As a music theory geek, I love to get inside songs and figure out why we like them. There’s something beautiful about the ability of a mainstream hit to bring people together. And when the songwriter and singer is as extraordinary a talent as Ariana Grande, we can be sure we’re putting the very finest pop product in our ears.
So let’s dive in, intro first, middle bit in the middle, and outro at the end, as has been the way since the dawn of time.
We hear a single reverbed synth sound playing half notes, with occasional 8th note passing notes, and no indication of what’s to come. That’s sparse, even for a trap-pop intro. At this point, we don’t even know if we’re hearing 140BPM (fast pop) or 70BPM (slow ballad).
Randy introduces himself and talks briefly about his work in music education, including his publications, talks, and his experience of listening to other songwriters’ work over many years. Today he’s sharing with us the structure of his 16-week songwriting course, and he begins with the philosophy of definition i.e. the question ‘what is a song?’. He suggests that most technical descriptions of a song fall short of the mark of describing its subjective effects on listeners, noting how difficult this intangible would be to achieve. He provides a traditional melody-lyric-harmony definition of a song (i.e. omitting the Sound Recording or arrangement), and then asks the potential student question “If [a song is too intangible to hold], then how can I learn about it?”.
To the great amusement of the audience, Randy now talks us (literally, talks us) through the whole of the lyric to James Brown’s ‘I Got You’, demonstrating that it’s clearly a love song. He now separates the [love] song from the arrangement, describing the horn lick and Brown’s vocal as ‘ear candy’, building on the core lyric’s emotional intent.
PopMAC Day 3: 42 years of Popular Music Analysis Teaching in 21 Minutes (2 years per minute). Philip Tagg #popmac
Philip accepts the ambitious timescale of today’s title, so states his intention to take an historical overview. Overview – Background and aim; ‘Tonality’; ‘Time’; ‘Totality’ or ‘form’; and ‘Que faire?’. He provides a brief CV in three acts – from practitioner and teacher with an increasing analytical approach since the 1970s. EPMOW articles came out 1998-2001 (encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World). He then notes the different undergraduate courses available (e.g. at Liverpool) – and highlights the problem of classification (using a wonderful ‘precipitation’ analogy). The history of tonal language, comparing variously ‘modal’, ‘pre-tonal’, ‘euroclassical’ and various arguably ‘post-tonal’ languages, which he asserts are not linear, observing that this is less a spectrum than an orbit as regards the analytical language of tonality.
Tonal terminology was naturally historically developed to define monometric music whose pitches divide tonally/chromatically into the octave, and that this is its strength and its limitation. We see some basic definitions with etymological language derivatives;