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Protected: You Don’t Understand Me by Roxette: Form, Chords, and Scales

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You Don’t Understand Me: Il gioiello dei Roxette

You Don’t Understand Me dei Roxette (cioè Per Gessle e Marie Fredriksson) è per me un pezzo molto speciale. Uscì nel 1995, ma io lo ascoltai per la prima volta verso il 2009, in un periodo in cui non toccavo uno strumento da tempo e non ascoltavo più tanta musica.

Avevo amato la musica intensamente, e avevo anche provato a fare il musicista, con un certa soddisfazione. Ma negli ultimi dieci anni erano cambiate tante cose. Avevo continuato a fare musica saltuariamente, ma la mia mente aveva smesso di trovare passione e conforto nei suoni. Da ragione di vita, la musica era diventata un gioco.

Non mi ricordo bene come mi imbattei in You Don’t Understand Me. Però, quando penso a questo pezzo, penso anche immediatamente alle immagini del video. Perciò è possibile che io l’abbia incontrato un po’ per caso ‘passeggiando’ su YouTube.

In ogni caso, rimasi molto colpito. Conoscevo i Roxette, ma la loro musica non mi aveva mai catturato in maniera particolare. Voglio dire, avevano fatto alcune hit (The Look, It Must Have Been Love, Listen To Your Heart) che consideravo ottimi prodotti di artigianato musicale. Però la scintilla non si era mai accesa. Fino a che ho scoperto You Don’t Understand Me!

Secondo me, è un capolavoro, per tre motivi:

1. L’arrangiamento è perfetto.

Non c’è un suono sbagliato. Forse questa affermazione ti potrà sorprendere. Dopotutto come si fa a stabilire che cosa è giusto e che cosa è sbagliato in musica? Ci hanno provato per millenni, senza arrivare a una conclusione sufficientemente condivisa.

Eppure, esiste una dimensione in cui la musica è più aperta al giudizio oggettivo: è la dimensione dell’abilità artigianale che menzionavo prima. Ecco, da questo punto di vista You Don’t Understand Me non ha sbavature. Ogni nota è perfettamente al suo posto e, mentre ascolti, non fai nessuna fatica ad accettare il flusso sonoro, mano a mano che si sviluppa.

2. Il pezzo è ben bilanciato intorno al ritornello.

Ci sono tante canzoni che hanno un grande ritornello, ma una strofa debole. In questi casi, non vediamo l’ora di ascoltare il ritornello, appunto. Ma ci sono anche pezzi che partono bene e che poi si afflosciano sul ritornello.

You Don’t Understand Me non ha nessuno di questi problemi, e anzi si caratterizza per un eccellente equilibrio delle parti. Per comprendere meglio, vediamo insieme la forma del pezzo, per come mi appare:

Intro, A, B, C*, A, B, C*, D, C*, C*, Outro

La strofa A trapassa senza intoppi nel ‘bridge’ B, che si lega bene all’intenso ritornello C*. Dopo una ripetizione, segue l’interludio D: una trasposizione dell’Intro che stabilisce un legame diverso con il ritornello successivo. Questo si ripete, prima di sfociare in modo piuttosto naturale in una conclusione semplice e ariosa (Outro).

C* è dunque il ‘luogo’ verso cui tendono B, D, e indirettamente anche A. Ma è anche il climax del pezzo, perché nessuna altra sezione lo supera in intensità.

3. La linea vocale è magistrale.

Nelle hit di fine anni ’80, la voce di Marie Fredriksson esprimeva solidità e professionalità. You Don’t Understand Me svela anche un fantastico controllo dell’espressività. Il profilo della melodia è già molto piacevole, ma è il gusto interpretativo di Marie a fare la differenza, specialmente in termini di dinamiche.

 

Gli accordi sono quasi tutti triadi, e il pezzo si muove attraverso tre centri armonici principali. (Pubblicherò presto un’analisi tecnica con i dettagli.)

Mentre scrivevo questo post ho scoperto una cosa molto importante. You Don’t Understand Me fu il primo pezzo dei Roxette scritto insieme a qualcuno che non era del gruppo. E il coautore, insieme a Per, è niente meno che Desmond Child.

Forse questo nome non ti dirà niente, ma certamente conoscerai alcune delle hit che ha co-composto: I Was Made for Lovin’ You (Kiss), You Give Love a Bad Name, Livin’ on a Prayer, Bad Medicine (Bon Jovi), Dude (Looks Like a Lady), Angel, Crazy (Aerosmith), Livin’ la Vida Loca (Ricky Martin). In effetti, è stato solo nel 2016 (!) che i Roxette hanno scritto di nuovo musica insieme a qualcun altro.

Adesso mi chiedo: sarà una coincidenza oppure ho notato il pezzo proprio perché ho ‘riconosciuto’ la mano di un maestro? Be’, intanto lo riascolto con piacere (anche il video è molto bello): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcxFiVL_A4g

 

desmond child
Desmond Child, co-autore di You Don’t Understand Me
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What a music mode really is

Many musicians, at any level, have problems understanding modes. I first encountered modes about 30 years ago, in a small book of music theory. I could not really understand the point. A mode just seemed a pointless complication. My problem then was the same problem shared by many people today: if, for example, D Dorian is made of D E F G A B C, then how can it be something really different from C major? C major and D Dorian share the same notes. What’s the point of using two different names to indicate the same set of notes?

