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Mr. B. Explains Why I Have More Than a Feeling (updated 9/4)

I relay a brief correspondence between myself and Mr. B.

Note to readers: Mr. B. is an extraordinarily talented, conservatory-trained musician. We are also in a thriving record exchange club together. At present, the club has two members.

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Mr. B.,

Musical question.

In the song aforementioned, there is a phenomenon which I was hoping you could help me to understand. There are several points in the song where the notes begin to get really high, and then, just before the final resolve, it holds, holds, holds, and then the guitar (or voice) finally jumps up and hits that elusive note. And when it finally happens, it's like something is physically touched inside my brain, and all is right again with the world.

Note the video at: :38 1:45 2:26 3:37

Does this have a name?

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Mr. B's Response:

Well, all four of these things are slightly different, but the third one is very different than the rest. The third one DOES have a name. It's called 4-5 suspension. I can explain to you what that means if you'd like, but I'd rather do so with my face than with my fingers. The first, second, and fourth ones are part of a rather extended modulation from D major (which the verses are in) and G major (which the pre-choruses are in). The musical phrase/cadence itself does not have a name, but the modulation does utilize what's called a "pivot chord," which, again, if you want an explanation of it, I'd be happy to do, but I'd prefer to do so with my face as opposed to my fingers.

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In a subsequent conversation (directed from his face unto mine, and standing beneath the strange light of the solar eclipse), Mr. B. did further elaborate that a 4-3 suspension usually resolves by dropping down by a half-step (I think), but that the 4-5 suspension catches the ear off-guard by resolving upward by a whole step. Apparently, this is rather uncommon, though not unheard of, in the musical cannon.

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Regrettably, at no time did Mr. B. address the psychological satisfaction that happens in my brain when all this happens. Why does my brain think that hearing him hit that last high note is the bee’s knees? It’s like hitting the dopamine drip button.

The only other time I can think of where that has happened is in a few Guns and Roses songs, especially Sweet Child of Mine. And maybe a bit in REO Speedwagon’s Take It On the Run, but with a lot less intensity.

If he follows up, I’ll update this post to include his comment.

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Mr. B's Response:

I think it is incredibly musically satisfying for at least three reasons:

1) Rhythmic contrast. In the seconds leading up to the big lead guitar riff which coincides with the drum set's crash cymbal hit, electric bass entrance, etc., the "groove" drops out completely. Earlier in the verse, there was a drum set providing consistent rhythm, the melodic rhythm of the singer... but all that almost completely goes away for a solid 3 seconds, and it's just this rhythmically stagnant moment which contrasts both with what came before, and what will soon come.

2) Counterpoint between melody and bass. I'm going to make a BIG musical generalization here, but all things being equal, parallel motion (when the notes go the same direction) between melodies and bass lines tend to sound more gentle, and contrary motion (when the notes go the opposite direction) tend to sound more powerful. And the most powerful of all is when the melody goes high as the bass goes low. It makes sense that it would sound powerful, because the expanse between the range of the two parts is growing larger and larger. Right at that moment, the singer's voice is going higher and higher (F#-G-A-B) and then the guitar comes in on the logical next note, C... but the bass is going, albeit at a slightly different rhythm, lower and lower (D, C, B) and then lands on an A – the root of the A minor chord played right at the impact moment.

3) Not sure what to call this, so I'll call it a "chord resolution." Usually, a musical resolution means that there is one note (often in the melody, but not always) that just doesn't quite belong in the chord, and the listener feels something that's not quite right, until the note finally succumbs to peer pressure and joins all of its contemporaries in the realm of consonance. But in this particular example, the singer's note remains steadfast, and it is the chord that changes to submit to it. Think about it like being in the car with your family on a roadtrip. Five people want to go to Taco Bell, but Grandpa Earl wants to go to Panda Express. But he's so convincing, or so stubborn, or so whatever, that eventually everyone just gives in and goes to Panda Express to make him happy. That's basically what's happening here, except Grandpa Earl is the lead singer of Boston, and he's on a roadtrip with all the other notes of the chord. This kind of thing may have a name, but if it does, I do not know it, so I call it a "chord resolution" here simply because the chord does the resolving, not the (melodic) note.

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Mr. B. went on to indicate that "this kind of thing works better explained in person, rather than written out... especially if I were able to play it for you at a piano." I hope to take him up on this. I think it would be really cool to have audio files - or maybe videos? - of Mr. B. playing, and perhaps also talking through these ideas. I wonder if he's game?

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