Guitarist looking for something to play or teach? Visit our other site:
"'Happy', by Pharrell Williams"
Hey everyone! Welcome to the Spotter Syncs Vlog. Today we’re going to take a real-time look at Pharrell Williams’ pop hit “Happy,” and how this song uses what geeks like me call “the Supermode.” Okay, long story short—the “Supermode” is just when a musician uses notes from both Major and Minor at the same time, making a kind of ‘super’ tonality that transcends the older definitions and distinctions of what a mode should be.
So yeah, in order to figure out what it is we’re looking for here—let’s start with the ‘major’ notes, which a lot of people name by numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Easy enough to start, right? But on top of that you have to throw in the Minor notes, not represented yet, and those are the: (1,2) b3, (4,5) b6, and b7 scale degrees. 7 major number-notes plus 3 flatted number-notes from minor equals a 10 note tonality right there! Oh, but if that wasn’t enough, Pharrell tosses in a b5 also, towards the end of the song, just for fun. But yeah, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s find these first 10 notes first!
Alright, the song starts out with an F7, or I7, otherwise known as a blues chord. By the way, the term “Supermode” can usually be used interchangeably with “the blues” tonality. At least in my humble opinion it can, I mean, there are different connotations to the terms, but basically they’re the same thing. Probably the best reason to have an extra word like the “Supermode” at all, is to distinguish what you’re talking about from either “the blues” genre or the “blues scale”, which is a scale that only refers to 6 notes, and not 10. If you look up here on the board, you can see I colored the blues scale number-notes in red, so you could see how they fit in to what we’re talking about. So that’ll help, hopefully.
Now the Melody—it’s made up of mostly these blues-scale notes, in the key of F. Nothing’s clashing with that. So then, where we get our first taste of the supermode Flavor is in the keyboard’s more major part. So yeah, what you got here, in a nutshell, is a minor melody over major chord triads—everybody’s favorite I IV V. The main place you’re going to hear the tug of war between major and minor here is in the clashes of the two 3rd scale degrees and the two 7th scale degrees, underlined. The disagreement for the 3’s come in when we hear our F chord, which has a regular 3, but then the chord-riff right after uses a minor, or b3, on the second beat. Hear the Clash of 3’s? The next big disagreement is when the V chord, C, comes along. Because a V chord uses a M7 scale note, which clashes with the b7 we’ve been hearing in the melody, and the F7 chord itself. Clash of 7’s! Also should mention that the C chord is the only triad that uses two notes not in the blues scale. That’s worth a point.
Okay, but what about the Bb chord that just got skipped, and all its 6^ orange-ness, why isn’t that underlined? Well, I’ll tell you—I skipped over it because it isn’t quite as controversial to the ear, to your tonal expectations, like the clashing 3’s and clashing 7’s are. Why? Because the Blues Scale that Pharrell is singing doesn’t include either the 6 or the b6 scale degree, that’s why; see, notice how neither is colored red? So yeah, not in the pentatonic blues scale. And anyway, he only sings the 6^ a couple of times throughout the whole song anyway: at the end of verse 1, when he sings “with the air”, he sings 6^, and then in the Breakdown he sings it quick with that line, “your love is too”. And as far as the b6 goes, he never sings that, so there’s not gonna be any clash from his end.
Another non-clashy note in the melody besides the 6^ that I love is the 2^. Again, it’s not in the red colored blues scale, so our ears recognize it as being special when he sings it, like he’s selecting it, all special like, off of the candy stand. Incidentally, he sings the second scale degree 14 times throughout the song, that I counted, so, he likes the candy but he’s not getting a tummy-ache.
Okay now let’s preview what we’re going to try to spot in the Chorus. Remember how he never sings his b6 scale degree note? Well it gets its spotlight here, starting off the chorus as the root in the Db chord. Don’t you just love how slick that sounds? Next up is the minor v chord, Cm7. And it’s like the Supermode alarm is totally five alarm by now, because, um, didn’t we like just play the major V a second ago, and now we’re playing the minor v chord type? See there’re those clashing 7’s again. Awesome.
Okay there’s another verse-chorus, and we’re at the bridge (@1:37), or Breakdown, as I like to call it for this song. Now, this section is the most minor of all the sections, since its chords are to be found, all of them, in the Natural minor mode, not Major. The choir’s part is also all in minor, every bit. So, but then, are we still rocking the supermode? Yep, actually we are, because the singing’s got some of the major flavor for our ears. And, remember how we had the Major chords in the beginning under a minor melody? I’m not saying that should mean the melody will be major here; but what it does, is it leaves more room for the melody to play around with more major scale notes, like in “your” and “high.” M6, M3, see? The lines between the traditional paradigm of Major or Minor are blurring, aren’t they!
K before we do the sync, let’s have a word about Rhythm and Form. The beat here is bumping the regular pop accents on the 2 and 4, which would mean we’re rocking a “let’s to the twist” 160bpms. That said, you can certainly also dance to it, or feel it, or count it, in a half time of that, 80bpms. So yeah, bpms can be subjective here, just don’t get in a fight with someone over it is all I’m saying.
The Form isn’t too controversial, just a tiny intro, VCVCB, all 16 bars, then a double-chorus at 32 bars, then a quick half-breakdown in case you’re missing it, and then another double-C. Probably the coolest thing to say about the form is that the song ends right on the fourth beat, not the 1st beat, like most songs do. It’s just slick, 1-2-3-4 poof, he’s out.
Alright, here we go! Let’s see if we can point out all these supermode notes, in real time, while we listen to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”. I got the one here off “G I R L”, which also says that it’s off the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack or something, but whatever, if yours is 3:52 minutes it should sync.
[Does the Sync!]
Okay, well, that’s it. Thanks y’all and I hope you enjoyed this Tonal Trends “Spotter Syncs” songwriter’s lesson, “Happy and the Supermode.” I also hope you’ll now be able to spot and appreciate the Supermode when you hear it, and even use this versatile tonality in making your own music! Until next time, make sure to like us, and follow us on all the websites if you like, and yeah, have a good one!