PopMAC day 2: Elevating Form and Elevating Modulation. Dai Griffiths #PopMAC


Westlife: Shane helpfully indicates the probable direction of the impending T2 dominant-tonic juxtaposition modulation.

Elevating Form and Elevating Modulation. Dai Griffiths (Oxford Brookes University)

[abstract] The device known as, among other terms, truck-driver modulation, arranger’s modulation, and pump-up modulation, is an important procedure that merits a place in the harmony textbook. For a conference that brings together popular music and music analysis, it’s a topic nicely balanced: theoretically thin perhaps, critically derided certainly, but familiar and important in pop music. Problems in nomenclature reflect problems of definition, and this paper steers debate chiefly in two ways. First, the title marks a distinction between form and modulation through the shared epithet; the fresh emphasis on form can rapidly be presented. Secondly, however, the focus is upon the modulation, the harmonic procedure, which reveals a wide range of pieces working in consistent ways. A typology attends to distance of transposition and modulatory technique, adapting where possible standard types from harmony textbooks. Other interesting topics, such as the role played by the elevation in the piece as a whole, the role of arrangement, words and the effect of elevation, and questions of history and repertory, will likely be passed over.

Dai Griffiths is Senior Lecturer in Music at Oxford Brookes University, and author of monographs on Radiohead and Elvis Costello. His research is now mostly on words in songs, while his teaching is mostly in tonal harmony and analysis. Since 2009 he has divided his working time equally between the University and fatherhood.

The opening slide in Dai’s presentation is his reading list – including Muchler, Christopher Doll’s Rockin’ Out, Walter Everett’s Understanding Rock (1997) and Carl Schacter’s ‘Analysis By Key’. He hands out a list of his categories of modulation, and then we’re straight into the examples. He starts, delightfully, with Bernard Cribbins’ Right Said Fred, describing this as a ‘T1’ analysis, and then Rosemary Clooney’s God Bless America. His ambition is to create a set of categories through which we can classify all US/UK popular songs.

Bravely [for an international conference!], Dai plays us Flanders and Swann’s The English Are Best and the wonderful ‘far too often and flat’ key change gag.

The modulation models, in the order that he presents them, are;

  1. Tonic-tonic juxtaposition
  2. Dominant-tonic juxtaposition
  3. Dominant-dominant juxtaposition (dominant handover)
  4. Tonic-dominant transformation

Each of these has a ‘T level’ (T1 to T4) referring to the number of chromatic steps in the transposition.

Dai’s musical examples each involve a detailed description of what’s going on harmonically – he talks us through each modulation chord by chord, focusing on the transposition mechanism. I won’t try to blog these live (I can’t type that fast!) but hope that the models, combined with the pdf list of examples [most of which are available on YouTube] will enable the interested reader to delve further into this fascinating area.

He ends with tracks that combine different models of modulation, and a short quiz where we are asked to identify the model in use [I only got three of out four – Andy Williams, damn you and your army of orchestration wizards!]. He suggests that elevating modulation deserves a place in the harmony textbook, and hopes that his scheme will give listeners the motivation to revisit song examples that would otherwise be quickly passed over.

[JB note –here is a rough scan of Dai’s handout as a pdf. Note – the percentage numbers refer to the approximate position in the track’s duration time the modulation appears.]
[JB note 2 – love that title – ‘Elevating’ as verb and adjective…]

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