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Thanks to all of you over at Reddit for voting up this article. If you are a self-taught musician, you may find it helpful to check out my Solfege To Intervals Translation Chart to follow the melodic analysis.


This week, I’m going to break down the music theory behind one of the most unusual pop songs to come out in years: Beyoncé’s  “Single Ladies.”


(Click here to open the music video in a new window.)


Tempo: 87 BPM*
Key Signature(s): E major, E minor
Special Songwriting Devices Used: No back beat, Polytonality (technically polymodality**), Resolution using a Minor 6 chord, Starting a melody on sol


Several months ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about whether or not this single would flop. Pop music has certainly gotten interesting over the past 5 years, but this song was, well, too interesting. To put it bluntly: “Single Ladies” is just downright bizarre. And yet as time went on, I began to see that it has what I call the Spice Girls Factor–designed to make groups of adolescent girls dance around in their bedrooms, sing into hairbrushes, and post videos of the whole ordeal on YouTube for their friends to watch.


singleladies

To start, let’s take a look at the groove. In pop music, there is almost always some kind of clap, snap, or snare on beats 2 and 4, also known as a back beat (read my post on back beat options here). “Single Ladies” breaks the mold, especially for a pop song, with claps on every 8th note, which gives the song an uptempo-feel. In fact, to me these claps give the song more of a “1 feel” rather than strictly 4/4, which would mean every quarter note is an equally strong beat. Normally only beats 1 and, to a lesser extent, 3, are considered strong beats. Strong and weak beats become important when understanding how melodies and chord changes affect perceived key signature or tonality. This “1 feel” theory is reinforced by the dancing in the music video, in which the choreography consists largely of Beyoncé jolting around on every beat.


But it doesn’t stop there.


There is a snare drum in this song, and like virtually all hip-hop out right now, it’s not used as back beat. However, where normally hip-hop draws the line at syncopated southern-style fills or dotted 8th note patterns a la “A Milli“, there is a snare hit on the last 8th note of each measure (AKA the “and” of beat 4). This, combined with the 8th note claps, plays a big role in giving “Single Ladies” its memorable feel.


Now let’s move on to the harmony. During the song’s call-and-response section (“All the single ladies, all the single ladies”), she sings solfege syllable*** sol (as in do re mi fa sol) then riffs on mi, re, and do. Sol is a very common beginning note for a pop melody, adding strength (rather than color) to the harmony. Also note that she skips fa, which is common practice for melodies sung over a root chord because it forms a weak interval, a perfect fourth.


As I talked about in last week’s analysis, in traditional harmony and counterpoint, we only need a major or minor third interval to imply a chord. Beyoncé does exactly that during the verses: solidly establishing the key of E major by singing only an E and a G# with the occasional F#. The only “music” during the verses is a pitched noise, though the notes are indistinguishable, keeping in line with the current pop minimalism trend (see: 5 Pop Songs With No Music).


Pretty basic stuff so far. Now here’s where things get really interesting:


During the chorus, a bass synth comes in and goes from B to C, which is the bVI chord borrowed from the key of E minor. I will be talking a lot about borrowing chords from related keys and tonalities (aka modal interchange) in future Compositional Analysis posts, but what makes “Single Ladies” downright bizarre is that the melody doesn’t reflect this change in harmony at all, so what we’ve got is music in E minor and a melody in E major. This is called polytonality**, a technique normally reserved for highly esoteric jazz and classical music.


The result is a striking juxtaposition: a nursery rhyme-esque melody with a powerful, sinister bassline beaneath it, creating a bitter, almost shocking melancholy which underscores the “strong woman” image for which Beyoncé has become an archetype. The melody is distinctly feminine and “cute” while the bassline is aggressive and forceful (usually thought of as masculine traits). It is probably no coincidence that the bassline enters with the line, “if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.” Here, the woman asserts her control over a man.


