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Analyzing great progressions is not just an academic exercise- it's a way to introduce new movements and musical effects to your composition lexicon. In this video, we're taking a look at Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man", which is in the key of C Major and uses all of the garden variety diatonic chords in the key (save B diminished). In addition, it uses several borrowed chords and/or secondary dominants, and is structured in a way to really get as much juice out of the C Major/A Minor tonality as possible.
A few things to note- Pop music is not classical music. And pop can not always be described in traditional terms like Roman Numeral analysis easily. However I think it's worth a try, and I've made some less-than-popular notations that are worth explaining. I name a Csus2/B and notate it as Isus2/7, which is to imply it's the Tonic Chord (I) and it's sus2, but it's over the 7th tone of the key (B).
During that part of the video I keep calling it a C but it's really a Csus2. You can also think of it as a Gadd11/B, then it would be a V chord. One other option there for that one chord would be an Emb6, it should provide a similar "slide" from the Am to the C.
Chords of Major: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8eIt...
Borrowed Chords: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Idtt...
Secondary Dominants: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=py4Ha...
Minor Plagal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEadI...
Please note, this transcription was computer generated and has not been checked for errors. However, I do hope you find it helpful. Be sure to check out The Ultimate Modal Poster!
Every now and then you'll come across a chord progression. That is so well constructed you'd sell a body part just to have written it yourself, but fortunately I found out you don't have to cut off body parts just to write good chord progressions.
One thing I like to do is take those perfect progressions that I found spend a little bit of time analyzing them try to figure out what makes them tick what makes them work how they're affecting your mood when you hear them and how they relate to the theory that you already know and then if you've done this you kind of have some new tricks up your sleeve. Hopefully some new ideas that kind of give you that sound that you were so attracted to when you first heard that chord progression, So in this video, what I want to do is really walk you through what I would consider to be a perfect chord progression and take a look at all the theory that that I kind of pay attention to when I see something like that and how it all kind of fits together. So this is really a lesson on how chords and music feel and how it relates to us. But we're also going to need a lot of music theory for this. So as I mentioned the theory involved if you ever get lost just check the description I've done videos on nearly every concept. I'm about to talk about in this video. So you should be able to check those other videos and stay up-to-date with the things I'm talking about here. The song is Bruno Mars When I Was Your Man and I The first to take a look at the centerpiece of this song which is the chorus.
It's 16 measures long. We've got four measures of for and it's in the key of C major, but I just want to play through it and sing it first. You're gonna have to bear with my singing. I'm going to drop it down an octave. So here's what it'll sound. Like. I'm just going to strum the chords and half notes and you'll see the cords up on screen. And as I do this, I kind of want you to try to put your own interpretation on it. What are you seeing here? What key are we in? What are the function of these chords where these chords come from?
I should have bought you flowers.
And so to me that is just literally a perfect set of chords and I do want you to see how it starts off in its Simplicity right? You might recognize. As this right off the bat as four five one in the key of C. We're in the key of C major and we do our sub-dominant.
We do our dominant we do our tonic for five one is like nursery rhyme stuff. This is like the oldest chord progression of the book. This is like your first day of Music Theory right four five one four five.
So there's nothing special about that nothing unique about that.
But look what we do with it. We give it to you two times. We serve it up twice. I should have got you flowers and held your hand and now again should have gave you all my hours when I had the chance. Chance so now you've been conditioned to hear it a third time and we're going to even start it off the same taking you to every party cause all you wanted was but instead of getting the tonic C major dance get that really sad a minor effect coming through. So when you're coming from that five and resolving the six you hear that is called a deceptive Cadence, but to me, it's like ee deceptive here because we've really fooled you into thinking we're going to go for five one four, five one four five. Five six and I think that really kind of adds the first part of a heartache in the chorus, right? The course has been kind of kind of light kind of lovey-dovey.
But now we finally got a little bit of darkness and what I really love is what we follow that Darkness up with just big splash of brightness to add E major which is totally out of the key. There is no D major in the key of C major.
So where did D major come from D major comes from a few different places. You can think of it. I like to think of this major to chord right if I The second note of C is D. I build a major chord off that we just call it a major to I like to think of this as being borrowed from see lydian in the sea lydian tonality. I have a C major and a deed and that D always provides a really kind of inspirational bit of brightness here for me. So that's how I see that D major coming you could also think of this D as being a secondary dominant though. We've talked about secondary dominance and D would be the dominant chord of G.
So it would pull us back to G, but we don't use it like that here what we do in this As we go from the 4 to the 5 to that six bring in that be and then that takes us to our four core.
So it's not functioning as a secondary dominant.
