Music education always & always looking forward.

Changing Moods & Modes: Minor to Major Modulation in The Turtles' "Happy Together"

One of the most effective minor to major switcharoos of all time.


This song is an ultimate classic, and something that most students will likely know, even if it's just "something I heard in that one movie or TV show!"  

Side note: it's really amazing when kids recognize music, whether it be Bach or the Beatles, and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have never heard it before, but the song has been aped by film scorers and jingle writers so much as to become familiar to young kids.  It's also kind of amazing when kids all know a certain song or a particular piece of music and are insistent that the music originated with a cartoon that came out two years ago, rather than a pop song that's almost 50 years old, or the ever-present belief that Beethoven wrote the score to the Little Einsteins TV program.

“Happy Together” - The Turtles

Intro: The 1960s pop band is best known for this song, which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967 and remained there for three weeks. The song has attained a sense of longevity in popular culture, appearing in many television shows, movies, commercials, and being covered many times over by artists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Captain & Tennille, and Filter.

Analysis: This song moves between parallel keys, switching almost instantaneously between F# minor (where it begins) to F# major as the chorus begins. The minor key is reinforced by vocal harmonies and counterpoint as well as what is likely an English horn in the background heard in the third verse. Preceding the change to F# major, which could be referred to as Common Tone Modulation (and could be considered Diatonic Common Chord Modulation), we hear a C# (here functioning as a V) chord at the end of the verse as the pivot to F# major. The drum pattern also moves from a straight quarter note pattern to a triplet pattern, possibly indicating a change is about to occur. The second verse is repeated (again in F# minor, and again seemingly pivoting on a C# chord) after the second repetition of the chorus, and is then followed by a repetition of the chorus (in F# major) that features no words, just vocal sounds (“ba ba ba”) imitating the melody of the chorus. The second verse is then again repeated, and trails off into a long outro (still in F# minor), and ending on a chord containing a Picardy third (thus moving back to F# major). This shifting between parallel major and minor keys creates a sense of doubt and intrigue in a song where the lyrics otherwise create a decidedly happy portrait of a couple, which in some ways explains the song's appeal amidst a sea of rock-pop love songs in the 1960s. 

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no objectionable material or profanity, and because of its use of the minor to major transition as well as the ending Picardy third, it is a terrific teaching example and listening sample. In each repetition of the chorus as well as outro, a simplistic drum beat gives way to cross-rhythms (triplets over eighth notes) played on the ride cymbals, adding another teachable feature of this classic song.


Happy Birthday, Kim!

Hot off the presses -- from the Library of Congress!!