All this being said, she could not have pulled this song off were it not for a sparse arrangement, an exceptionally catchy beat, and the clout of being a well-established, top female artist, not to mention a role model for a generation of young, ambitious women.


beyonce


Some music scholars might take issue with my assessment, in fact some don’t believe in polytonality at all, saying our ear cannot perceive two tonalities at once. With an arrangement this sparse, though, their case holds little weight.

But just for the hell of it, I’m going to do a standard harmonic analysis of this tune anyway, as if it were all in one key. Things often get vague when it comes to analyzing modern pop music because the harmonies are so fragmented. You rarely hear a full triad or seventh chord in rap and dance-oriented R&B these days (though I believe this trend is about to change) and “Single Ladies” is no exception. The result is often some funky looking chords with half the notes missing. Perhaps these bizarre changes serve to support my theory that we are hearing two different things simultaneously rather than this harmony:


Hypothetical functional analysis
1st Measure: V (no3), IV-/b3, III+ (no #5)/3, bVI (no3)
2nd Measure: V (no3), IV (no3), IVmaj7 (no3), IV-6 (no3)


Chord chart
1st Measure: B (no3), A-/C, G#+/3 (no+5), C (no3)
2nd Measure: B (no3), A (no3), Amaj7 (no3), A-6 (no3)


Chords in laymen’s terms

1st Measure: B with no third, A minor first inversion, G# augmented first inversion with no (augmented) 5th, C with no third.
2nd Measure: B with no third, A with no third, Amaj7 with no third, A minor 6 with no third.


Here, the two chords to watch are III+/3 and IV-6. The third chord in the progression does sound like a III augmented in that it is especially dissonant, but it’s also not functioning in a way that augmented triads are supposed to function (such as leading to the IV chord). And unlike major and minor triads, you are technically supposed to have the fifth when it comes to augmented or diminished chords. Augmented and diminished fifths cannot be implied. This again leads me back to polytonality because we only have two notes from the chord.****


The very last chord in the chorus sounds like it’s implying an A minor 6 chord (minor triad with a major sixth–A C E F#), though only the sixth is present. I say this is minor six rather than a II-/3 because I hear a strong pull back to the I, something a IV-6 has and a II- does not.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this analysis. I realize that this song is not for everyone, but it’s very important for songwriters to think about songs like Single Ladies, the songs that stretch the boundaries and yet are still wildly successful. It can speak volumes about how people connect with music, the future potential of music, and the realm of what is “commercially viable” (if you care about that sort of thing).


Beyoncé - I Am... Sasha Fierce (Deluxe Version) - Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)Buy Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” on iTunes


*While I have the tempo listed at 87 BPM, you could certainly argue that “Single Ladies” is in the upper 160-200 BPM range, making the claps quarter notes and the kick drum pattern repeating every 2 bars. For the sake of discussion, though, I chose to analyze this song at a typical hip hop tempo. This makes the snare and kick drum patterns one instead of two bar phrases.


**As many readers have pointed out, it’s actually more accurate to call this polymodality because the ‘tonal center’ is still E even though the scale is different from E minor to E major.


***Maybe it’s because I’m a guitarist and singer, but I like to think of melodies in terms of solfege syllables because they are instantly transferrable from one key to the next.


****The third chord could also technically be a III/3 chord, but in every music course I’ve ever taken, teachers have advised against analyzing something as a major III chord, let alone an inversion of it. Such a chord does not exist in any mode, so it could not be borrowed. The only other real possibility would be if it had a flatted seventh, making it a V7/VI- chord, but there is no indication that this is the case nor is that possibility even within the scope of this post.


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45 Responses to ““Single Ladies” by Beyonce: A Compositional Analysis”

  1. Erlend says:

    I just need to express a huge thankfulness after reading these articles! I love to see that someone shares my fascination for both sound engeneering and music theory and embraces different genres! Ah, delight!

