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Changing Meter in Ben Folds's "B*****d"

Now that school is out, for many of us, it's time to start posting some popular songs that won't exactly fly in the classroom.  Obviously, if you're teaching popular music, you're going to run into lots of songs that were not designed for the secondary schools.  Despite his presence as a keynote speaker at the NAfME National Conference in 2014, Folds has a surprisingly large number of profane songs in his ouvre.  His live performances are known for even more intense profanity, often audience-response driven.  

Obviously, none of these songs are necessarily great for classroom examples, but they help reinforce theory basics nonetheless.

“Bastard” - Ben Folds

Intro: Ben Folds is a pianist and producer who briefly studied jazz at the University of Miami. He began to focus on piano in his early 20s in North Carolina, and formed the Ben Folds Five (a trio), known for irreverent piano rock in the early 1990s. “Bastard” is the first track from Folds’s second solo studio album, 2005’s Songs for Silverman. The album charted at #13 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, Folds’s highest rank at that time. After a solo career and a touring reformation of BF5, Folds is known as one of the most sought-after arrangers and producers of his time, extending his compositional repertoire to a recently premiered piano concerto. In 2014, he gave the keynote speech at the NAfME National Conference in Nashville. He has also been in the public eye as the host of NBC's The Sing Off, an acapella singing contest show.

Analysis: As the chorus of “Bastard” begins, the meter is constantly shifting. The subject of the song is an old man, a former whiz kid, attempting to navigate adulthood without finding much success. The song is a folk tale, much like many of the tunes Folds has penned. The changing meter, reflected in the piano, gives way to a straight-up four-four upon arrival at the chorus. The changing meter returns in the second verse, possibly indicating confusion in the story's subject.

Considerations for Teaching: While Folds's palate is always good listening material for young fans of piano rock, this particular song is one of his least appropriate. Although the story being told is not offensive, the profanity found in the song does not stop at the title. It is a shame, as this is an excellent example of changing meter in what at first appears to be a straightforward pop song.

Asymmetrical Simple Meter in Juliana Hatfield's "Spin the Bottle"

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