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GMH discusses anime/J-pop songs and other music from a music theory perspective

in Media
Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
Let's put all my ramblings about this stuff into one place.

Note: I'm particularly interested in issues of harmony and tonality, so these will be focuses of this thread. But, feel free to talk about other aspects.


  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    "Expose", from the Blue Field character song album (associated with Arpeggio of Blue Steel), is somewhat of a nightmare to analyze with regards to deciding what key it's in.

    Well, the key signature is easy enough. It's obviously in either D major or B minor. Or both I guess. The tricky question is, can it be narrowed down further than that.

    This is one of those j-pop/anime songs that seems to constantly skirt the line between the two, with frequent usage of progressions that in minor would be no-leading-tone authentic cadences but in major would be deceptive cadences. (The leading-tone in this case is A#, so you're gonna see a lot of lack of that -- in other words, we've got a ton of A major chords and F# minor chords, and nearly no F# major and F#7 chords.)

    And, unlike "Oyasumi" by Little Viking, which has a similar relative-key-skirting as this song but conclusively ends on an E major chord, "Expose" does not give us this benefit.

    Let us examine the chords and the melody:


    F#min7, Bmin11-Bmin9
    F#min7, Bmin9-Bmin7

    Yeah, this is gonna keep happening. The song is built around this progression.

    One could say that this is minor v to minor i cadence in B minor. But then we have the melody.

    See, on top of this intro, we build more and more texture (we already have 7th chords up the wazoo, why not just get more of these beautiful layers of textures making up a pastel-like tonal ambiguity? I mean, we have to have them for proper trancepop anyway), and add this melody:

    B F# D B A A G F# D B
    A F# D A A A G F# D A
    B F# D B A A G F# D B
    A F# D A A D C# E D# F#

    I didn't include the different octaves the notes fall into, but this by itself sounds like B minor then D major -- both the chords (Bmin and D) and the keys by those names. Of course, the Gmaj7 chord is actually just G + Bmin anyway. And Bmin7 (which is included in Bmin9 and Bmin11) is Bmin + D.

    It can be argued that the melody is showing tendency toward a tonal center of D, but the harmonization gives it the quality of a repeated series of deceptive cadences -- i.e. cadences ending on the vi chord -- in this D major's case, Bmin.

    The first few phrases of the verse's vocal melody use this same harmonization, with the following melody:

    [Gmaj7] B C# D D D D D D D D D C# B B
    [F#min7] B C# D D D D D C# D E [Bmin7] F# G F# E D
    [Gmaj7] B C# D D D D D D D D D C# B B
    [F#min7] G F# E F# D C# D [Bmin7] E F# E F# E D

    [Gmaj7] B C# D D D D D D D D D C# B B
    [F#min7] B C# D D D D D C# D E [Bmin7] F# G F# E D
    [Gmaj7] B C# D D D D D D D D D C# B B
    [F#min7] G F# E F# D C# D [Bmin7] E F#, A G F# G (<-- these last four notes are the lead up to the next phrase)

    [Gmaj7] F#, D D A D, D A G F# G
    [F#min7] F#, D D A D [Bmin7] E F# G F#, D
    [Cmaj7] A D D D D, A [Bmin7] A, D D D D F# E
    [A 4-3] (the E is held)

    A 4-3 means we have an A D E chord resolving to an A C# E chord.

    This is the end of the verse. THIS is the big chord it arrives at -- in a proper B minor song, even if there were no-leading-tone cadences in the rest of the verse, it would be common to FINALLY put the leading tone here, such as in an F# (major) chord, or some substitute to that chord (e.g. F#4, or F# B C#). This would also clearly be a V chord of the minor key, or a variant thereof. Examples of this include Nana Mizuki's "Sacred Force", Mai Kuraki's "Time After Time", and Iori Nomizu's "Black or White". All of these songs are in B minor (well, Black or White technically starts in B phrygian) and lack F#-based chords in the verse except the very last chord that is used to lead into the refrain. (Examples abound in other keys too but it's easiest for me to point to songs in this same key.)

    But instead, we have a V chord of the major key -- an A-based chord.

    Sure, we could treat this as the subtonic chord (the VII, or sometimes called bVII) of the minor key. But...

    Well anyway, let's look at the melody of the refrain:

    F# [Gmaj7] F# F# E F# F# F# E F# G A E# D, E
    [F#min7] E E D E E E D [Bmin] D E F# E D, B C#
    [Emin7] D F# E A [F#7] A# F# E F#
    [Bmin] E D C# D E F# G [D/A] F#

    This is the first half of the refrain. The D/A is probably just the bass line going from B to A while none of the other notes move, honestly, so it's not really a separate chord.

    HOLY CRAP WE HAVE AN A#. So we have an authentic cadence in B minor, finally!...but wait, this isn't the end of the refrain. This is the middle, where music wanders before it arrives.