  2. andyd says:

    i respect the analysis, but the song is so simple…. you’re supporting a very uncreative corporate agenda by reading into the song as if it’s on the bleeding edge of sophistication.

    the polytonal bass is a concept that’s existed since the birth of electronic dance music.. it’s really nothing that new and “bizarre”.

    no… beyonce did not invent this technique, and the song is only decent at best. please analyze some REAL music…

  3. Keith says:

    Erlend– Thanks for the kind words. Always good to connect with like minds.

    Andyd- Real music is for suckers…

    But seriously, I don’t mean to imply that this song was intended to be sophisticated. More than likely it was a pragmatic choice. For example, the writer(s) may have decided the chorus needed to be edgier but wanted to keep the singalong vibe so they just decided to go for something completely different than everything else out there on the radio. And if there’s anyone that can pull off something different, it’s Beyonce.

    Personally I’m not too concerned with who invented this technique or how new it is. It’s like I always say: everything has been done, but not everything has been done well.

  4. Edward says:

    @andyd: it’s worth noting the contrast between this song and the majority of pop. Unfortunately, the only useful part of your contribution to this article is noting the history of a particular part of the song. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for that.

    This corporate agenda you speak of, it is fed to all of us, and most accept it without thinking. This article gives insight into what is actually being told to us. The author went into detail concerning how certain moods are conveyed to us, WHY we feel certain ways, or to put it in your terms: how we are made to feel certain ways by the song. For this reason I don’t understand why you denigrate this article, for it teaches us how we are manipulated.

    That is as real as it gets. Fuck you and your REAL music. This is what the rest of the world listens to, know it, use it.

  5. Fyrshroud says:

    Great article! Lemme guess, Berklee? Anyhow, I do have a quick comment regarding the analysis of the chorus. I haven’t had time to sit down and dissect it completely, but a cursory listen to the chorus suggests more of modulation there as the perceived 2nd chord has an augmented quality to it so I would argue that the analysis of a poly chord is not the best one in this case (I may change my mind after I listen again but I’m at work so I can’t spend too much time on it!) Also re: the III+ (no 5) analysis: I respectfully submit that without the 5th present you cannot analyze the given chord as an augmented since the defining note of the chord (in this case the #5) is missing. I do agree that it is probably wrong to label it as a III Maj in which case I would treat it either as an upper structure of a different chord or a borrowed chord where the chord quality is clearly defined.

    Loved reading it tho! Keep it up! It’s been 10 years since I’ve had read/teach this stuff and my brain is completely rusty.

  6. Michael says:

    Thoughtful. I think you get to the core as to why the song is popular – the chorus works in part because it breaks current pop rules. However, I don’t really hear it as polytonal. It is really more of a hybrid scale with an E major tetrachord followed by a tetrachord that could be thought of as either Am or Em. This is a common scale in film writing – Thomas Newman uses it all the time – but is rarer in pop music. To be properly polytonal I think you’d have to have a full major and minor scale superimposed. These are not. What’s clever is that the vocal and the bassline together make the scale. Part of the appeal of the song is that everything about the harmony is implied through lines – there are no chords. Normally something that simple would have a simplistic harmony and it doesn’t.

  7. Keith says:

    @Fyrhroud: I agree with what you’re saying about it not really being augmented and that was something that I had to stop and think about before I published this, that without an augmented fifth you can’t really call it an augmented chord or say that one is implied. I only decided to keep it because I played an augmented chord along with the song and it sounded perfectly in line with how I hear the song, didn’t seem to add much new color for some reason. But it seems like we are in agreeance that in the end our ideas of what it could be implying are not entirely precise, because if you turned this song into a more full arrangement it would certainly be a different song. It’s just two notes. Hell, it’s “the Single Ladies chord.” Thanks for your input and welcome.

    @Michael–We’re getting into some heady stuff here, but I definitely buy that. Hadn’t thought about hybrid scales in a while, probably because I don’t do film music like you do. Cool site and thanks for commenting.

  8. Phil says:

    Hey guys, thanks for all the comments on the site. Keith and I are stoked that we can provide articles of interest to many out there.

