POWER OF POP MUSIC PoP THEORY : SONG ANALYSIS

PoP THEORY : SONG ANALYSIS

As mentioned in my PoP Theory article on Story Analysis, besides being a singer-songwriter/composer and a pop culture writer, I am also a teacher of arts and music subjects. So the same approach I applied to Story, I can also apply to Music but of course, with different elements. Now, I don’t intend to go into any musicological concepts that require music theory training to decipher but will try my best to keep things simple for non-musicians as well.

In general, the Song Analysis template that I will be discussing here will be mainly relevant for pop and rock songs that were popular during the 1950s through to the present day. Thus, we will not be talking about classical, traditional or art music forms. Moving forward, hopefully, I will be able to go deeper into detail once we grasp the basics with some clarity.

Melody

Well, those of us who love music will know what a melody is. It’s the tune of the song. Or if you wanted to be legalistic – “a deliberately arranged sequence of musical notes designed to produce pleasing result to the listener”.

Now, at a basic level, one might describe a melody as simple or complex. This is usually derived from the flow of the notes, the frequency of repetition and the use of intervals between the notes. Let’s listen to some examples from The Beach Boys.

“Surfin’ Safari” (simple)

“God Only Knows” (complex)

Arrangements

When I use the term ‘arrangements’, I am referring to other components of the song that support the melody. These components may be the chord progressions, choice of instrumentation, the rhythm etc.

Again, we might describe these components as simple or complex, repetitive or varied, minimal or layered etc. Let’s listen to some examples from The Beatles.

“Hello Goodbye” (repetitive)

“Martha My Dear” (varied)

Lyrics

Historically, of course, words in pop music have evolved distinctly from the literary arts of poetry and prose. Personally, I feel that in a song, one tends to hear the music before the lyrics and thus, the importance of lyrics is secondary to that of the music. Despite all this, the lyrics of a song is able to provide a hook, a mood and a concept that resonates with listeners sometimes beyond the strength of the music itself. This is most prevalent in contemporary times with hip-hop and rap.

In an effort, to break down lyrics to its elements I have divided the same into the categories of form and substance. Form might include things like rhyming, stream-of-consciousness, story-telling, confessional, whimsical non-sequitur and political commentary. These are lyrical techniques that may frame an approach to lyric writing and appreciation. Substance, on the other hand, provides tone, style and theme in the same way that story does. Here, it is the emotional resonance delivered by lyrics that is highlighted – from love to joy to fear to disappointment to anger etc.
Let’s listen to some examples from Bob Dylan.

“You’re A Big Girl Now” (confessional + love)

“Hurricane” (socio-political commentary + anger)

Performance

Finally, I want to discuss the subject of performance. While we dealt with the issue of instrumentation under arrangements, the individual performances I believed need to be separately considered. Thus, we may pay close attention to the singing, the manner in which the various instrumentalists deliver their individual performances. Again, similar descriptions we used before come into play – simple vs complex, technical vs instinctive and of course, the dynamic range of emotions etc.
Let’s listen to some examples from The Bee Gees.

“You Should Be Dancing” (technical)

“Alone” (instinctive)

I hope this exercise resonated with you – it isn’t easy to present complex music concepts into bite-sized material without delving into musicological discussions. In any case, let me know at the Power of Pop Facebook page if I succeeded in any measure whatsoever. Would appreciate the feedback!

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