The question is all but silly. At the same time, it implies a superficial understanding of both music theory and practice. Such superficiality can be due to inexperience or prejudice, or both. Indeed, modes are too often misunderstood not only by beginners, but also by intermediate and advanced musicians. And that’s a serious problem, because 90% of music today is made by using modes! Therefore, if you don’t understand modes, then you are not going to understand contemporary music, not to talk of making music in a contemporary fashion. In this short article I will try to do my best to explain what modes really are and how they can be, and indeed should be, used.

1. Modes are scales

People often ask, “How is a mode different from a scale?” In a sense, it is not. Modes are just scales. So, what is a scale?

You really don’t need more than this: A scale is a set of notes.

How many notes? My answer is: at least three and at most infinite.

Why three? Because two notes are just an interval. (More on this later.)

“Are you saying that you consider a three-note formation as a scale?” Exactly. “But, notoriously, three notes form a chord, not a scale!” Wrong: three notes form a chord, yes; but a chord can also be a scale. “What?” Just what I said. I will come back to that soon. Now, let’s move on.

The next question is, why infinite? Because you can divide the octave into as many parts as you want.

In practice, common scales in Western music have between five and twelve notes. Thirteen-note scales or longer must imply intervals smaller than the semitone, and this is just not standard. It can be done, it has been done, but it’s not what musicians generally do. Therefore, we can reasonably consider scales as having in real practice a maximum of twelve notes.

As to scales with less than five notes and more than two, here’s my argument.

What is a chord? Do you think you have an answer? Then provide one, and take note of it.

Let’s first consider a different, simpler question: Are twelve-note chords possible?

Of course they are!

Then answer this: How can you distinguish a twelve-note scale from a twelve-note chord? Easy: you cannot.

So why should you be able to distinguish a three-note chord from a three-note scale? Simple: you cannot.

What is a chord? A set of notes. (Confront this answer with your answer.)

Confused? Too much traditional music theory. Keep your mind open an go on.

Let’s summarize:

1. A mode is a scale

2. Scales can have between three and twelve notes.

3. Chords and scales are the same thing (sets of notes).

These are our assumptions.

If you are wondering why an interval (two notes) is not a scale, then just think about this: there’s no need to consider an interval as a scale, because it already has a name (interval!). On the other hand, since chords and scales are the same thing, a three-note formation is necessarily both a chord and a scale.

2. Modes are chords

It follows from our assumptions: if a scale is a chord, and a mode is a scale, then a mode is a chord.

If you are thinking, “This is not what traditional music theory says!”, then my answer is: who cares! Use your own understanding, and you will find that traditional music theory is often very idiosyncratic. I believe that you definitely should study as much traditional music theory as you can. But don’t consider it as the only truth. Rather, its truth is just historical and conventional, and not necessarily also rational.

Since we cannot distinguish a chord from a scale, and since a mode is basically just a scale, then, of course, a mode is basically also just a chord.

3. Modes are inversions

That’s the key to understand modes. They are just inversions of sets of notes (chord/scales).

Not convinced?

What is the difference between D E F G A B C as a scale and D E F G A B C as a chord? None!

What is the difference between the scale/chord D E F G A B C and the scale/chord C D E F G A B? The inversion!

They are the same set of notes, but each having a different starting point, or a different root. Whether you consider these formations harmonically or melodically, whenever you make music with them, there is only one difference: the tone representing the center of attraction, and that tone is the root.

The root is all-important. It’s what gives a set of notes its character, its color, its sense in a context. All the other notes in the formation acquire a sense by how they sound relative to the root.

You might be thinking, “But a bass tone is not the same thing as a root!” Right and wrong. Right, according to music theory. Wrong, according to music practice!

When you play or listen, the bass is the center of attraction, and therefore it’s the real root. Music colors emerge from the bottom. The bass is the foundation of both harmony and melody, hence the real root. Who cares about the theoretical root? Variety in music is given by real roots, i.e., by notes at the bass. You should know what a theoretical root is. But, if it’s all that you know, then you miss the main point of producing music colors.

At the piano, play a C major triad with your right hand and a C at the bass with your left hand. C is both the theoretical and the practical root of your music. Now play the same triad with your right hand and an E at the bass with your left hand. Now C is the theoretical root, but E is the real, practical root of your music. The sound you are making is deeply determined by that E at the bass, because that’s the only difference with the previous case.

Play a C major scale against a C at the bass. Your are sounding Ionian. Now play the same scale but against a D at the bass. You are now sounding Dorian. What’s the difference? The bass tone, the center of attraction and the major source of sense of your music: its real root.

Play just a melody (no accompaniment) made out of the notes C D E F G A B but play D much more often than the other notes and also make sure that your lowest note is a D. Your music is very likely going to sound in D Dorian. D is the root.

Remember: chords and scales are the same thing; modes are their inversions.

But also don’t forget to study your traditional music theory. Only, please learn how to use it.