Tonal Trends Pop Music Theory for Songwriters

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"Hey Ya! - OutKast"



-Starts right of with a verse, no intro, just a 1 2 3 here we go!

-Let’s talk about the chord loop first.

-This may make you angry, but the guitar chords G, C, D, and E were the first chords Andre 3000 learned to play. I guess he was like “I wanna learn guitar.” So he did.

-Same old story. Learn 4 chords, write a #1 hit single—happens to me all the time.

Here’s the loop chords:





-Now let’s talk about the beat.

-What infects you with the urge to keep on shaking that Polaroid picture isn’t the beat itself, IMHO, but how it’s unlike any other beat construction you’re gonna hear.

-Most loops have 8 or 12 bars, but this song has 6 bars!

- As if a six-measure loop wasn’t uncommon enough, the fourth bar of the loop is only 2 beats long! This makes 22 overall beats per loop.

-I’ll give anyone a dollar if they can find another 22 beat form in a top 40 pop tune.

-lets count—4, 4, 4, 2, 4, 4,




-Next I wanna touch on the E or Em chord craziness.

-Em is the “Tonal” chord that most would expect in the Key of G, (or the vi chord.)

- Instead it’s E major that he plays!

-E major is what we call a secondary chord that usually resolves, but this one doesn’t-it just hangs out for the whole 8 beats like it doesn’t know it’s not invited (tonally). Then the loop starts again.

-Now, whether this was the sneaky slick trick of a tonal creative genius, or just nobody taught him and Em chord, I sure don’t know.



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-An E chord has a G Sharp! But no one told the melody!

-The melody is sticking with a (tonal) G natural!

-We can see that in the synth hook:

-Scale degrees: 3456, 3456543, 31v6

-Em and E majorness at the same time!!!

-Mixed low, so it’s just spicy enough, not too spicy!

-I love the layering…

-2:00 Huh, in my version they bleeped Cuma? Fascists, LOL.



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-Calling stuff a Bridge/C&R/Breakdown, doesn’t matter too much.

-But we want to call it something, because the same 6-bar loop is used the whole way through the song.

-So, the only thing dividing the V-C-B chunks into sections, is the lyrics and melodies.

-That’s why it’s so ambiguous.

-You could call this another verse or a second verse (V2), just as easy as a “Bridge.”

-Let’s count that loop again!

-Oh I love it right here, it’s like they dropped that keyboard hook in a fishbowl.



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-So what do you do when the beat and chords are the same all the time? How about take out the chords for a bit?


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[email protected]:36-they start a really nice long 20 second fadeout.

-Before we go, one more fun fact:

-In the first year Apple's iTunes music store was online, this was the most-downloaded song. It was the first song in history to rack up 1 million digi sales, making it the first song to achieve Platinum status as a download.