    Regarding Andy’s comment: the real reason for writing this article isn’t to hail it as a work of monumental or unique genius. It is simply a song that is popular which many of our clients and readers have heard and might have thought “What makes this song so catchy?” or “What makes this song sound different?” or even “What makes this song so horrible?”

    There is a lot to be gained by waxing academically about any piece of music regardless of your personal feelings toward it.

    Whether or not it was the first to do any of this stuff is somewhat irrelevant for our interests. It is current and fairly ubiquitous–that is why it is here. We aren’t music historians, just practictioners, critics, and academics trying to glean actionable information from something many people have heard or have access to.

    So if you love the song, maybe you’ve learned something useful you can use in the future. If you hate the song, maybe you’ve learned what NOT to do by reading this article. If you are just a music fanatic (like us) who only read this article because learning anything about music in any capacity interests you no matter the subject, then this article is really intended for you.

  9. [...] is actually as bVI, as he previously mentioned whilst intoxicated at a party.  Have a look at the whole analysis – it’s pretty amazingly [...]

  10. csahar says:

    Ah, I appreciate your enthusiasm and I love how good an ear you have. I enjoyed most the rhythmic analysis.

    What I disagree with is the piece is polytonal. Why not think of the flat VI as modal mixture. Wherein you borrow from the E minor scale as you said. That the melody doesn’t change is not strong enough argument for polytonality as the melody and the flat sixth do share the tonic note E. Also, these chords do not destabilize the sense of major – just gives the melody much greater intensity.
    What I think is interesting about the flat VI is how it serves as a deceptive cadence (eg V – a form of vi rather than I) for a coloristic effect that supports the lyric. So a good example of a great device to use to maintain momentum and harmonic interest AND, in this case, using sound to highlight a portion of a lyric you said in your analysis.

    As for the A C E F# chord. I think it is a ii with the F# acting as an anticipation of the V. In fact if you play F#ECA to F#D#B- then G#BEG#, you get good old ii V i6. But what is interesting harmonically is omitting the third of the dominant you maintain this implication of modal mixture by making the the mode of the chord vague.

    So in sum I think you were pinpointing the right things harmonically but using the wrong term. I’d say this song is a good example of “modal mixture” – you borrow chords from a different mode without destabilizing the mode set throughout most of the song. Polytonality would require far more foreign chords or consistent alteration of two modes – eg – C major/ E major chords alternating for some time to set up two keys. In this case the modal mixture contributes to create an “edge” to this upbeat anthem of a woman asserting control. Modal mixture is a fun is a fun improvisation technique too – just take Frere jacques and flatten or raise the third in subdominant or dominant chord and flat VI once in awhile you turn to this lullaby quite easily into something a little more edgier.

  11. csahar says:

    Correction –

    For the ACEF# chord I agree it is a iv with an added 6 – not a diminished ii. Then it makes sense my comment the F# anticipates the V.

    Such chords can be tricky to analyze. In this case I changed my mind as iv is in keeping with the use of modal mixture (eg using a chord from E minor). Also, the F# serves to make the harmonic movement smoother as the A-E moves up to B-F#, without it you’d get movement of two open 5ths, which makes harmonic movement less subtle compared to moving from a major 6th to a perfect 5th. The F# does not serve as a root of the chord.

  12. Keith Freund says:

    I don’t want to spend too much time on this, because I could go on forever, but for everyone on forums and in the comments saying the chorus is a modal mixture or something similar, here is my response:

    I am very skeptical of the idea of both modal mixtures AND polytonality, but I’m confident that most pop fans and non-musicians hear it as the latter for a number of reasons (mentioned in the article) and also because I listen to the music that they do and rarely listen to classical or jazz.