    What's the second half of the refrain?

    F# [Gmaj7] F# F# E F# F# F# E F# G A E# D, E
    [F#min7] E E D E E E D [Bmin] D E F# E D, E
    [Emin7] D, F# G [F#min] A D C# A A B
    [G] A, F# G A [no chord] F# E F# E E

    [Gmaj7] D (and the bridge to the next verse starts here)

    Yeah, it's not arriving at B minor. The "no chord" implies an A major chord, and is actually filled in with an A major chord in the second instance of the refrain. But it resolves the exact same way -- to a Gmaj7.

    Emin F#min G A -- i.e., ii iii IV V -- is a strong progression in the major key with a strong inclination toward D (I). But it's never resolved properly. But it is set up.

    And V to IV7 could be analyzed as a deceptive cadence in the major.

    The bridge gives no extra information other than ending itself on a Gmaj7 to A 4-3, again.

    The song ends on Gmaj7.

    So basically, this song sounds like it's not in B minor, but doesn't want to be in D major, by virtue of the fact that it just never has a clear D major chord, much less doesn't ever resolve to one in a cadence -- even though it keeps on setting up cadences toward D major chords.
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    ooh that's an interesting progression

    Am7 Bmaj7 Am7

    (from the first episode of Circlet Princess, around 4:45)
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    The OP of Bofuri is pretty interesting. The very beginning of it has the following chords:

    G#/F# (so basically G#7/F#)
    A#m/F# (so basically F#M7)

    The D to F# is meant at least somewhat cadentially, and this can be interpreted in the sense of an E D F# cadence. This is in contrast to the usual whole-step ascending major chords cadence (i need to find a better name for this) which would here be D E F#, but it's similar.

    Then, the next few chords we have are...
    ...hey, we're building up to a D E F# cadence!
    OH WAIT, YOU GOT PRANKED, that used the (flat) submediant and *subtonic* chords of F# major, D and E, as the pivot chords to a subtonic to tonic cadence in E major! Now we're in E major, and starting the verse with a 4536 progression.

    (I'm tempted to call the 4536 progression the "third-phrase progression" since it often (though nowhere near exclusively) occurs in such a position, i.e. halfway through a verse, but obviously that's not the case here, though this same progression does ALSO start the third phrase of the refrain.)

    So, later, how do we get back to F# major, for the refrain?

    Well, the verse ends with the following chords:

    A/B to B

    The bass line clearly goes F# G# A B and we end on a B chord. Pretty conventional.

    Then we get the key transition:
    half of it has no chords but just the melody D C# D E D E (doubled at the third for F# E F# G# F# G#)
    the other half of it sequences this upward and has F# E# F# G# (doubled below at the third for D# C# D# E#), over a C# chord

    And of course the song just continues in F# major as if nothing funny happened.
  • edited 2020-09-27 18:18:45
    Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    Maid Dragon's OP...

    ...starts in C mixolydian/major, has its verse at least start in E-flat mixolydian/major, then has its refrain in A-flat major.

    In between the verse and refrain, its verse temporarily goes to A-flat major/mixolydian, G-flat major, and even F-flat (E) major, at which point it settles on a dominant chord (a Cb or B chord), then does a IV to V motion (i.e. major chord moves upward by a whole step) to a Db chord, and then does it again to go to an Eb chord, which preps Ab major for the refrain.

    It is a thing, I guess.
  • edited 2020-10-06 18:14:10
    Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    the OP of Yuru Camp illustrates the use of the subtonic chord as a pivot chord.

    The intro of the song is in A major. Here are the last few chords before the verse comes in:

    A, D E A
    A, F G

    The G chord is the dominant of C major, and the verse begins in C major, on a C chord no less.

    Here are the last few chords of the entire song:

    A, D E A
    A, F G

    G is the subtonic to A.

    The subtonic to tonic cadence, while rare (and generally indicative of folk or old church/chant influence) in classical music, is quite common in modern popular styles, and can be considered a standard cadence.

    G is the pivot chord that takes the song from A major to C major. When it recurs at the end, it anticipates the pivot but doesn't do it.

    Though, an enterprising person could use that to make the song loop infinitely.
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    I'd say that Yuru Camp's soundtrack is in A major, on account of its OP, ED, and a prominently-situated track from its OST, which is both the first track in the OST and the very last track heard during the ending card of every episode.

