Music education always & always looking forward.

Direct (???) Modulation & Symmetrical Compound Meter in Queen's "We Are the Champions"

Many teachable moments in an extremely popular song.

Right now, it's much easier to feel defeated rather than victorious, so this might not feel like the best song to study. At the same time, a great deal of Queen's ouvre was deeply misunderstood. The fact that so many sports anthems were sung by a queer man of Persian descent, born in what was then Zanzibar, who moved to India and then immigrated to England, who died due to complications from AIDS means that the musical and cultural impact of Queen is always worth discussing.  It amazes me how often I have students use the word "gay" or its more cruel synonyms in a negative manner, and then turn around and get hyped when they hear "Another One Bites the Dust".  

As a secondary school educator, you don't have to talk about musicians' lives (either rock or classical, because you know there's lots of salacious dirt about Mozart and Paganini and Liszt...) in tabloid hyperbole, but I think it is important to discuss prejudice, preconceptions, and the truth about the lives of musicians that kids appreciate.

(Also, I've used a band arrangement of this piece for two end-of-the-year concerts in my career, and I highly recommend it.)

“We Are the Champions” - Queen

Intro: One of the most recognized and best-selling rock bands in history, led by the inimitable vocalist Freddie Mercury, British rockers Queen began under the auspices of heavy metal and progressive rock influences. As their career progressed, they released a number of singles that became worldwide anthems, many of which are still played at sporting events internationally. “We Are the Champions” falls under this category, as it is still immediately recognizable 37 years after its release. It attained only #2 on the UK Singles chart and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 upon its initial release, but has since been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Queen was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Analysis: The key change in “We Are the Champions” is unusual to say the least. The song begins in C minor, stays there for the verses, and then shifts to F major in the choruses. A closer analysis indicates that the song may simply begin in Eb major on a vi chord instead, oscillating in the first eight measures from C minor (iii) to Bb major (IV, with a suspended C in the bass). Starting in the ninth measure, the chord progression changes to Bb-Eb-Ab-Eb (or in the key of Eb, V-I-IV-I) for the next four measures, then continuing Ab-Eb-Bb-Cm-F7-Bb-Bb+9 (IV-I-V-vi-V/V-V) before making the full transition to F major. Essentially, this key change could be construed as a gear change or even as a transition to the V/V key.

The song is also 6/8 time, known as symmetrical compound meter, which makes it an excellent teaching device. (Although published arrangements can also be found in 3/4 time, the song was originally published in 6/8 time and has value being taught as a symmetrical compound meter song.)

Considerations for Teaching: This song contains no offensive subject material or lyrics and is such an integral part of popular culture that it will help expand students' understanding of songs they thought they already know. There are also many band and/or choral arrangements of this song, furthering the capacity for analysis and discussion on the key change.

Edited slightly for content & clarity, August 3rd, 2018.

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