    And to the people saying I’m implying too many notes, yes, you’re right. I’m not being completely accurate. But if I were, I’d really have no theoretical way or point of reference to explain the approximate fuctionality of this stuff.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  13. Rod says:

    The uber repetitive call and response nursery rhyme chant is offset by a very interesting arrangement. Beyonce (or her producers) seem to specialize in the interesting juxtapositions of simple tunes and cutting edge arrangements. ‘Lose my breath’ by Destiny’s Child has a similar feel. Of course there is quite a tradition in hip hop for this kind of thing, Prince and Jam and Lewis era Janet Jackson spring immediately to mind.

  14. Michael says:

    Great analysis, even better (if somewhat overly semantic) discussion! Thanks for all the hard work. The compositional analyses are my favorite section in your blog.

    I gotta ask though (along with Fyrshroud’s) – are you guys Berklee alums? Your harmonic analysis reeks of standard Berklee nomenclature (and as I current student myself, I say that with all the affection in the world…).

    At any rate, keep it up! Pop music SHOULD be dissected and analyzed, in order to exploit its possibilities to the max!

    Michael

  15. Stuart says:

    Cool site, just found it linked from this Metafilter thread: http://www.metafilter.com/85045/America-Responds-to-Kanye-West#2743098

    Two thoughts on your analysis: I agree with those who say it isn’t quite accurate to call it polytonal. I would go for modal mixture, but at most it’s polymodal. If the tonal center remains E, even if two clearly different modes based upon E are occurring, there is only one tonal center, therefore not polytonal in the strictest sense. Of course, there is no Correct in analysis with these kinds of nomenclature decisions, only those more or less clear. With that in mind, I think it’s more appropriate to label either mixture or polymodality.

    Regarding your rhythmic analysis, if you consider the tempo at c. 160, the bass does emphasize 1 & 3, which is how I imagine the beat was conceived (all the beat-makers I’ve talked to about it think of the “four-on-the-floor” fast tempo, at any rate). That also means that the snare is marking beat 4, which is very common in dance music.

    More importantly, though, I wanted to respond to this commentor’s statement: “please analyze some REAL music…”, and the sentiment it represents, and I say this as a bona fide classical musician with multiple music degrees and a keen understanding of the western classical canon:

    “Single Ladies” is a fantastic pop track and well worth at least some analytical attention on its intrinsic merits (but that’s an argument it takes a book to make); more fundamentally, though, it is important to consider it because MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ACTUALLY LISTEN TO AND ENGAGE WITH THIS MUSIC.

    One doesn’t get to judge that: this is music that is actively engaging a large chunk of our culture, and it is perfectly legitimate (and important) for educated, perceptive, thoughtful musicians to listen to, think about, and otherwise engage with it in any way they may see fit. It is bigoted to think otherwise.

  16. Tom says:

    Isn’t it just E harmonic major

  17. Tom says:

    Also……I heard that the video to this song is one of the greatest of all time

  18. FixYourMix says:

    @ Stuart- I agree. Polymodal is more accurate. I’ll change it.

  19. Hoontar says:

    Harmonic analysis of the chorus can operate entirely within the E harmonic major scale. You’ve overcomplicated.

  20. Keith says:

    @Tom/Hoontar-

    Thank you for pointing out that you can call this E harmonic major. That is true. At the same time, I try to concern myself only with the most useful ways of analyzing and understanding music, so while I could have simply slapped ‘harmonic major’ on this and called it a day, that’s not the most useful way of thinking of this song. Are all the notes within the harmonic major scale? Yes. Do we hear the song as being in a single scale? Not in my opinion.

  21. Stuart says:

    I agree with Keith, much clearer to point out that 2 modes are happening simultaneously, calling it the harmonic major misses an important distinction because it is the clash of the two modes that make the track harmonically interesting.

    (Keith, don’t you love posting analyses? Nothing brings out the nit-picky musicians–myself included!–faster, it seems!)

  22. JGC says:

    Bitonality in this song seems a bit of a stretch, but “Sweet Home Alabama” has always sounded bitonal to me. Any takers?

  23. [...] the article here and then come back to comment and let me know what’s your take on [...]