    I'd say that Cross Ange's soundtrack is in C minor, because a variety of prominent tracks are in C minor or C-centered, including its opening insert song. Oddly, OP1 and ED2 (and OP2 if I recall correctly) are in F-sharp minor, which is the most distant minor key from C minor.
  • edited 2020-10-27 19:57:14
    Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    I wonder what other soundtracks have a "grand finale" track. Cross Ange has a GLORIOUS grand finale track. YuYuYu has a grand finale track as well, though with much more of a sense of horror (it's the track whose name is 12 stars and 5 flowers). Those are two that I can think of off the top of my head. Both of these tracks are substantially longer than the typical track length (clocking in at like 5+ minutes while stuff is usually 0 to 3 minutes long). They're also characterized by a grand sense of texture and bombast.
  • There is love everywhere, I already know
    I think ChouCho's Haiiro no Saga and Sayuri's Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Yona sound similar in some way. Thoughts?

    Also you didn't link your Giant List in here and I lost the link it would be good for everyone to be able to see it.
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    Somehow I had not yet added "black bullet" (the Black Bullet OP) to this list. Well, it's now there.
    I was wondering whether to file it under G minor or multiple keys, and eventually decided on the latter. (The verse is in B-flat minor, but everything else is in G minor.)
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    Wait, how did I not paste the list into my previous post. I specifically went to it and pasted the link!

  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    [1:23 PM] AKB48 - "Beginner"
    this song uses pivot notes to do several chromatic third modulations
    [1:23 PM] A minor -> E -> F minor
    F minor -> F, C -> A minor
    F minor -> Ab -> Ab minor
    [1:24 PM] Ab minor -> G -> F minor
    [1:25 PM] F minor -> Ab/G# -> A minor
    [1:27 PM] the E is used to imply both a V chord (Emaj chord) in A minor but then gets reworked as a V chord (Cmaj chord) in F minor
    the F,C is actually part of using an F7 chord as a transition between F minor and A minor, somehow
    [1:30 PM] the transition to Ab minor starts on a Cmaj or C7 chord, then an unaccompanied "C Ab Ab, C Ab Ab, Db Ab Ab, Db Ab Eb Gb", of which the final note is diatonic to Ab minor but not F minor, while the C's are diatonic to F minor but not Ab minor
    [1:31 PM] the Ab minor to F minor transition uses G as a pivot note between again two different dominants, Ebmaj and C7
    [1:32 PM] The transition back to A (minor) occurs literally at the very end of the song and solely uses Ab/G# as a pivot; the previous chord is a Dbmaj chord
  • edited 2020-11-17 18:56:50
    Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    That stuff intrigues/entertains me very much in this song which is part of why I really like it.

    Though, in general, I find that the AKB48 discography seems to be more to my liking than I expected.
  • There is love everywhere, I already know
    Idol music tends to trend towards classical styles because they're the easiest to duplicate over and over so the groups overall get used to them.

    Similarly with K-pop acts and really overdone EDM sounds.
  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    ...I'm not sure how that song is an example of a song showing stylistic influences of classical music, rhythmically (it a lot of offbeat emphases, 3-3-2 subdivisions, and other features common to pop), tonally (it's in F mixolydian, and mixolydian is a very rare mode in classical music), harmonically (it's got very little in the way of arriving on a V-I (or in mixolydian, v-I) cadence), or instrumentally (sounds like a rock band basically)

    Unless I'm misinterpreting your statement...?
  • There is love everywhere, I already know
    stylistic influences of classical music

    Ah, I mean classical styles in the modern sense. Rockabilly and Elvis and all that jazz (literally).
  • edited 2020-11-18 16:08:35
    Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    I see I misinterpreted it; thanks.
  • There is love everywhere, I already know
    I wasn't exactly clear either!
  • edited 2020-11-20 04:39:32
    Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human
    I've seen at least one youtube video about how to make music sound "Japanese pop"-ish, and while it does emphasize the IV-V-iii-vi progression, it neglects where this progression is used.

    In my opinion, its smoothest use occurs when it's used to introduce a second, contrasting idea, like halfway through a verse, or in the "third phrase" of a section, after you have one musical idea explored in complementary phrases or something like that. And specifically, it requires preparation that gives a good sense of the tonic, to which this progression -- which is relatively weak on sense of tonal center -- can be contrasted.

    A typical preparation that works well is a first pair of phrases that starts on and clearly establishes the key. The repetition of such a first phrase would be boring; hence the contrast with the third phrase. And typically the contrast isn't just in the harmonies, but also in the harmonic rhythm -- the first phrase probably has slower chord changes, establishing the home key sense, while the third phrase has more frequent chord changes, giving a sense of dynamism.

    You can use IV-V-iii-vi to lead off the refrain, which can work, but it requires preparation. You can also use it to lead off the entire song, or the verse, but it still sounds in medias res, and it gets particularly campy when you use it over and over again and do nothing but it.

    When I first discovered this progression, I called it the "J-pop progression", though that turned out to be a misnomer, since I think it occurs in other Asian pop styles too. Later, I renamed it the "third phrase progression", because of how I've noticed it's used.
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