Music education always & always looking forward.

Shift It Up a Step: Dorian Mode in Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars's "Uptown Funk"

Another monster hit borrowing from the jazz tradition using Dorian mode.


Last night was my spring concert.  It went off surprisingly well, to the delight of the community and to my boss.  This is always an incredibly good thing!  Possibly my favorite part, though, was a "flash mob" at the start.  While our surprise execution might not have been the greatest, it came off very well, especially for middle schoolers.  

It was born of making an arrangement, and that was born of one of my trumpet players figuring out the notes to the song.  She wrote them all down (by letter names) and even gave me somewhat of a formal analysis to the tune.  I popped it into Finale, and realize how brilliant her sixth grade, beginning band analysis of the tune was.  Like many other "fun" tunes that have come out in recent years (I wrote a week or so about Pharrell's "Happy"), some musicians analyze it in a minor key (Aeolian mode, like LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem"), but the song's melodic line seems to fit better in Dorian mode (which can sound somewhat similar to Aeolian mode).  

Anyway, the kids loved preparing it, the audience loved seeing it, I was sweating my butt off by the end of it (as we had to repeat the opening about a hundred times), but it went very well.  Here's a little more information about the song!

“Uptown Funk” - Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars

Intro: British musician Mark Ronson had already experienced a great deal of success as a producer, particularly working on Adele's first album, 19, and Amy Winehouse's debut album, Back in Black, for which he earned a Grammy. "Uptown Funk" appears on Ronson's fourth studio album, Uptown Special, and brought Ronson from the studio-based background of the musical world to its forefront. This was also his fourth collaboration with singer Bruno Mars, who had also already experienced a great deal of commercial and critical success, including number one albums and multiple Grammy awards. "Uptown Funk" is currently listed as the #12 performing single in the history of the Billboard Charts, the fourth most viewed video on YouTube, and it won both a Grammy for Record of the Year (with two other Grammys in tow) and a BRIT Award for British Single of the Year. The tune was written by Ronson with assistance from Jeff Bhasker, who had also collaborated previously with Mars, and Phillip Lawrence.

Analysis: This song is published in D Dorian, with a melodic line and a chord progression to support this modal analysis. Although several outlets report the piece being written in D Minor, the melodic line does not support that analysis. The first two (and most often used) chords in the song are Dm & G; if the song were in D minor (relative to F major) and full Aeolian mode, the G chord would be a G minor (G-Bb-D). Thus, the Dm to G progression (as well as the melodic line) support D Dorian instead of D Aeolian mode (minor).

Considerations for Teaching: This song is exceedingly popular with young students and can often be heard at school events (dances, etc.), but it does contain references to alcohol as well as the word "b*tch", which may cause teachers to proceed with caution. However, if a group is playing or reading through an instrumental version of the tune, this should present no problem.


(Entry edited November 4th, 2017, for clarity & additional content.)

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