  24. Shastymax says:

    Nice… I’m music nerd as well… I don’t really want to get caught up in all the vertical and horizontal analysis. I think without seeing a score… I wont comment because my ears aren’t THAT good. Is the song interesting? It’s popular… it’s interesting to somebody. Not too interesting to me though because there’s really nothing new under the sun. But to the person who says, “go analyze some REAL music.”–You drip arrogance and you’re the reason why “REAL music” isn’t popular. WTF? “REAL MUSIC”?? You’ve got to be kidding me!

    I don’t care for this music in my opinion, just not for me. But to the authors… keep up the good work. I would find it more beneficial to me though if the notation you used was more clear. Why not just use commercial chord symbols? The roman numerals are great even for the laymen to understand. Those of us who have been programmed to think of music in terms of functional harmony should be able to see and hear that whilst looking at the commercial chords. Not only that but it’s a lot less confusing. Even when the chords are missing pitches… you can put “omit 3″ or when it’s A-minor first inversion = A-/C rather than IV-/b3…(there’s lots of debate concerning redundancy). I think putting the commercial chords with your functional roman analysis would be awesome! But that’s my opinion…after all… simple music like this… isn’t so simple now is it? Especially when something so “simple” has the ability to captivate massive hordes of people. Is the music simple? Or is the the listener who is simple?

    Thanks for the blog…. i look forward to seeing more since this one just popped my cherry.

    -shasty

  25. Keith Freund says:

    @Shastymax- I put in the abbreviated chord symbols. Thanks for the support.

  26. Michael says:

    @Andyd – Relax. I’m sure the song would have both Beethoven and Mozart tapping their hands.

    Very good analysis! I am so amazed by this!!!

  27. [...] Also worth reading for the musically inclined, here’s this analysis of the chord structures (or non-structures?) of “Single Ladies.” [...]

  28. Marg says:

    Great article. However what are the chords? This is what I have figured out

    See saw beginning
    E, A 3x

    Verse

    Em, A 3x then does a Em, A, B, G#, F#

    Chours (if you like it then…)

    B, A, G#, F#

    Oh oh oh part.

    B, A, E, —- not sure.

    Does this sound right to anyone?

  29. Sean Barrett says:

    I read this article a while back, and it never quite made sense to me, so I finally went and counted the time and realized the chorus analysis seems incomplete. So I went and figured out the obvious notes so I could make sure I understood where your analysis was coming from. (It would be helpful to say what notes you’re hearing in the song that leads to the harmonic analysis, since those of us without ears to quickly determine the notes are given a harmonic analysis with no obvious connection to the song–for example, you offer the solfege for the “call and response” part, but not the chorus.)

    The chorus consists of four repeats of a descending vocal line, each one is “one measure” long in terms of the tempo in this article. The notes (in the first, unaccompanied chorus) melody are B, A, G#, F# (re mi fa sol in E). The third time through there’s a rythmic shift on the third note, but I don’t think there’s a pitch change–this is important though because it’s an important moment in the accompanied chorus.

    Unaccompanied, this appears to just be riffing on the V.

    Once the accompaniment starts, it goes like this: first measure, B on & of “1 and”, C on 2; second measure, B on 1, A on 2; third measure B on 1, C on 2, fourth measure, B on 1, A on 2.

    Oddly, the analysis offered here stops after two measures, when the most dramatic chord seems to me to be the one in the third measure on 2, but I’m not sure exactly how it’s different from the first measure.

    There’s also harmony in the vocals of the accompanied choruses, which means there’s more than two notes determining the chords. However, my ear isn’t sufficient to figure out what those notes are or how they contribute.

    (There’s also also a synth line doubling the bass, but I can’t tell for sure if it’s strictly (many) octaves above or somehow varying a bit; it becomes more prominent in the third measure.)

    The most interesting thing to me in listening to it and playing along to it is that the B in the bass feels like it ought to be a passing tone, but it lasts just long enough and (especially) is so much more consonant than the surrounding chords that it’s “forced” to serve actual harmonic duty.

