I had a song stuck in my head for most of the day yesterday. In Ayreon’s Universal Migrator Part I, there is an awesome song featuring a captain with a funny name: The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq. An excellent track, yet the only part that was sticking with me was the melody that opens the track and repeats during each verse. I started talking to Tyson about why I liked it so much, and we decided I should do a breakdown of the melody. Challenge accepted!
So, here’s the situation. I’ve never taken a formal music theory course in my life. The only instrument I’ve truly studied with a teacher is the piano, and that was when I was a young boy from ages 8 to 14. I’m just a guy that loves music and music theory, and chooses to learn a little about it in my free time, reading books and analyzing sheet music that I come across. If you disagree with my analysis or opinion, that’s great! Write a comment and we can discuss it. I hope that this and (hopefully) future similar posts can serve as a place for an open dialogue about the inner, theoretical workings of the music we all love.
First, let’s take a listen to the melody I’m referring to:
It’s a pretty melody, played in the key of A minor with no accidentals. In layman’s terms, that means you can play it on your favorite keyboard or piano using only the white keys. The first, keyboard driven bass line you’ll hear uses a relatively common descending pattern of notes to enhance the melody, starting with the root (A), dropping a whole step to the seventh tone (G), and then going down half steps to Gb and then F. I can’t really tell what the acoustic guitar is doing, but you can be reasonably sure that it’s strumming along with chords that follow the bass line. Nothing special about the tempo (124 BMP) and meter (4/4), so I’m guessing what really does it for me here is the instrumentation. Whatever synth patch Arjen decided to use absolutely brings this melody to life, ebbing in and out of the mix and providing a clear, spacey tone.
Suddenly the drums come in, and the melody is repeated in more of a “rock” setting. We now have a true synth bass providing the low end for a lead guitar, which is playing the melody. I can also detect some clean guitar in the background playing broken chords that match the root notes played by the synth bass. We now have a steady chord progression playing: Am, Em, G, Dm, F. Each of the minor chords are played along with their root notes within the melody, so nothing extravagant or experimental here, and the G (7th) and F(6th) each play for two beats before being resolved (to Dm and Am, respectively). On the surface, this is simply a nice, basic melody written in A minor, but Arjen Lucassen, a master of compositional texture, breathes life and intrigue into it, giving a feeling of spacing and depth within the mix. Sit down at a piano and play that melody using the chord progression I mentioned, then listen to the song. Big difference, right? That’s the beauty of musicians in this genre using the wealth of sounds and tracks at their disposal. If I could actually hear what the guitar in the background was played, I’d probably be hearing some intelligent chord inversions that are augmenting the section.
But after much thought, I’m assigning an imaginary award for heroic musicality to the synth bass. After rocking straight quarter notes throughout the first three measures (A, A, A, A, E, E, G, G, D, D, D, D), the bass line drops an octave for two low, beautiful D’s, followed by (F, F) to finish out the four-measure phrase. I know, it’s the exact same note one octave lower. But the more I listen to the first minute of Frans B. (about 50 times in the past two days), the more I think that those particular notes are the elements that stick the most in my mind.
Anyway, I encourage any and all to give a listen to this great song, and if you don’t own it already, go and purchase Universal Migrator Part I as soon as possible.
Do you agree with my opinion/analysis? Disagree? We’d love to get in a discussion about this, so comment below.