The other day I was enjoying a meal at a burger joint in town when I found myself distracted by the music playing. The song wasn’t familiar to me, but I recognized the chord progression as the same as “Desire” by U2. (Actually variations of this chord progression show up in lots of places, “What I Like About You,” “Cherry Cherry,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and many others!) But here, it seemed somehow different. It took me a bit more listening, but I finally figured it out. Even though the chords seem to be the exact same as “Desire,” they were working differently. I used SoundHound to figure out the song was “Steal My Sunshine” by Len.
A, E, B would be the chords for both songs.  The last chord, B, would be home base (the tonic) in “Desire.” This is how this common progression normally works in popular music. But, in “Steal My Sunshine,” the second chord—E—is tonic. If the chords sound exactly the same, why would the tonality be different? Because the melody puts us in E.
You can see in the short excerpt of the melody and chords from the chorus above, that E is the most common note. Even when the chord changes to B and the E should clash, it serves as a tonal anchor of sorts.
In the Nashville number system, “Desire” would be flat 7, 4, 1.
"Steal My Sunshine" would be 4, 1, 5.
 “Desire” is in a different key, but the relationship is exactly the same as “Steal…”—descending fourths. I’ve transposed it here so the chords are the same to make the comparison easier.
Fair enough. After telling them they are correct, I usually tell them my preference for thinking about time signatures. Something like this: “2/4 means there are two quarter notes in a measure.” Sometimes I even draw a sample Orff-type time signature to demonstrate.
So, If there are two ways of thinking about 2/4 (or anything/4), then why choose the latter? I have two reasons.
Think about the second movement (Adagio cantabile) from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8. It’s written in 2/4, but it’s adagio, and played so that the eighth note is perceived as the pulse. You simply can’t say that there are “two beats in a measure.”
*Thinking about the number of notes—as opposed to beats—in a measure gives the student a framework for approaching compound meters like 6/8 (six eighth notes in a measure) or odd meters like 5/8 (five eighth notes in a measure). Learning only that there are x number of beats… does not equip students in the same way. There are so many beginners who, after being introduced to it, are consistently stumped by 6/8. By and large, my students who learn this way have success understanding compound meters.
I guess I have a third reason to throw in the mix. It is simply easier to say “there are two quarter notes in a measure” than “there are two beats in a measure, and the quarter note gets the beat.” Half the amount of words for a hopefully clearer picture.
*This doesn’t mean that I don’t think learning about beats is important, or don’t teach it. I simply introduce time signatures to my students this way.
[This post originally appeared on my Posterous blog, which no longer exists. I’m posting it here so it doesn’t disappear from the internet.]
"[T]he evolution of no other art is so greatly encumbered by its teachers as is that of music." Arnold Schoenberg (Theory of Harmony)
“It’s better to practice one song for 24 hours than play 24 tunes in one hour.”
—Attributed to Bill Evans
I recently sat down for an interview with local Charlotte sax player, Tim Gordon. It’s been my good fortune to know and be able to play with Tim. (First while I was in school, and later, professionally.) Not only is he a fantastic musician, he’s an all around great guy.
In this interview, we talk about the current state of music education, being a professional, and making a living. Tim even gives an economic history lesson on the music scene in Charlotte. Check it out!
I just transcribed a lead sheet for “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys. Yes, Brian Wilson is a genius.