Music education always & always looking forward.

Symmetrical Compound Meter & Aeolian Mode in Alicia Keys's "Fallin'"

On Tuesday, you got a really bad example of a song in symmetrical compound meter.  In actuality, it wasn't a bad example musically speaking, but a terrible example lyrically speaking. In truth, what inspired me to write about that song was that a friend had, out of nowhere, brought up the meter of that song to me some months ago, and then on Monday night, I saw it used on Dancing with the Stars, where it also seemed a little out of place.  

But enough about Tuesday's mistake.  THIS song makes use of symmetrical compound meter AND Aeolian mode (not just a regular old minor key), AND contains no offensive language.  And kids recognize Alicia Keys.  When I played a song of hers in a general music class I taught years ago, a student said to me, "This is the song my mom plays really loud when she cleans the house."  The thought of such a thing made me smile. 

So please, if you're trying to get across the concept of Aeolian mode as well as asymmetrical compound meter (or just how to count in 6/8 or 12/8), please play this song for your kids.

"Fallin'" - Alicia Keys

Intro: Released in 2001, Alicia Keys’s debut album Songs in A Minor, on which “Fallin’” appears, helped her earn five Grammys in 2002, including Best New Artist. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and remained there for three non-consecutive weeks. As the album’s lead single, “Fallin’” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart and reached #1 in Belgium, New Zealand and the Netherlands as well. The song won three Grammys, including Song of the Year, in 2002. Keys has continued to release music since then, winning 7 more Grammys, selling millions more records, and garnering many accomplishments along the way.

Analysis: Making use of a primarily i-v7 chord progression (e-b7 with the song published in E minor), this song serves as a terrific example of Aeolian mode. The v7 chord is essential in demonstrating Aeolian mode (or natural minor) as the dominant chord remains a minor chord, which would be different if the song were expressed in harmonic or melodic minor. The song is also in 12/8 time, serving as an example of symmetrical compound meter. This is discernible audibly, as the main arppegiated piano figure hits the highest note on beat 4 (or beat 10) of the measure, confirming the use of symmetrical compound meter (6/8 or 12/8) rather than basic asymmetrical simple meter (3/4).

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no inappropriate lyrics or subject matter, and in demonstrating both Aeolian mode and symmetrical compound meter, serves as an excellent listening example in class.

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