Music education always & always looking forward.

But Do You, Really?: Changing Meter in The Descendents' "I Wanna Be a Bear"


Here we have another extremely short but effective example of changing meter -- if only the song did not use language you can't play for your kids.  But what do you expect from a bunch of punks!?

“I Wanna Be a Bear” - The Descendents

Intro: A punk band from Los Angeles formed in 1978, the hard, heavy and fast musical style of The Descendents made them an important part of the California punk scene in the 1980s, as much of the West Coast punk scene focused on what was termed as hardcore music, whereas many artists who did not play in a specific style known as punk in New York (e.g. Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television) were still known as punk. Featuring the typical punk/hardcore instrumentation of vocals, guitar, bass and drums, The Descendents released four albums in the 1980s, having reunited periodically to record and tour after 1987. Appearing on the band’s debut album Milo Goes to College, “I Wanna Be a Bear” fits along with the collection of short, fast songs appearing on the album, clocking in at 0:42.

Analysis: In less than a minute, “I Wanna Be a Bear” changes meter repeatedly. With no particular pattern in place, the song, which begins in 4/4 time changes abruptly to ¾ time. The best explanation for the shifting meter is that the music of the song was written to fit the lyrics of the song exactly, only containing two verses and no chorus, without wasting a single note. The composition of short songs as this was a hallmark of many 1980s West Coast punk bands, including The Descendents as well as The Minutemen.

Considerations for Teaching: In the style of many light-hearted punk tunes, the subject matter of the song is rather juvenile and not inappropriate. The final line of the song, “I don’t wanna smell your butt” reinforces this theme. However, the singer confesses to a desire to “shit in the woods”, making the song far less appropriate for classroom use.

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