Your favorite key change sucks?
September 24, 2019 10:06 AM   Subscribe

In a review of Taylor Swift's new record, one review referred to a key change in the song "Paper Rings" as "hammy". Why is this key change considered hammy?
posted by ersatzkat to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Probably related to the "Truck Driver's Gear Change":
The term Truck Driver's Gear Change was apparently coined by this site, which compares the technique to a tired, overworked truck driver performing an unartistic, mechanical function. It's becoming something of a Discredited Trope these days, although it still shows up with some frequency in certain genres.

The Truck Driver's Gear Change is most often associated with uplifting ballads.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:24 AM on September 24, 2019 [8 favorites]


Modulating up one step near the end of a song with very little harmonic preparation is a very old and very common technique, which is so hackneyed by now that doing it these days is often done with sort of a virtual eye wink. I note that the review did call it "lovingly hammy".
posted by dfan at 10:28 AM on September 24, 2019 [12 favorites]


My first thought was the end of Barry Manilow's "Mandy." A lot of songs use a late key change to set up a big showy finish.
posted by cross_impact at 10:52 AM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


Oh yeah, hammy is a good way to describe what's happening here. The song is only halfway through and the producer is like, I have an idea, let's start performing CPR on it!
posted by oxisos at 11:21 AM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


Modulating to a new key which is only one or two semitones higher is quite common in pop music and its pervasiveness and unoriginality make it a cliché, especially when the song incorporates a brief pause or silence right before the change. The reason I say it's unoriginal is because it's the simplest way to change keys. There's no chord changes that lead you into a new key, it's just a abrupt difference (which, to be fair, is kind of the whole point of this kind of change--the sudden surprise).

Here are some videos that give you some context of this type of change compared with other modulation techniques:

This video calls it the "the Disney key change."

4 Inventive Key Changes in Pop Music

Intro to Modulations and Key Changes
posted by Quiscale at 11:34 AM on September 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


I associate this strongly with church/gospel, but I'm not sure whether it started there or in pop music.
posted by clawsoon at 12:25 PM on September 24, 2019


...to the extent that this thread asks whether gospel music is the only music that modulates.
posted by clawsoon at 12:27 PM on September 24, 2019


Because it’s like really? You had no other creative options in the final 1/4 of the song but a key change? Really?? Cmon try harder.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:40 PM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


Why is this key change considered hammy?

Mostly, I think, because of what cross_impact mentions: "use a late key change to set up a big showy finish." Where it's a way to supposedly build excitement in a song without actually putting much effort into the composition or arrangement.

I think there's also a sort of cultural aspect to assessing this kind of key change as "hammy", where it got used pretty often in Broadway/musical theater songs, and especially in pop covers/arrangements of those songs. And once rock and roll showed up, especially post-Beatles/Rolling Stones, those kind of songs and singers were Not Cool. So there's a sort of generational element where this kind of key change is associated more with Tom Jones than Jimi Hendrix.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:11 PM on September 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


And also (speaking from personal experience here, having sat through umpteen thousand music performances) often the only reason for that key change is to showcase the singer's range. Part of the "big showy finish" is giving the singer a chance to hold a looooooong high note right at the top of their comfort zone, which generates all sorts of oohs and aahs and applause.

It's a way for the singer to basically go "LOOK AT MEEEEEEEEEE!!!" without actually putting in the effort to sing the entire song in the higher key. Which is, like, the very definition of "hamming it up."
posted by soundguy99 at 1:19 PM on September 24, 2019 [8 favorites]


My first thought was the end of Barry Manilow's "Mandy." A lot of songs use a late key change to set up a big showy finish.

a.k.a. every Barry Manilow song ever. My personal hammy key-change favorite is this one - dramatic drum lead-in much?
posted by Mchelly at 1:27 PM on September 24, 2019 [4 favorites]




I read somewhere that instead of doing the key change, the song should end. I can't agree more with that.
posted by ashbury at 8:43 PM on September 24, 2019


These are useful answers, thanks - I hadn't considered the "overused" angle at all.
posted by ersatzkat at 9:16 AM on September 25, 2019


Yep, I personally call this the Celine Dion key change. If she's not hammy, I don't know who is.
posted by nosila at 11:50 AM on September 25, 2019


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