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3.   Methodology


3.3.1   Harmony

Harmonies were analysed using Roman numerals as per classical music analytical conventions. The system assigns each chord a numeral based on its relationship, distance-wise, to the tonic note. Upper case numerals were used for major chords, lower case numerals for their minor counterparts; the superscript + and o symbols denoted augmented and diminished triads, respectively. The diatonic triads in a major key would, thus, read: I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viio.

Some writers (e.g. Walser, Moore) use only upper case numerals with a modal qualification. Thus, Ionian VI in C major would be an A minor triad; Aeolian VI in C minor would be an Ab major triad. Although relatively clear, it is more helpful to differentiate systematically between the major and minor triads, partly for ease of presentation and partly to avoid problematic cases of mixed modes.

The main issue concerning Roman numerals is harmonic function; the label “V”

is implicitly synonymous with “dominant” and its associated baggage. The problem is the fit between label and interpretation, especially when extended to non-diatonic harmonies. In, for example, the Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ the harmonies alternate, predominantly, between C major and F major, I and IV in C.15 In the chorus, the progression is

interrupted by a D major chord.

In much classical and popular music, D major would function as an applied dominant of G, i.e. V/V. There is no subsequent dominant, which renders this explanation less applicable. The particular progression works, as such, because

15 The presence of only two chords leaves it open to the suggestion that C and F could be V and I, respectively, of F major. This is implausible, however, because of the phrase structure in which C major is clearly placed in the focal points, that is, the beginning and end.

of the voice-leading, F-F#-F-E.16 The major supertonic is frequently used in such a contrapuntal fashion in popular music. This certainly suggests why the progression sounds natural; in saying this, the song’s instrumental textures conceal this exact line, except, perhaps, if one listens intently to the choir.

The effect of D major, however, is arguably marked because it is a non-diatonic chord in C major. Not coincidentally, the chord appears when the lyrics change perspective — “You can’t always get what you want // But if you try

sometimes…” — which serves to strengthen its musical impact. It is important, therefore, to acknowledge the harmony’s non-diatonic nature, without

overstating its theoretical function.

To this end, Roman numerals should be interpreted, first and foremost, as only representing the root of the chord and its quality; any function can be interpreted depending on the context.17 By using the standardized framework for diatonic triads in any key (i.e. I-ii-iii etc. in a major key; i-iio-III etc. in a minor key), one can easily identify non-diatonic chords and modify the labels. For example, an F major chord in A major is built on the flattened sixth degree, hence, it would be marked bVI, in comparison to the diatonic vi in a major key.

Added notes have been labeled only when their omission would misrepresent the identity of the harmony as it is heard. This is similar to classical analysis in which passing and neighbour notes are not included in the harmonic description.

For example, in the introduction of Bic Runga’s ‘Sway,’ the acoustic guitar and bass articulate a IV-V-IV-V progression in A major; above, the lead guitar plays the melodic line A-G#-A in each bar. The harmonic analysis of these four bars reads IV-V-IV-V because there seems little point in complicating the simple progression with IVsus#4 and Vsus4 chords that only last for a single quaver.

16 I am grateful to Walter Everett for discussing this point by email, July 2011.

17 This is obviously the case in classical music analysis as well. I stress this point here, however, because of the greater prevalence in popular music for harmonies to behave differently from set theoretical functions.

By comparison, the verse in Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Beside You’ repeats IVadd9-I in Db major. Here, “add9” is suggested because the Ab is maintained in the same

register on the guitar between each chord as a kind of pedal. Its presence softens the progression as it minimizes the voice movement from chord to chord; hence, the description seems justified and warranted.

The full list of chord symbols is summarized in Table 3.1. The system is straightforward and similar to that used by Harte et al.18

Type of Chord Symbol Notes

Seventh C7 (Cm7)/I7 (i7) C, E (Eb), G, Bb

Major Seventh Cmaj7/Imaj7 C, E, G, B

Diminished Seventh Co7/Io7 C, Eb, Gb, B»

Half-Diminished Seventh CØ/IØ C, Eb, Gb, Bb

Added Ninth/Eleventh etc. Cadd9, Cadd11/Iadd9, Iadd11 C, E, G, D;

C, E, G, F

Ninth C9/I9 C, E, G, Bb, D

Suspended Fourth Csus4/Isus4 C, F, G

Table 3.1 Chord Symbols for Harmonic Analysis

Inversions are then indicated by the subscript letters b and c for first and second inversions, respectively. For situations in which a bass note does not ‘belong’ to the triad, these harmonies are conveyed like a lead sheet, with the figuration, Roman numeral chord/bass note.

A common example occurs with a descending bass line from the minor submediant to the subdominant, as in the bridge of The Mockers’ ‘Forever Tuesday Morning.’ Technically, these chords could be labeled vi-vi7d-vi§6d-IV, but in reality the keyboardist is playing the same G minor triad in the right hand with the descending bass line, G-F-E-Eb. Thus, this progression in Roman numeral terms would read vi-vi/F-vi/E-IV. Similarly, V11 chords, in C, are understood to be an F major chord over a G in the bass (i.e. IV/G), not containing the 3rd and 5th that the 11 implies.

18 See Christopher Harte et al., “Symbolic Representation of Musical Chords: A Proposed Syntax for Text Annotations,” ISMIR 2005: Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Music Information Retrieval, London, 11-15 September 2005, from

http://ismir2005.ismir.net/proceedings/1080.pdf (accessed 27 May 2011).

Roman numerals are only appropriate when the key is established, given that harmonies are related to the tonic note. In the majority of examples, this condition is not an issue — the tonic is established through its placement in phrases, cadences, and so forth. When songs change or move through different keys, one can generally find a localized tonic. The harmonies are, therefore, related to the different tonics.

There are several songs in which the tonic is less evident including Blam Blam Blam’s ‘There Is No Depression in New Zealand’ and sections of The Chills’

‘Pink Frost.’ Roman numerals then become somewhat redundant, as chords are related to a relatively arbitrary point. In these instances, other relationships, such as motivic or intervallic, may be sought in the music.19