Music education always & always looking forward.

Triple Beats Moving Quickly: Symmetrical Compound Meter in Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel"

A fast moving lilt makes for an easily digestible pop song.

If you are a Pandora subscriber/user (I am not), you'll find that some of their musical suggestions are based on meter.  Typically in pop songs, when you have symmetrical compound meter, like 6/8 or 12/8 time, the songs are slower and more lilting.  This song is a good example of 12/8 time that moves very quickly.  If you have students playing a piece that's in a quick 6/8 or 12/8 time, this might be a good listening example to reinforce playing 6/8 at a fast tempo.

Why do we call it symmetrical compound meter?  It's all about the subdivsion.  In simple meter, you would divide the beat in two, essentially by eighth notes (and further by sixteenth notes) -- think "one-and two-and three-and four-and."  In compound meter, at least some of the beats are divided into three rather than two -- think "one-pu-let two-pu-let", or in terms of words, "strawberry strawberry."  However you want to count that; I'm not up on the latest research as to what helps students to best subdivide (but there is research done on the subject).  Either way, this song is a good listening example.  

”The Way You Make Me Feel" - Michael Jackson

Intro: Quite possibly the most famous American performer of the 20th century, the man known as the King of Pop was unusual also in that the second act of his career was even larger than the first, even with the massive success of the Jackson 5. “The Way You Make Me Feel” was the third single in a row from Jackson's 1987 Bad album to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and it reached #1 in Ireland as well. The song was written by Jackson, who also co-produced it with longtime collaborator Quincy Jones. This song serves as another portion of Jackson's legacy, which includes multiple Guiness World Records (including Most Successful Recording Artist), 13 Grammys, and the biggest selling record of all time. 

Analysis: With a quick tempo and lilting feel, this song serves as a good example of symmetrical compound meter. Published in 12/8 time, this song is a good listening example to use as students learn to play in that particular time signature.

Considerations for Teaching: Students are very familiar with Jackson's ouvre. This song is slightly less known by students, but their reaction to Jackson's music is generally positive. In hindsight, the video for this song has been criticized for promoting cat-calling, and the subject of the song is a narrative of Jackson trying to get the attention of a beautiful woman, but generally speaking, the song contains no offensive material.

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