Author Archives: dmorris


…exploring the combinatorics of pop’s favorite chords, and finding the obvious gaps.

From: Ian

To: Dan

There are 6 ways to order the chords I — IV — V — vi, invariant to circular shifts. Four of those orderings are used all over the place. Here they are:

I → IV → vi → V

I → V → vi → IV

I → vi → IV → V

Every song from the 1950s, e.g.:


I → vi → V → IV

I → IV → V → vi
I → V → IV → vi

These two are totally underutilized! Maybe going from vi to I doesn't sound good. Or maybe we could write some huge hits using these progressions.

Two years went by before we ran into either of these; click to see the song that revived this thread, and comment if you have more! →

Musical Breadth vs. Depth

…the Doctor of Rock’s guide to matching your musical goals to musical starting points.

Recently a friend asked for my thoughts on whether he’d end up a happier musician by focusing on one instrument (depth-first) or spreading his time across instruments, composing, recording, singing, etc. (breadth-first). I’ve spent most of my life as a breadth-first musician with a short attention span, but I don’t really come down on one side or other. My thoughts ultimately boiled down to “first try to figure out what aspects of music make you happy, then work backwards from there”.

I’m going to more or less paste these thoughts in this post. So if you’re ready to take some advice from a mediocre hobbyist with no notable musical experience, read on!

Continue reading and join the discussion about maximizing musical happiness… →

Multiple Key Changes

…searching for the line between “pop with a lot of keys” and “prog”.

From: Ian

To: Dan, Raja

This truck driver gear shift is so smooth I’m not even sure I’d count it as the truck driver gear shift, but I guess technically it is:

It’s in Bm, but let’s say it’s in Am to simplify notation. The first two verses and choruses, and the solo, are all in Am. Then there’s a brief bridge in D, and I would definitely say that’s a real key change, before it goes back to the chorus, this time in E. The solo → bridge → chorus transition looks something like:

CHORUS (in Am)
Listen to your h[Am]eart[F] when he's c[C]alling for y[G]ou.
Listen to your h[Am]eart[F] there's nothing e[C]lse you can d[G]o.
I don't kn[C]ow where you're g[G]oing and [F]I don't know [C]why,
but listen to your h[Am]eart[F] before[G] you tell him goodbye[Am].

SOLO (in Am)
[Am] [F] [G] [Am] x 2
[C] [G] [F] [C]
[Am] [F] [G] [G]

BRIDGE (in D) (note the G → D cadence to smoothly move into the bridge)
[D] And there are voices that want to be heard.
[Bm] So much to mention but you can't find the words.
[A] The scent of magic, the be[G]auty that's been
[A] when love was wilder [B] than the wind.

Listen to your h[C#m]eart[A] when he's c[E]alling for y[B]ou
Listen to your h[C#m]eart,[A] there's nothing [E]else you can [B]do
I don't kn[E]ow where you're g[B]oing and [A]I don't know w[E]hy,
but listen to your h[C#m]eart[A] bef[B]ore you tell him goodb[C#m]ye.

I like this because it’s not fancy at all, but still contains two key changes and everything fits together perfectly. It’s good clean Scandinavian pop. Nothing superfluous. Like Ikea furniture.

Continue reading to find out whether Roxette is the multiple-key-change champion… →

How Many Chords Make a Key Change?

From: Dan

To: Ian

The core question here will be, as per title, how long do you have to spend in key [x], as measured in time or chords, before it feels like a key change, rather than a bunch of non-diatonic chords?

But the song I’m going to use as a prop has another property that I want to ask about first, which will be spoiled if I send you right to the candidate key change… so first listen *only* to the first 12 seconds (until the melody starts) (all the links and videos I’m including will start and stop at the right times). All the chords you’ll here are [B][E], or really [Bsus4][E/B].

Is this in B (I→IV, I→IV…), or is this in E (V→I, V→I…)? Is it self-evident with no melody, just by the way it’s played? Does the sus4 matter a little?

OK, now think about that for a bit… are you back?

Continue reading to find out whether it’s B or E, and to find out how many chords do make a key change… →

Ever Ever After

From: Dan

To: Ian

This song has an unusual structural property:

At least I can’t think of another song with this structural property.

If you hate the song so much you can’t bear to listen to it, I’ll just tell you, but if your wife is having a baby right now, that’s no excuse not to give your full attention to this thread.

Continue reading to find out (another) cool thing a Disney princess song does… →

Parenting Advice from the Doctor of Rock

…battling the harmonic wasteland of kids music.

From: Dan

To: Ian


Since you’re about to become a father, I think it’s time for us to have “the talk”. The one where we prepare you for empty chasm of harmonic complexity in which you’re going to live for the next 6-14 years. Right now, you’re probably under two incorrect impressions:

  1. “My child and I are not going to listen to silly kids music, he/she is going to be raised only on [The Beatles / Radiohead / Bach / insert your own dreams and aspirations here], and I will fully avoid exposure to songs about ladybugs who eat ice cream.”
  2. “I know kids music is simple and dull, but it can’t be that bad.”
Continue reading to have these impressions de-bunked, and to find cause for optimism…→

Melody/Harmony Ambiguity

From: Dan

To: Ian, Raja

Today’s challenge (for which I have no answer):

Think of a pop/rock song with two vocal parts where at least 30% of listeners would disagree with the other 70% about which part is the melody/lead. Call/response not allowed, needs to be simultaneous harmony vocals. Octaves not allowed either (though I can’t think of a clear case where that’s an issue).

Continue reading for our best shots at this (then tell us yours, because we’re very unsure about our answers…) →