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Posts Tagged ‘tetrachords’

Lady Gaga Revisited: Paparazzi and Tetrachords

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

So Speaks [Harmony] sent me back to the drawing board, telling me that my first attempt at Gaga sounded too circus like [a la Britney Spears].  She wanted something more like Paparazzi and less like Bad Romance [though she likes both songs].

I have to admit, I like the song Paparazzi a lot.  It’s mostly the melody though of the chorus.

I’ve heard the song played many times, and I always had deemed the song to be in C minor (relative major being Eb Major).  Usually I have a decent ear when it comes to chords, and I dismissed the whole song to be in C minor, and the chorus probably followed suit.  When the chorus comes in:

“I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me, Pappa, Papparazzi”

The sound of it seems to obviously be a very pop typical I-V-vi, or possibly a I-V(with the 3rd in the bass position)-6, in it’s relative major.

But I was wrong, and maybe next time I should actually learn a song first before judging it!  Being primarily a rap producer, you don’t go further than 2 or maybe 4 chords.  I play instruments for other genres though, and for the most part there aren’t that many key changes in the songs I play, but I usually call them when I play.  Having never played the song before, I found out, as always, assumption is the mother of all… you know the rest.

Ready for a little music theory?


Now before we proceed, I think we need a small review of major and minor chords.  If you’re good with basic major and minor scales, then you can move past this section.

The roman numerals above denote the chords in a particular scale, starting from the root upward.  Major chords are in capital letters and minor chords are in lowercase.  For example, assuming that the entire song was in C minor, the i chord would be C minor, the ii-o chord would be a D diminished, the v chord would be a G minor, and the VI chord would be an Ab Major.  The relative major of C minor is Eb Major  [To find the relative major of a minor, it’s the iii chord in the minor scale; to find the relative minor in a major, it’s the vi chord in the major scale].  So the I chord would be an Eb major, the V chord would be a Bb major (1st inversion, with the D in the bass instead of the Bb), and then the vi chord would be the C minor.

Sound confusing?

Here are the scales:

Eb Major Scale: Eb(I), F(ii), G(iii), Ab(IV), Bb(V), C(vi), D(vii-o), Eb(I)

C minor scale: C(i), D(ii-0), Eb(III), F(iv), G(v), Ab(VI), Bb(VII), C(i)

If you play the Eb Major scale, it will sound like a nice do-re-mi progression.  The C Minor, not so much, though that’s a conversation for another post.  As is, the C Minor scale looks exactly like the Eb Major scale if you started on C instead of Eb.  All Major and Minor (natural) scales work the same way, with their relatives.  To mix it up, composers will go between both relative scales (with some little added things) to make things sound extra good to the ear.

A lot of pop songs have a progression of I-V-vi.  Let It Be by the Beatles is a good example.   It’s in C Major, and the chord progression is C Major, G Major, Am (I,V,vi) in the first half of the progression of the verses.


Going back to Gaga, I assumed that the chords for the chorus would be Eb Major, Bb Major, then C Minor.

When I analyzed it, I found out it isn’t.  It’s still a I-V-vi, but not in that scale.  It’s actually in Ab Major.

But how does that work?

I’m glad you asked!  I owe it to my Music Theory I teacher who gave me this insight a few semesters back.

Here’s a clip of the song, second half of the first verse, into the chorus:

Let’s go over the chords of the song.

The intro is a C minor chord repeating.

The verses go: Cm, Ab, Cm, then Cm, Ab, Fm, leading into chorus.  It’s in C Minor Scale. (i, VI, i, i VI, iv)

The chorus goes: Ab, Eb, Fm, Db and repeats.  It’s in Ab Major. (I, V, vi, IV)

Let’s take a look at the two major scales involved here, the Eb Major (relative of C minor) and Ab Major:

Eb Major Scale: Eb(I), F(ii), G(iii), Ab(IV) | Bb(V), C(vi), D(vii-o), Eb(I)

Ab Major Scale: Ab(I), Bb(ii), C(iii), Db(IV) | Eb(V), F(vi), G(vii-o), Ab(I)

If you’ve noticed, I’ve split each scale in half, four notes on each side.  Each set of four notes is what music theorists call a tetrachord. Notice how the first half of the Eb Major scale closely resembles the Ab Major scale’s second half.

So how does this work?  Basically, if you play around in the first half of the Eb major scale, you can move to an Ab major scale progression and it will sound nice and peachy; especially if you use a G to lead into the Ab.

The composers of Paparazzi did so by using the F minor in the end, pausing the music while Gaga sings the last note, and Gaga’s last note is a hanging G note.

Why are these three things important?

  1. The use of the F minor, is almost foreshadowing.  If you take a look at the Ab Major scale, what’s the relative minor?  (remember the notes above, look for the 6th, which is an F, and a minor at that).  It makes the move even more comfortable since both the Eb Major and Ab Major scales have that chord in common.
  2. The G serves as a leading tone to the Ab Major.  It gives your ear the tension to want to move to the Ab Major chord because it sounds incomplete.  Try playing C,D,E,F,G,A,B in succession (a C Major scale, without going back to C).  Your ear will want to play that C because things don’t sound right without doing so.
  3. Then the pause.  Why the pause?  To make the G sound even better when it leads into the Ab Major.

Play the clip above, and listen for these key things, and you’ll hear how it was done.  Pretty nifty, if you ask me.  I’m sure that this isn’t the first time the technique was used, as I’m sure it was used many times.  However, this is something current that uses it, and for composers who want to know how to move in scales, well here’s one good way to do it. =]

That does it for today’s music theory lesson.  More music coming your way, very soon!





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