Music education always & always looking forward.

A Preview, Then a Change: Flattened Submediant Modulation in the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice?"

Though a (usually brief) flattened submediant (flat sixth scale degree) modulation often happens on a song's bridge, this one happens right at the start.


Greetings!  As the summer wears on, I've decided to put together some entries organized by decades.  This week will be 1960s week, using some examples that exemplify the musical & stylistic features of the decade.  

We start with a classic that features some very interesting modulation and represents one of the most artistically important albums of the decade.  Regardless of the theory fundamentals present here, I'm of the opinion that every kid needs to hear this song.

“Wouldn't It Be Nice?” - The Beach Boys

Intro: One of the most influential groups in modern American popular music, The Beach Boys cemented their critical legacy (beyond their huge commercial success) when they released 1966's Pet Sounds. Considered by a number of rock critics to be the all-time best rock album produced, it was also a turning point in the development of psychedelic rock, baroque pop, and progressive rock. This track served as the third single from the album, with “God Only Knows” as its B-side, peaking at #8 on the American charts. Much like the album as a whole, the song's influential legacy leaves a much longer trail than it sales numbers.

Analysis: The shift to the flattened submediant in this song occurs originally at the very beginning of the song, only four measures into the tune and immediately after the instrumental introduction in A major. A flattened submediant shift occurs as the key shifts, as soon as the vocals begin, to F major. 

Considerations for Teaching: The Beach Boys recordings are full of strong theoretical examples for listening in class, and generally contain no offensive material or language. This song is no exception, and with its extensive use in movies and media, may be recognized by students.


A Journey Through a Strange Modal Territory: Phrygian Mode in Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit"

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