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Fly Me To The Melody: How Chords Work

A stylishly rumpled Ol' Blue Eyes.

“Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars

Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words) – Bart Howard

TUNE! I dare you to listen to the Frank Sinatra version without clicking your fingers. For the uninitiated, it’s a rip roaring Bossa Nova Wedding Disco extravaganza, with a whole wodge of Great Gatsby swing in its tail. It’s a corker.

And it doesn’t age. Written in 1954, it still sounds like it’s flowing off the pen of a Broadway hitmaker. How does it do this? What’s the magic elixir?

It’s the melody. One of the best I’ve come across, actually. It flows like a river, all full of accidentals, tiny little steps, perfectly placed leaps, and a chord progression that’ll knock your socks off.

Here we go:

| Cm7 | Fm7 | Bb7 | Ebmaj7 || Ab | Dm7b5 | G9 | Cm7 |

Ohhh yes. Those bewildered by music theory, please come out from behind your desk chairs. I shall now endeavour to explain this big ol’ mess.

1. Focal Points

The melody’s beautifully simple if you imagine it like this: you’ve got a wooden block that’s six notes long. The melody tracks from one end to the other, and then goes back up. You start it at the top of the scale (Eb-Ab), and after each half-a-line you move it down one note. So, it goes like this:

Fly (Eb) me to the moon (Ab)
And let me play (D) among those stars (G)
Let (C) me see what spring (F) is like
On Ju-(B)-piter and Mars (Eb)

How utterly perfect! You’ve moved your 6-note woodblock down 4 notes and you’ve made it back to the root! Doesn’t it make you smile? These notes I’ve drawn onto the lyrics are what I’m gonna call the Focal Points of the melody, and as we can see, they move in a wonderfully structured order in this song.

So, use this idea of the woodblock in your travels. Doesn’t have to be six notes long, it can be as many or as little as you want, but it will really benefit your writing.

2. VI’s and V’s

Have a look at that chord sequence up top. Notice anything? No? Well, I’ll tell ya.

Chords are creatures of habit. They’re used to moving in cadences (harmonic transitions), and they don’t take kindly to small jumps. Happily, this progression is jammed full of 4th and 5th cadences. It’s got swing, momentum, and just sounds right.

It’s a strange phenomenon, and someday some wiry-haired academic will churn out a dissertation on it. For now, though, let’s just marvel at the phenomenon of cadences and use as many 4th and 5th’s as is humanly possible.

3, Accidentals in Chords

The super-nerds among you will have noticed the apparent mistake in the ‘Focal Points’ section and will be eagerly hovering your mouse above the comments section like a digital vulture. For the normo’s: can you spot it?

Yes, that’s right, I did mean to put (B) instead of (Bb). It’s an accidental (a note not normally in the scale) that rides beautifully over its corresponding chord: G9.

See, accidentals are what make a melody stand out. Think about Nat King Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’. (“Very Far… Very Far…”) It’s all very well sticking to the regulation Doh-Ray-Me scale, but a real showstopper melody has to have a few accidentals.

But how do you get them in? Well, if you’re using the woodblock idea to get a melody on the road, then stick one of the focal points on an accidental. It’ll sound gorgeous.

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Filed under Arrangement, Melody