This week we’re going to look at one of the biggest ear worms known to modern music. We’re going to dissect the song you can’t escape at any wedding or special event that unites people with who you wouldn’t normally be seen in public. “Don’t Stop Believing” has become a guilty pleasure for many people and although it may be “uncool” it’s got a few things we can learn from.
The song is diatonic. Meaning using chords and notes all based in the major scale. No outside playing here. The real beauty is it’s very melodic. How many people can sing the solo note for note? I’d count, but I’m not going to volunteer to be in a room with that many people playing air guitar, spilling booze and screaming the melody at the top of their lungs.
Let’s look at the solo, I’ve left out the bend markings in order to just focus on looking at the theory
We’ll notice it’s a: I V vi IV to a I V iii IV progression in the key of E.
The solo is all an E major scale (E F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E), picking pivotal points to stress chord tones. Bars 1 and 2 have a repeating theme. Over E, we have a 4th to major 3rd resolution in bar 1. Notice that at the end of bar 1 there is an F# on the exact beat the chord changes leading into the new chord. F# being the 5th of the B chord.
Bar 3 there is a motion to get to the E note (3rd of C# minor). The sequence A, G#, F#, E. It’s a nice descending line to end on a chord tone.
Bar 4 starts with a note that is one scale tone below a chord tone. Tension and release.
Bar 6 ends with a sustained B note that hangs over until bar 7. This works great because B is the root of the B chord and the minor 3rd of the G# minor chord. The second half of bar 7 is a D# note (5th of G# minor). The last bar hangs on a C# note (3rd of A major).
The most important takeaway about this song? Playing something melodic can be very effective and leave a more lasting mark then shredding a solo with no direction.