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volume 12
september 2009

Harmonic analysis of early Beatles' recordings

 





  Appendix to: Ger Tillekens (2000), Words and chords. The semantic shifts of the Beatles' chords
by Zapped
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  On September 8, 2009 "Jim from Austin TX" (aka "Zapped" online) read the article by Tillekens mentioned above, but was abhorred by the graphs and posted some explicatory reconstructions on truefire.com. We here thankfully reprint his careful work on decipherment.
 
Next Hi, I'm Jim from Austin TX (aka "Zapped" online). I'm new to truefire.com but a longtime poster over at the justinguitar.com forums. With EMI's release of the remastered Beatles original UK recordings coming tomorrow, over the long weekend here in the U.S. I was re-reading some of Alan Pollack's amazingly detailed harmonic analysis of The Beatles' music available at soundscapes.info.
  There's one page on that site that tries to make sense of the Beatles' use of unusual modulation in their early recordings. It was a revelation to me when I first came upon it, but the way the table is tossed out there without much explanation threw me off for a while —
 
  Yikes! My day gig is engineering, and that chart scares me. What could it possibly mean and how could it help me understand the construction of complex pop tunes like the classics written by The Beatles? Well, I thought I'd put together some graphics to try to work through the gory details. Only these specific drawings are my original work — every last bit of the theory and the original drawings on soundscapes.info are from the author Ger Tillekens. With that disclaimer, follow along ...
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  Fig. 1 — Let's start in the key of C major, with the C major chord as the tonic chord. What could be simpler? We'll arrange the chord into a triangle with the notes C, E, and G at the vertices and the chord-name as the triangle's label.
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  Fig. 2 — Back in Fig. 1, the horizontal leg of the triangle increase by a perfect fifth. Let's add a couple of more notes horizontally (C —> G and E —> B).
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  Fig. 3 — If we create triangles from these new notes, we find the E minor and G major chords have been spelled out for us. Note that C and Em share two of their three chord-tones because their triangles abut along an edge (sharing two vertices). C and G, on the other hand, only barely touch at one vertex, so they share a single chord-tone. Notice also that we have now drawn out two of the major triads and one of the minor triads in the key of C.
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  Fig. 4 — So let's project more notes horizontally to the left until we've written all the major and minor chords in the key of C. Pretty spiffy so far — the triads practically form themselves!
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  Fig. 5 — So far we've confined ourselves to a single row of chords, all in the key of C major. Let's say we want to build a new row on top of the existing one. When we started out with the simple C chord, we placed the note E over the note C by ascending an interval of a major 3rd. Let's place a new C# note above the A note on our existing row by also ascending a major 3rd. We have now formed a parallel A major chord adjacent to the Am chord-triangle below it.
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  Fig. 6 — Similar to the procedure in Fig. 5, we can add a G# above the existing note E and find the C#m chord in a new triangle.
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  Fig. 7 — We can also add new chords below the existing row.
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  Fig. 8 — Here's the final chart! You'll see 16 total vertices, but if you look closely there are four notes repeated (either exactly or an enharmonically equivalent spelling), so in fact we've used all 12 notes of the Western chromatic scale. Instead of a limited vocabulary of 3 major and 3 minor chords available in a single key, this analysis provides a whopping 9 majors and 9 minors for the pop composer to use! Granted, the new chords contain "borrowed" tones from other keys, but the logic and elegance of this table allows these seemingly-unrelated chords to hang together.
Next In standard Roman Numeral notation, we refer to the I, IV, and V as the major chords, and the ii, iii, and vi as the minor chords. This analysis adds the relative majors II, VI, III, and the parallel majors bVI, bIII, bVIII, as well as the parallel minors iv, i, v and even the "relative minors of the relative majors" vii, #iv, #i.
  This material is also covered in detail here: Ger Tillekens' "Semantic Shifts of the Beatles' Chords" in soundscapes.info.
  I hope this analysis is interesting to others. It was definitely enlightening to me as I worked through the details.
 
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