From her 1997 live album, right before she launches into “Tyrone”, Erykah speaks to my artistic heart. It took me a long time to admit that I am an artist. The word has a bit of stigma attached to it, usually that artists are needy, too sensitive, too fragile. But I believe we’re all artists in some capacity, and it’s important to embrace it. As Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) teaches, your artist is similar to your inner child — creative, unafraid, free, and incredibly passionate. It’s so important to nurture that part of you and be honest about your humanity. No one is made of steel.
This progression very eloquently illustrates one of the most basic functionalities of western tonal music — the subdominant (IV chord – G), moving to the dominant (V chord – A), and resolving to the tonic (I chord – D). This is a sound that transcends all genre barriers and ties tons of music together. We can find a very rich body of work in this sound throughout history, from classical music, to much folk music, to contemporary pop hits of each generation.
When I started building the harmony, the changes ended up coming together pretty quickly. I jumped on my Rhodes to lay down some pretty standard F minor related changes, using the last bar of the phrase to take it a bit outside. For the harmonically curious, those turnaround changes are G♭ Maj7, D♭ Maj7, C Min7, and E Maj7(♭5).
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As we can see, these scales are almost identical except for one interval, the Augmented fourth in the F Lydian mode. This note is what I called before “the characteristic note” of that particular mode, the note that gives the F Lydian mode its peculiar sound — its “Lydian-ness” — and the one that differentiates it from sounding like a major scale.
Be careful here. Don’t turn it up too loud and fool yourself into liking the result just because it’s louder. Do your best to match the input volume with the output volume of the compressor. We tend to think louder is better when it’s not really better, it’s just louder. Here’s a short video tutorial I shot below to show all of this in action on a mix I’ve started. Check it out!
The piece ends with the same texture we heard at the beginning, natural harmonics produced by sympathetic resonance (2:23). Only a tiny variation in the musical landscape pops up — a new note, D. Although this looks like an anomaly in the construction of the piece, in my opinion this choice makes total sense, considering that this work is a series of 11 pieces, the presence of another note creates a sense of directionality. Instead of the movements feeling like isolated fragments collected together, inserting a new note before this section ends offers a glimpse ahead, and a bit of connective tissue.
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However, throughout the entire song, there isn’t a single E♭ chord. This creates a consistent sense that the song is being pushed forward, because we never land on the safe and comfy resolution our ears expect.
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It’s the melodic hook of the song and the real star of this show. At the same time, it follows standard rules for writing a good melody — it has a balance of stepwise motion and leaps, and stays within a comfortable singing range (in this case, less than two octaves). Great bass lines should be singable!
This was the first single off of Dookie, which has sold 20 million copies to date. In 2004, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the album, artists such as Good Charlotte and Sum 41 recalled the impact Dookie had on their lives for an article on MTV.com. My favorite quote, which kind of encapsulates what Green Day first contributed to music, comes from Billy Martin from Good Charlotte. “I remember he said ‘masturbation’ in [‘Longview’], and I was like, ‘No way!’ Green Day didn’t care. They were just doing their thing and there was nothing like them on TV.”
All intervals in 12-TET are the same size, regardless of starting pitch. Furthermore, all keys are comprised of the same interval relationships, so they’re completely interchangeable. In 12-TET, you can hop around from one key to another at will without having to stop and retune everything. That is pretty awesome.
I find musicians make this last mistake all too often. It’s related to not seeing music as a real job. Musicians set themselves up for disaster when they don’t take their finances and contractual responsibilities seriously. Signing a bad contract has killed the careers of many musicians, and not prioritizing financial literacy even if you’re a DIY artist can be just as dangerous.
+ Learn more on Soundfly: Deepen your production and composition relationship with Ableton Live in our various courses that use the software, such as Beat Making in Ableton Live, Making Realistic MIDI Strings, Live Clicks and Backing Tracks, and Any Sound Will Do (sampling and stitching). Check out our full course offerings here.