It's functioning as just a nice little piece of brightness a little ephemeral burst of light through this kind of murky chord progression. So like I said after that major to cord, we're following up with the major for diatonic four chord, and then we do that classical trick where we borrow the four chord from C minor instead. So another borrowed Court here in the key of C. Minor we have enough mind and that's the four chord in c minor and this is the most like this is another huge cliche.
If you're in the key of C, what are your four chord and you borrow and it gives you that heartbreaking a little effect. I did a video just on that one chord progression the minor plagal change. So if you put it together, you got your four five one, four, five one, four, five six to that to the brightness to the 4 and then you let them down and then you get And I think that is just brilliantly constructed. Now, let's talk about this verse section. There's a lot of cool stuff going on here and we're still in the key signature of C major, but our tonality is a little bit more ambiguous.
Now C major really doesn't always feel like home in this case our relative minor which is a minor starts kind of competing for our tonal Center and this gives us this kind of in between effect of major and minor. It doesn't really sound happy and bright like major and it does start are encroaching upon that darker minor feel so it starts off on An A minor chord, it sounds something like this same bed, but it feels just a awesome.
So you can hear there we started on an A Minor and then we have instantly got to our tonic C major.
So this should feel like home base. But as soon as we got there, we slipped you right into this D minor and that kind of keeps C major from feeling too much like home. Now when you play this G chord, you think this G is going to pull us back to see right? That's the dominant chord should take us back to see and it does it lands us there. But as soon as we get there, we start slipping away right back to land into that a minor home base instead. So what we're doing there's we've got the C major. And then if you just put the leading tone on the base if we just play a C over B, you get this chord, which is very similar to a g over B.
Here's a g over B.
And here's what I'm doing is basically a c over B.
It's got the same effect of taking you to a minor.
So starting on the tonic playing the tonic over the leading tone takes you to the 6 quart the variation you often see on this is to take your tonic then to play your five chord and just invert it and then go to your six. Gordon nice little way to bridge that Gap into a minor.
So we've done that as soon as we got back to the tonic awesome and just takes us right back to land into a minor to keep things kind of out of our grass rights major kind of just feels like it's always just a little bit Out Of Reach. We don't ever get to stay there long enough to feel secure their so that's why I feel like this verse has kind of that really kind of murrow's somber attitude to it. I don't really want to call it. Minor and I really don't want to call it C major even though that's clearly the key signature. I feel the tonality is just a little bit wishy-washy here. Now that chord progression happens twice and the second time as you slide into that a minor you end up staying on a minor for an extra measure to really darken things up and then the darkest forward for the first time that E minor that's the diatonic 3 the media cord and it really to me puts the black clouds Over the Horizon right there in that moment. You've also got some falsetto singing some choose with Reverb. I think that helps kind of darken up this moment just a little bit that minor chord.
So we've got an A Minor to our E minor and then here's the real Joy Court. You're the real magic trick chord we go straight to a B-flat major and it takes you to a g suspended to go back to G. So where the heck did be flap come from right? That's a tritone away. E here's E minor and we jumped up a tritone to get to be flat and that's a very disruptive chord, but I absolutely love the effect here in the song. It's this very quick little inspirational moment and you can feel a little bit of Hope a little bit of optimism.
And the way I see the function of this B flat is coming from C mixolydian in the key of C. Major Crimes are in the key of F major which would be the same thing as C mixolydian.
We have this B flat right so in scenic Olivia and I can go see That's that's a pretty common thing to do is to borrow the flat seven major chord and in my opinion, that's really just the only function here where it's not a tritone substitution.
It's just a really good usage of a disruptive and surprise borrowed cord that can take us to our five chord our dominant chord to take you to see but they don't take you to see remember the course starts on F.
So it kind of takes us a little while to get to our tonic in C. So just more delayed gratification through the use of these chords. Now there's a nice little Bridge section in this song as well. And we start off on the four chord Bridges. A lot of times don't start on the tonic chord, they'll start on something like, you know something other than the one or the six and that way it kind of prepares you for this long journey to get back to one of those tonics. So we've got a thing for two measures and then we've got this G for two measures and then we got a classic old walk down with Darcy and then we'll do our G over B, and then we'll do an A Minor and then we'll do a G major so you can see the base just walks down.
And that usually kind of gets you ready for an F. But they were going to play a trick on you hear they're going to do this G / be a minor G. They bring in that borrow 2 chord huge flash of brightness.
And then this is what's really mind-boggling to me following that right up afterwards with a D Minor 7.
So we went from a D major to a D Minor 7 and that's going to take us to our five chord again, too.
