix of Duane Allman's slide and Clapton's lead guitars, or the fantastic harmonies that Whitlock and Clapton created, but there are some magical "tones" that appear throughout that album. The songs I highlighted really have some magical, intangible notes that just make "Layla and Other Love Songs" worth listening to over and over again. The amazing notes that Allman and Clapton hit to make "It's to Late" and the harmonies on "Anyday" just scream heartache to me.

Mind you, I'm no musician. I cannot read a note or play any instrument. But I know "that certain song" you speak of, and I'll return to them over and over for that magic that happens in those moments.

Posted on Nov 6, 2012, 2:50:55 PM PST
Stratocaster says:
Dr. Mikey says: "You kids with your modern music!"

LOL, thanks Dr. Mikey, but I'm 52 yrs old!
I just never stop looking for good new stuff. It ain't as easy to find as it used to be (which was a huge subject of contention recently on another thread), but once you find it, it can definitely worth the effort.
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Discussion in:  Music forum
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Initial post:  Oct 24, 2012
Latest post:  Nov 9, 2012

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