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harmonic analysis of George Harrison's My Sweet Lord, diminished chords

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  • harmonic analysis of George Harrison's My Sweet Lord, diminished chords

    [this is a repost from the theory sub-forum but the guitar sub-forum seems to be getting much much more attention]

    hi everyone,

    I'm trying to understand how My Sweet Lord works and these diminished chords jurt my brain.
    here is the all sequence (but one tone lower than the original for the ease of transcriptions -I'm a guitarist) :

    Em / A / Em / A
    D / Bm / D / Bm
    D / F#dim / B7
    Em / A / Em / A
    D / D7 / B7 / E / G#dim / C#7 / F#m / B
    and then goes back to the beginning with one tone higher

    Em, A, D, Bm seem to be in the key of D
    then F#dim has a C in it. does D major goes to mixolydian ?
    then B7 has yet another new note, D#... not easy but B7 goes to Em and that makes sense (sub-dominant)
    but why this choice of a D# that clashed with the former key of D ?

    D to D7 makes us go from D major to Dmixolydian again...
    B7 has this odd D# again but is a good sub-dominant and goes to E

    and then we have G#dim / C#7 / F#m / B which is the same sequence as D / F#dim / B7 / Em / A


    my main question is : where are these diminished chords coming from and why are they followed by these dom7th ? what is the theory behind that ?
    it looks a little like a weird ii-V-I but I may be totally wrong.

    thanks a lot for your help
    Last edited by possopo; 12-27-2015, 03:22 PM.

  • #2
    secondary dominant, not sub-dominant, sorry for the mistake

    Comment


    • #3
      I sometimes like to think of dim7 chords as regular 7 chords but with the root raised up a half step.

      F#dim7 is also D#dim7 and can be thought of as a passing chord between D and Em. The B7 (which is not much different than D#dim7) resolves nicely to the Em (ii chord in the key of D) and F#dim7 leads to the B7 (sort of like a ii V i in Em).

      dim7 chords are symmetrical in that all the notes are the same distance apart. One of the things Hari liked to do was play harmony slide guitar parts and do descending minor thirds a minor third apart - which is essentially the definition of a dim7 chord.

      I think the dim7 chords are more a result of subtle voice movement in the harmony rather than a plan to mix-a-lot-of modes.
      As a human being, you come with the whole range of inner possibilities
      from the deepest hell to the highest states.

      It is up to you which one you choose to explore
      .

      Comment


      • onelife
        onelife commented
        Editing a comment
        You can also consider a dim7 chord as a substitute for the vi chord in a I vi ii V progression like
        Fmaj7 F#dim7 Gm7 C7.
        Last edited by onelife; 12-31-2015, 03:59 AM.

    • #4
      not super easy to get but very useful, thanks !!

      Comment


      • #5
        Originally posted by possopo View Post
        ...
        my main question is : where are these diminished chords coming from and why are they followed by these dom7th ? what is the theory behind that ?
        To try and answer your question more directly...

        a I vi ii V in D would be D Bm Em A - think of My Sweet Lord as the ii V part repeated then the I vi part repeated

        when switching back to the ii V bit (which we could think of as a Dorian vamp in Em) we could ii V into the Em - quite often in a minor key the ii chord is altered (F#m7b5 for example) - by playing F#m7 B7

        in the case of My Sweet Lord it gets interesting with the dim7 chord acting as a substitution for the F#m7 in the ii V back to the Em A section


        it looks a little like a weird ii-V-I but I may be totally wrong.
        I think that is a really good way to look at it. In fact, a two chord Dorian Em A like Santana often plays over is a ii V in the key of D Major which uses the same seven notes as the E Dorian Mode.

        A I vi ii V is essentially a ii V I with the vi added to give the I a bit of movement.




        Last edited by onelife; 01-01-2016, 12:00 AM.
        As a human being, you come with the whole range of inner possibilities
        from the deepest hell to the highest states.

        It is up to you which one you choose to explore
        .

        Comment


        • #6
          very nice, thanks a lot !
          just a thought, understanding bits of harmony makes me listen to songs in a different way and in this case, when I think of F#dim as a passing chord between D and E (D#dim) with the odd B7 to lure the listener for one second, the listening is different from when I think of it as a ii V I.
          I didn't think of this I vi ii V split in half. very interesting again !

          Comment


          • #7
            Just wanna note that in trad harmony, II chords especially ii dim as you find in minor keys are V/V in function and that if you call the F# dim a II V i then you need to distinguish between E minor and the return to D maj. Not relevant to pop harmony but definitely an analytical option.
            Originally posted by Unconfigured Static HTML Widget...







            Write Something, or Drag and Drop Images Here...

            Comment


            • onelife
              onelife commented
              Editing a comment
              When you use "V/V" does it mean the V of the V (which would be the ii) and, when referring to it that way, does it infer something functionally different than the ii in a ii V I?

            • 1001gear
              1001gear commented
              Editing a comment
              Just saying calling F# the ii identifies E minor. And there is that Emi intro to consolidate. Since everyone knows the song that's not in question but from an analysis point of view there is that ambiguity that needs to be clarified.

