Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A few points of note, in the music of the song 'Fix You.'


Fix you

122 million hits on this youtube video places the song in the mainstream of popular song. There’s a few musical devices employed which help to give the song its power, and if you follow this argument, it may help you appreciate why the song has the effect it does.

Structurally it comprises:

Verse 1

Verse 2


Verse 3



Middle 16


Underpinning the vocal line of Chris Martin is a fundamental bass line which has several interesting features. 

First of all there is a short note ‘2’ which joins notes 1 and 3 . I would like you to listen to notes 5 and 6 in the bass line and, as you do so, try to count “one two” evenly on each note. If you can, tap your foot as you say the “one two” ….and you will be tapping the pulse of the music.

Now maintaining that pulse try to sing the first 4 notes of the bass line, one on every tap so that they are evenly spaced and predictable. If you are doing this correctly you will feel how the bass line’s power effect has been reduced by the predictability. It is the 1st notes’ reluctance to move to note 2 and it’s sudden rhythmic acceleration to note 3 which makes the ascendant shape stand out. In the example below, the first line reveals the dotted nature of the opening note, the second line removes the extended note.

The highest note, note 5, arrives on what we call a strong beat or the 1st beat in a small section of music called a bar. So there are 3 devices at work at once. Rhythmic unpredictability, and the coincidence of altitude and strong beats. These 3 combined make the first 2 bars of cantus firmus a pretty well instantly recognisable feature of the song.

Upon its repeat and to balance the ascendant, half way through it dips and plays the same letter- named notes in a lower register. 

The counterpoint to this, the other melody - is Chris Martin’s vocal which has a balancing descending contour x 3 and a rising conclusion. There are three types of motion between melodic lines. They can follow each other like shadows, one can be static whist the other moves, or they can move in opposite directions. Coldplay choose the latter. Then we need to consider the harmony. Harmonically the simple chords are played on an instrument with an indefinite sustain - an organ. So the only sense of rhythm we feel is from the 2 melodies working in opposite directions in vocal and bass. This simplicity brings out the power to verse 1. 

13” -  40”

Verse 2 changes lyric and texture - the pitch of the sustained organ is expanded into higher registers…but otherwise the musical elements are pretty well identical to verse 1.

41” - 1’ 30”. 

The other key rooting and sectional element is a prolonged pedal. A pedal is an unchanging note (heard in the organ) which remains uninfluenced by melodic events around it.

When this changes, at 1’ 09” punctuated by the arrival of a piano, the effect is dramatic. We are aware musically that the song has moved into another gear. 

If you listen to the melismatic vocal harmonies of “guide: and “nite” from the word ‘ignite’, you will hear the continued melodic descent twice. This is arrested at the word “try” at 1’ 27” where a harmonic device known as suspension propels the music forward. 

A suspension can best be explained as a note which is comfortable in its surroundings, but then its environment is changed and it feels ill at ease until it too moves sometime later. Imagine a chef in a hotel in his hat and apron. He looks completely at home with the pots and pans. Bu if he exits through the wrong door and finds himself in the hotel’s sauna..he will look odd, until he changes into a bathrobe and the once again he will look at ease with his surroundings. It’s a distant but fitting way to regard  suspensions,  This piano suspension lasts for 2” from 1’27” to 1’ 29” so you can’t miss it. 

When we tap to foot as we listen along to a song, most likely we are tapping what is called ‘the pulse’ of the music. In ‘Fix You’ this pulse occurs 68 times a minute and is represented in the illustration below as a note with stick pointing downwards. 

Once a composer has set up a pulse in the listener’s mind (think of it perhaps as the frame of a picture) the writer can place sounds exactly where the pulse arrives - such as the very final upward pointing red note in the example. Its vertical alignment with the pulse underneath tells us that they arrive at the same time. But look at the black note before the red note and see how it occurs in between the pulses. This is an offbeat’ it’s a space where nothing audibly is happening - and spaces can be filled. Listen to the piano at 1’ 30” - 1’ 36”. 

Verse 3’s main development is the arrival of an acoustic guitar and one of the characteristic features of Chris Martin’s playing is in the use of open strings which act as harmonic rooting device. Composers long ago realised that if a fundamental note is sustained, then either above or below it can be written more discordant harmonies. 

Here is a very clear example from Lutloslwski’s ‘Concerto for Orchestra.’ A sustained ‘F sharp’ note, supported by a repeated hammering of the same note on a timpani, holds the music down harmonically, so that other players can take flight.

The guitarist enjoys a similar device and it’s easy to do, because it means fewer strings have to be held down by the fretting hand. 

Thereafter, the addition of drums and electric guitar constitute the textural developments and climax of the song. Repeated electric guitar notes raise the temperature to a climax, over what is a simple harmonic structure.The song is built on a scale which starts on E flat (Eb - musicians write and it covers the following 8 notes:

Eb, F, G, Ab B, C, D Eb.

It is possible to build a chord on each of these 8 notes and we call them chord I, chord II, chord III, and so on. Many popular songs hover around just a few chords, typically i, IV, V and VI.

Coldplay follow suit.

The climatic chord sequence uses:

I,     IV,   I,   V,    VI,   IV,   I,   V.

Eb, Ab, Eb, Bb, Cm,   Ab, Eb, Bb.

There is a unifying parallel between those open guitar pedal notes and the repeated notes of the electric guitar riff. Both instruments focus on the primary key note of the song ‘Eb’ and the second most important note (5 notes higher) called ‘Bb’, ( At 2’ 26”.) 

Perhaps over-riding this all is the healing and supportive message which the lyric conveys. In all fine songs, we can find a mutual dependance affecting the words and the music. This is a good example - it’s difficult to think of the melody without the lyric, and vice versa. 

No comments:

Post a Comment