Music education always & always looking forward.

Uneven Numbers & Anger: Changing Meter in Heart's "Barracuda"

A raucous verse of shifting time signatures.


Sometimes when you just need to clear your ears out, when confronted with too much sap (or too much wonky choral music*), you just need to blare Heart at top volume. Some band directors listen to recordings of the Chicago Symphony or the U.S. Marine Band on expensive headphones. I pump Heart on my crappy computer speakers and start galloping around the room. ::shrugs::

*Just kidding; I only pick quality choral music for my students.

Intro: Heart is one of the most significant and long-lived American rock bands. Moving through a variety of genres and remaining commercially viable throughout a number of pop music eras, from early on, the locus of power in Heart has always been sisters Ann & Nancy Wilson. With albums charting in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2010s, Heart holds the honor of the American band fronted by women with the most longevity on the charts. "Barracuda" appeared on their 1977 album Little Queen. It was written about the band's frustration with the record industry and particularly Ann's anger at a terrible rumor about her and her sister. Heart was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Analysis: The changing meter in this song begins the beat after Ann Wilson's vocal entrance (:29 in the video recording linked above). After a guitar intro in 4/4, the first measure of the first verse is in 3/4 time, changing to 2/4 in the very next measure, then giving way to five measures of 4/4, before repeating that particularly metrical pattern again. This pattern repeats on each verse of the song, with each chorus & extended guitar section in 4/4. During the chorus, as Ann Wilson sings "down down down" (first heard here at :59), there are stress shifts that make it sound as though the song is changing into a compound meter, but the beat pattern remains solidly in 4/4. It could be interpreted that, seeing as Ann began writing this song in a righteous fury, the changing meters force the listener to pay attention.

Considerations for Teaching: The lyrics convey an extended metaphor to marine life and the recording industry, but there are no profane or offensive lyrics in this song. And it rocks, and gets across one particular concept, so it would serve as an outstanding listening example at any level of teaching.

Slow Symmetry, Easily Countable: Symmetrical Compound Meter in A Great Big World's "Say Something"

Moving Meter Like a Flickering Flame: Changing, Symmetrical & Asymmetrical Simple Meter in Sonic Youth's "Candle"