[Smt-talk] Queen's Harmonic Technique

Ildar Khannanov solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 10 16:58:46 PDT 2013

Dear Nick,
this progression has three distinct tonal-harmonic functions. The first chord represents Tonic (when you are listening to it, nothing predicts any development). The second chord and the fourth present a full functional cycle in the key of Subdominant, something which jazz folks call 2-5-1, that is, the Subdominant and Dominant in IV. You can add the basses C-G-C-F  and you will see what this progression actually means.
The third chord is truly a couple of chromatic passing tones (although, if you analyze them aurally deeper, they also have harmonic functions). I doubt that this progression presents a "prolongation of the dominant."
Ildar Khannanov
Peabody Conservatory
solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
--- On Wed, 4/10/13, Nick Braae <braae.nick at gmail.com> wrote:

From: Nick Braae <braae.nick at gmail.com>
Subject: [Smt-talk] Queen's Harmonic Technique
To: Smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Date: Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 3:41 PM

Hi all,

I am carrying out some extensive analysis of British rock band Queen's music for my PhD. In a number of Freddie Mercury-penned songs, he employs a particular harmonic device/cliche, in which one note of the chord (usually the root or flat-seventh) acts as a pedal and two other voices ascend stepwise through a major third with a chromatic passing note. In C major, it would be something like this:

Upper Voice:   C C  C C 
Middle Voice: E F Gb G
Lower Voice: C D Eb E, resolving (probably) to F major.

>From a theoretical perspective, it's simple voice-leading with a chromatic passing note, and it can evidently be voiced differently (as Freddie did throughout Bohemian Rhapsody or as ABBA do in So Long, for example). But I wonder whether anybody knows the stylistic origins of this particular voicing (i.e. pedal note as the top voice)? I have a sense of it being a barbershop, or ragtime, or vaudeville piano technique, but if anyone had come across this before in older popular contexts, I would be delighted to hear about it (you can reply to the list, or to me directly at braae.nick at gmail.com).
Thanks very much,


Nick Braae

PhD Candidate
University of Waikato
New Zealand
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