VII. Popular Music
- Puff schemas are based on a I–iii–IV progression.
- Common variations:
While many of the schemas discussed in other chapters are commonly used as repeating chord loops, others are more often used as a building block within a goal-oriented phrase. Puff schemas, which use the mediant triad (iii), are one such schema. The name comes from its use at the outset of phrases in the song “Puff, the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary (1963).
|Puff, the magic
|lived by the
The puff schema is typically found in the opening of phrases, as it is here (). Again, the puff schema is not typically looped, so the chords that come after the IV chord can vary. In “Puff,” the fourth chord is I. But in “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye, the IV chord progresses to V ( ). “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals (1964) is an example of the puff schema in a minor-key song ( ); here, a major IV progresses to VI, demonstrating how the puff schema can involve varied chord quality.
|………I’ve been really
|There is a house
|in New Orleans
|they call the Rising
One particularly common chromatic variant of the puff schema raises the third of the iii chord to make it a major III♯ chord: I–III♯–IV. This progression is prominently featured in Radiohead’s debut single, “Creep” (1993). It combines the puff schema with a plagal schema with mode mixture ( ).
|When you were here before
|couldn’t look you in the
|eye. You’re just like an
|angel, your skin makes me
The raised third in the major III♯ chord creates a nice chromatic line, sol–si–la [latex](\hat5-\sharp\hat5-\hat6)[/latex], as shown in.
III♯–IV as Deceptive Motion
In many cases, a III♯ chord should be interpreted as an applied chord: a V/vi. The III♯ chord, acting as V/vi, does sound good when followed by vi. A progression like C–E–Ami–F can be understood as a variation on the singer/songwriter schema, in which a V/vi replaces the V chord.
Especially in a song that uses a progression like C–E–Ami–F, moving from E straight to F in another progression could be understood as deceptively resolving the III♯ chord:
- E–Ami is a V–i progression in the key of A minor.
- Ami is vi in the key of C major, so in C major, we can analyze E–Ami as V/vi–vi.
- E–F is a V–VI progression in the key of A minor, a deceptive resolution of the V chord.
- In C major, E–F may still sound like a deceptive resolution of the V/vi chord.
The play between deceptive and authentic resolutions of III♯ as a V/vi chord is a remarkable feature of the progressions used in “Weekend Wars” by MGMT (2007). Setting up the puff schema with an authentic V/vi–vi progression prepares the listener to experience the puff progression as a deceptive resolution ().
|A/C♯ Dmi C/E F
|… Instant battle plans
|written on the sidewalk
|V6/vi vi V6 I
(or III♯ IV)
- Doll, Christopher. 2017. Hearing Harmony: Toward a Tonal Theory for the Rock Era. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- Puff schemas (.pdf, .docx). Asks students to identify the chord progressions of various songs that use the puff schema. Worksheet playlist
- Identifying schemas (.pdf, .docx). Asks students to identify schemas in pop songs from a wide pool of possibilities, including blues-based schemas, four-chord schemas, puff schemas, and classical schemas. Worksheet playlist
Repeated chord progressions, often four bars long, that are repeated throughout a portion or all of a song.