            • onelife
              onelife commented
              Editing a comment
              Okay, I get it. Thanks.

          • #8
            Diminished seventh chords are one of the most fascinating concepts in Music Theory because of their symmetrical infrastructure. Every single interval within a diminished seventh chord is a minor third, which corroborates my earlier symmetrical statement. Arnold Schoenberg states within his didactic Music Theory journal that diminished seventh chords can be used as disguised dominant seventh b9 chords.

            First of all, no matter how many times you invert a diminished seventh chord, it will remain the same diminished seventh chord just with a different root. There fore in this case, F#dim7, Adim7, Cdim7, and Ebdim7 are all essentially the same diminished chord. You can use these inversions to your advantage in order to modulate to distant keys. Now, what is most compelling is what Schoenberg points out about the chords. They are within a dominant family. If you lower each note of the diminished seventh chord, you will get a dominant seventh chord that the diminished seventh chord is substituting for.

            For example, the notes within an F#dim7 chord are F# A C Eb. Lower the F# to an F and you have an F7 chord. This means you can utilize any of these four diminished seventh chords to resolve to a Bb, Bbm, or Bb7 chord. Lower the A to an Ab and you get Ab C Eb F# which is an enharmonically spelled Ab7. Now you can use these four diminished seventh chords to resolve to a Db, Dbm, or Db7 chord. Lower the C to a Cb or enharmonically a B, you get B Eb F# A, which is a B7 chord, letting you resolve to an E Em or E7 chord. Finally, you have the Eb lowered to a D making D F# A C which is a D7 chord that you can resolve to a G Gm or G7 chord.

            Looking at this, we see that in my Sweet Lord, George plays an F#dim7 chord which is then followed by a B7 which then resolves to the Em. This can be interpreted in many different ways. This is the beauty of harmony. It can function in many different ways given the context. The ii- V- i root motion argument stated above is completely cogent. My take on it is this. Whether George intentionally did this or not, or if he was just borrowing from Lennon and McCartney's compositional arsenal of Classical techniques, this can be viewed as a contrapuntal expansion that is prolonging the dominant function which eventually resolves the tonality of Em.

            Given my example above with the B7 chord being one of the dominant seventh chords that F#dim7 substitutes for, the F#dim7 going to B7 is just prolonging that dominant function until we resolve to the tonic. The harmonic rhythm also gives it away as well. George plays the F#dim7 for 2 beats and then the B7 on the last two beats. If you know your metrical accents, in a bar of 4/4, the first and third beats get the accents. Since George emphasized the two chords on the two metrical accents, he's clearly stating a prolongation of a dominant function. Once again, I don't know if George intentionally did this or if it was intuitive. George could have created an agogic accent with one of the chords, but instead he voted to evenly distribute the harmony in the bar.

            Another way to look at it is simply through voice leading. We have F# A C Eb in F#dim7 and B D# F# A in B7. We have three common tones, the F#, the A, and the Eb(enharmonically a D#). The other note is a B, which the C undulates to chromatically down by a half step. Great voice leading using mostly common tones.

            The Beatles were known for their harmonic sophistication, and they all carried it out in their solo careers as well. This is clearly evident here in My Sweet Lord. Hope that helped. Have a great day!!😀

            Comment


            • 1001gear
              1001gear commented
              Editing a comment
              Wait. This is your first post. What earlier statement?

            • Zappawizard0114
              Zappawizard0114 commented
              Editing a comment
              I was referring to the statement that I had made one sentence earlier

          • #9
            Originally posted by Zappawizard0114 View Post
            . . .
            The Beatles were known for their harmonic sophistication, and they all carried it out in their solo careers as well. This is clearly evident here in My Sweet Lord. Hope that helped. Have a great day!!😀
            Several years ago I recorded a demo CD for a singer songwriter who told me that he did not write songs but that he finds them. He would pick up a guitar or sit at a piano and poke around until he matched the sounds he was hearing in his head. He did not even know Middle C by name. He knew nothing about music theory or reading music and he could not identofy chords by their names. In spite of being musically illiterate, after finding songs for more than 20 years he became quite accomplished on guitar and piano but did not have the communication skills to be a sideman in someone else's band.

            My point is that, in many cases the music comes first and the analysis comes afterward. Paul McCartney claimed that he could not read music so he would simply sing the parts and George Martin would write them out for the sidemen to play.

            I believe that George Harrison's My Sweet Lord (which was inspired by Edwin Hawkins' Oh Happy Day) was simply him finding sounds that were running around in his head as he attempted to write a gospel song with the help of his friend Billy Preston.
            As a human being, you come with the whole range of inner possibilities
            from the deepest hell to the highest states.

            It is up to you which one you choose to explore
            .

            Comment


            • #10
              Yes, it is widely known that they were musically illiterate, however I believe that George was familiar with some of the sounds and used them to his advantage in his own compositions, not realizing what he was doing. It's quite a fascinating topic.

              Comment













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