Music theorists: What makes this song so compelling?
December 27, 2012 5:33 PM   Subscribe

Could anyone break this song down for me from a music theory perspective?

(It's an animatronic version of the Frog Round). I find that I always want to listen to it over and over again, and I wanted to find out what made it so compelling musically. I know that it's a round (obviously), but can anyone tell me anything else about it in terms of its musical structure?
posted by mermily to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
When composing a round, there is usually the sense of a musical melody #1, followed by #2, such that they interlock harmonically. Here there is #3 and #4 for four respectively interlocking themes, that are sequenced together to make the totality of the round's melody. In this case the composer has taken a straightforward route by alternating a scale-run theme with a sustained one-note chorale theme. The upwards scale-run sticks out in each of the voice's entries. The sustains don't add much, but nor do they distract. So it's not the kind of round that involves intricate inter-leavings and compositional complexities that can only be deciphered with the score in hand. It's a simple execution of the round form that let's you enjoy a round per se, the next logical step from "Row, row, row your boat." There are many compositions in this form that are intellectually rarefied musical parlor tricks, meant for showing off.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:57 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The thing that jumped out at me is something that's called a "sequence" in classical counterpoint. The same little melodic gesture is repeated, but starting on a different note each time. This comes out most clearly here in the bit that goes
When he sit he stand (almost)
When he walk he fly (almost)
When he talk he cry (almost)
Each line in that group of lines is sung to the same little rising melodic gesture ("low, middle, high high high high high"), but each time the gesture repeats, it starts a note higher than the last one.
posted by and so but then, we at 5:59 PM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't really find this very compelling, so it's a little hard for me to explain why someone else does... As StickyCarpet points out, all rounds pretty much run in place from a melodic and harmonic standpoint, sort of by definition. Because of the E-F-G-A sequence that and so but then, we notes, there's an infinite-staircase effect going on where it sounds like it's perpetually climbing. Maybe that accounts for the reaction you have; it's like a constantly withheld reward and you keep on waiting to be given it but you never are.
posted by dfan at 7:11 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's very consonant — every note is in the key. And there's no real chord progression — it's all about melody. The multiple overlapping melodies create a sense of energy and excitement, but at the same time, the whole piece is quite minimalistic.
posted by John Cohen at 10:28 PM on December 27, 2012

The harmonic progression (tonic, tonic first inversion, subdominant root, tonic second inversion, subdominant first inversion and then no cadence but just a start over) somehow sounds soothing, but (literally) unresolved. One keeps listening to find out how the end sounds like.

Then there's the fact that some of the changing notes actually don't fit the harmony at all. They add some very quickly passing dissonant sparkle here and there, triggering a faint "hey what was that?" in the back of the mind that's directly washed away by more C-major and F-major frogginess.

Also, one tends to like frogs.
posted by Namlit at 5:06 AM on December 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ditto to what others have said – the other thing that strikes me is that, at least with simple rounds that we all might sing together (like Row Row Row Your Boat), you'll often only have two registers (the men starting lower and women starting higher). This recording uses the "animatronic"/vocoder effect to generate four voices, each an octave apart.

As a result, there's a little more variety and interest in the textures that arise; we hear that scale figure, for instance, in four registers each cycle, rather than two and then the same two again.
posted by Zephyrial at 7:51 AM on December 28, 2012

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