  30. paul_o says:

    Couldn’t you just say that the chorus modulates to A minor and works within a melodic minor scale? Cause all the notes in the melody she sings(as well as the notes in the backing synth part)fall within that scale.

    Think about it. An A Melodic Minor goes:
    A B C D E F# G# A

  31. jacomo says:

    I definitely hear the snare on the “& of 3″ (not the “& of 4″ as analyzed above)
    b . . . b . . b . . s . b b . . (bass dr, snare dr, empty 16ths)

    “One” being:
    - the first beat of the track
    - the word “should” (“if you liked it then you should have…. )
    - where the majority of the chords land

    At the point (bridge?) “Don’t treat me to these things…” (the most powerful and most “musical” section, IMO) a quarter note is dropped and the groove becomes:
    b b . . b . . . b . . b . . s .
    for 12 bars, but then returns back to the other groove without dropping or adding any beats

    I would speculate that this second groove was the original, and the first thing laid down to build upon as the compositional adventure began, but it was displaced by choice, except for this one bridge passage.

    Very interesting track… way out of my element musically, but kinda infectious, as is Beyonce herself.

  32. Jharms says:

    Interesting analysis on this one! I agree with most everything. The only thing I would argue with is your III5/3 with no #5. To my ear, I still interpret it at as an inversion of a major III chord, although of course you’re right that this chord would have little place in classical composition.

    Unless you tried applying neo-Riemannian analysis? I’m not going to take the time to try that one.

    Still, enjoyed the analysis. You also might take a look at Pomplamoose’s cover to Single Ladies, who flesh out the song (albeit in a bit of a different way). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIr8-f2OWhs. Then again, I’m not sure whether they solve any problems with the voice leadings. Still a great song.

    Have an awesome day!

  33. FixYourMix says:

    @Jharms- I kinda did the chords as an experiment, I don’t really think it’s even useful to break some pop songs down into functional harmony because I’m not sure that we hear them that way, in fact I did it mainly to demonstrate how ridiculously obscure the chord names would be and in doing so, support my idea that we’re hearing two completely different things going on simultaneously rather than a complete harmony.

    We have seen a resurgence in interest in this particular post since that cover came out. Thanks for reading!

  34. Paul says:

    This is indeed disposable music. Buy it now while it’s hot kids, cuz in a year it will be “so last year”. Another marketing hit! Amazing that people with short attention spans like music that is repetitive and goes nowhere. What keeps their interest?
    Oh yeah…tits.

  35. zippy says:

    Paul, you sound kinda bitter, like a songwriter in the shadows whose music really “goes somewhere” … The cool transition section in this song goes somewhere: back to the repetition… Tits interest? Sure, why not? .. But I like this song for the same reason I like some Bjork and Tom Waits… because it’s very DIFFERENT … nothing else like it — different = noteworthy in pop music… a reason for discussion..

    After the original version, the song evolved into a much more interesting song.. Check the live video versions online (yes, hot visuals too) … google search: “single ladies ellen” and “single ladies aol” … tight band! .. sounds like they rehearse a lot… i wouldn’t want to piss off the bassist or drummer.. mess with the dancers and the rhythm section will kill you!

  36. phenelopy lenk says:

    i love beyonce sou brasileira mas sou fã da beyonce,etava no show dela aqui no brasil,espero ir a mais shows da beyonce.

  37. sam says:

    i like the article. i dunno what the hell this whole polytonality ordeal is. it sounds like its just the key of E maj until the chorus with the bass part. the B to C, and the B to A bass lines fit into the E hindu scale which is the fifth mode of the A melodic minor scale. the C acts as a -6 in an E mixolydian scale. doesnt sound at all like E minor to me. A melodic minor all the way baby. but im only in high school so i have no degree to back up whatever i say. so. penis.