Help us go to our final course to me. It's very strange to see major and minor chords right next to each other like that. That aren't in the four position. You see it a lot in the four chord. We already saw it, right. We went from F major to F minor but here we're off of the 2 position in the key of C major all of a sudden you see a D major and a D Minor D Minor 7. I find pretty strange.
So I actually kind of think of this D Minor 7 as just being an F over D to me that makes more logical sense. I don't really care what you call it. And I don't know if I'm missing something on the functionality.
This but to me, it feels like a 4 Chord the 2 chord is D Minor 7 includes a lot of the notes of my f so, I'm really thinking of this me person. I'm thinking that is borrowing the two and then go into a for with d on the base to take me to my five that to me functions more traditionally than taking a to court that's major and then taking it to pour this all of a sudden minor and then going to the 5 even though that totally works fine. You can think of it either way. Now this last course provides some really great contrast to our previous course. Has the melody slightly changes the lyrics slightly change and the chords slightly change. So now when this D comes up, he's singing. These are all the things.
I normally we end there but we can print in that D again to kind of cool us off again to bring it in. These are all the things I should When I was your man, so you give him the double ending like that by bringing in that surprise to again to once again resolve to that F to the F minor and then back to C and the last thing we have to talk about the song is the intro which I find really funny remember that weird thing I told you about D major to D Minor 7 to see well that's basically the intro the weirdest thing in my opinion in the song they put right at the beginning of the song it starts off with a D7 and then an F over a d and then to C major And that again d 7 F over D and then C major and you can hear this little chromatic says and that's what gives it its interest. You've got this F sharp. You've got an F natural and then you've got a nanny coincidentally that's also kind of very similar to what we're hearing when we play F major to F minor to C major there were getting an a natural and a flap to a g.
So they almost function the same right? Listen. Here's D7 D Minor 7 C major to me. That's Almost a cousin to F major F minor F major F minor C. So hopefully this isn't too weird for you. I know I put a lot of subjective, you know adjectives on the way. I hear these things in describe these things but it's the only way I can teach this stuff is how it relates to me. And you know, I really encourage you to put your own assignments to these things. If I say something's bright and you hear it more as surprising then definitely use that word because that's how you're hearing it. But the important thing is to start really labeling the emotions that you're hearing and Link them to the Music theory you have because now I can I can kind of pull these tricks back up. I can say hey and that Bruno Mars song every time I heard that major to chord I really got like a sense of optimism a sense of something good might happen.
Now in this case, they took it away from you immediately. They give you some optimism they pull it away from you to give you that kind of, you know, mournful Love Song in this case, but I know now that hey anytime I want to bring in some brightness and some some optimism I can bring in that major to cord and I can go several ways with him. I could treat like a secondary dominant resolve it. To its parent cord or I could just treat it like a borrowed cord and kind of go anywhere with it as long as it works. As long as I like the way it sounds also a thing that I think is worth learning from this song specifically is that tonal ambiguity, right? We're in the key of C major, but our verse doesn't start on C major. Our chorus doesn't start on C major our Bridge doesn't speak started C major but there's meant there's moments in the song where C major feels like home base. And then we've got a lot of kind of confusion there where a minor starts, you know doubling as our home base as well and the effect that gives us is a lie. Lack of a happy bright major tonal Center, we start kind of, you know going in between worlds there. And I think that's a good composition lesson to learn as you know, things are sounding too much in One Direction try to conceal your tonic try to try to take away the value that your tonic has and try to you know, denigrate your tonic and it might start, you know, creating a little bit little, you know, tastes of those other modes. And the last thing I think is worth saying here on this song specifically is that it's just Bruno and a piano. That's it. It's pretty hard to write a hit song with 700.
Views on YouTube that is just two instruments, you know, a lot of times you need support you need bass players you need guitarist. You need drums. This is just very bare and I think what supports so well is this perfect chord progression?
Obviously, you've got an amazing singer with Bruno Mars the structure of the song I think is Flawless. It's got everything where it needs to be. It's got all the cliches. I love and none of them are overdone.
So I don't really I can't say a bad thing about this song to me. This is the fun thing about music theory, you know, we spent all this time learning about scales and modes and secondary dominance of chords.
Well like, This is why we've learned at all is so we can better understand the music we enjoy and we can better write music that we enjoy we can take these things and apply them. So this is a new kind of video for this Channel and I haven't done anything like this before but it definitely builds off of all of the knowledge that we have developed before. So if you like this video and if this is the kind of video you'd like to see more of just let me know in the comments and I can do more of these going forward in the future. Thank you to all of my patreon subscribers for making this video possible and I will see you guys next time.