  38. Pianola says:

    I’ve only heard this song a few times, but I think I see what you mean by the “B-C” bassline for an E major melody. However, don’t you think it could just by the viio7 of E major? The C natural could just be the flattened seventh note of the leading tone diminished seventh chord. Personally, I don’t think there’s enough clues to imply polytonality. In fact, even when there is modal mixture, it only acts as a type of “borrowing” from another key. I don’t think it means that it’s in E minor and E major at the same time. It could just be an emphasis on a tonally altered chord.

  39. [...] Beyonce, starting to get just a tad obsessed http://twitpic.com/1z01xybitfunk: http://blog.fixyourmix.com/2009/single-ladies-by-beyonce-a-compositional-analysis/juz_rican: Poison -by beyoncesakacrawford: #nowplaying Beyonce feat. Shakira – Beautiful Liar [...]

  40. BigJoe says:

    The live version she does has lots of more instrumentation, as heard e.g. in the AOL Live Sessions version here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ko-B-dQKpEE – check it out!
    Especially, I like the bridge. Anyone care to write out the chords of this version? Would be highly appreciated.

    As a drummer (and chord noob), I’m mainly puzzled with the rhythmics of this song. I experience the “1″ to be on the word “like” in the chorus, and on the first word, “up”, in the verse. This means that the intro appears to lack some beats since “1″ is on “single” when she starts singing “All the single ladies”, as is the case after the bridge. Also, I feel the beat to be an up tempo 4/4 with the snare on the “4″ in the second bar.

    I agree with the concept of the chorus being like a childish chant that goes on over some dramatic chords.

  41. Larry Elliot says:

    Interesting look into the tune. The beauty of it is that the producers probably didn’t think of the song’s mechanics in those terms when the song was being constructed. On another note, the video is really nice. If pornography did NOT exist… single ladies would take the cake in that category.

    Beyonce is a lovely woman with great dance moves. It’s all subjective but Kanye West was right … Taylor Swift is a bland, mutated pop recording artist and Beyonce is a banging young lady.

  42. Mari says:

    Fellas,

    I stumbled upon this page while trying to “compose” a single ladies costume for Halloween.

    What a bunch of nerds you are! I love it! Thanks for inspring me to go dig deeper – just so I can begin to understand some of the terms you are using.

    Uh uh oh!

    M.

  43. armchairprof says:

    “i respect the analysis, but the song is so simple…. you’re supporting a very uncreative corporate agenda by reading into the song as if it’s on the bleeding edge of sophistication.”

    Simple things are inherently bad/fascist. Or maybe some people like to smell their own farts.

  44. TimmyG says:

    Hey just stumbled upon this, loved the analysis, just wanted to leave my two cents:

    You mention “The third chord could also technically be a III/3 chord, but in every music course I’ve ever taken, teachers have advised against analyzing something as a major III chord because it’s not found in any mode.”

    You’re right that it’s not modal mixture, but there’s nothing wrong with having a major III chord–it’s called a chromatic mediant. Impressionist composers used them all the time. To cut straight to the chase, in C major the chromatic mediants are Emaj, Ebmaj, and Ebmin. (essentially all the remaining major or minor chords based on some type of E (nat or flat)). This can also be done in minor keys and can also be done based upon the submediant. Yes, some of these chords overlap with borrowed chords, but it provides for a lot of new possibilities and helps explain/analyze situations like this.

    All in all though I think you are right to spell it as an augmented chord, but no need for the inversion, just make it C+(no 3).

    Cheers

  45. andrew says:

    I don’t think anyone’s mentioned the weirdest element of this song, and that’s the repeating upward synth gliss in the groove. My band is going to play this song and I wonder if anyone with sharp ears can tell what the notes of the gliss are. Sounds like it goes up a G# and slides down off it.

    As for anti-corporate Andyd, that’s just silly. I listen to everything, from classical to jazz to weird experimental things, and this is simply a very interesting arrangement and production. Whether it’s “simple” in some ways has no bearing as to it’s musical worth. Gregorian chants were simple too (in some ways).

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