5

Generally, I'm very pitch intolerant; out of tune vocals can send me running from the room. I'm particularly intolerant of 3rds & whether they push or pull depending on whether the feel is minor or major - I will accept flat, but I cannot listen to sharp [See my previous musing on the sharp 3rd in the Oasis Wonderwall chorus - there's another more disparaging, but I can't find it right now]

That being said, Green Day's Basket Case has always intrigued me.
The song is a pretty basic* I IV V vi in E♭ with a diatonic melody, yet the vocalist fairly frequently pushes the 5th, B♭, quite hard towards B natural. He doesn't do this every time there's a B♭ nor is the push always as noticeable, but he does it sufficiently frequently that it becomes a part of the 'feel' for the track. The vocal overall isn't one that really needs cent-precision, of course.

By all rights, this should drive me nuts, yet it doesn't. My brain accepts it as a natural component of the song.

So, rather than this being "Why does this not hurt?" I guess I'm asking "What is the name or reasoning behind this phenomenon?" Is it like a comma pump?

Link to official Youtube… for those who don't like punk, he does this right at the head of the song, before the 'punkness' gets going properly, in the last word of the first & third lines
"Do you have the time to listen to me whine?" then "… melodramatic fools"

After comments.
For those who are not hearing it, here are the first couple of vocal lines in Melodyne with "whine" & "fools" circled in red, "do" & "time" in green. [Look at the pitch line not the note 'blob'. You'll need to click through then zoom in to see it properly.] He's really squeezing towards halfway between B♭ & natural on both "whine" & "fools" but not on "do" & "time".
I've never put it through any hard analysis before, so I'm glad it proves it's not psycho-acoustic, it's really there. ;))
The analysis for 'time' isn't perfect, the pitch detection breaks in the middle of the note.

enter image description here

Click for full size

*Listening to this more carefully after posting & actually getting the guitar & Melodyne out to see what's going on, the sharpened 5th is always against a G Major, a III Maj, which makes the B♭ very ambiguous, as G contains a B natural. This seems to be what causes the "argument" in the track at those points. So, though it's a 'regular' I IV V, it contains both vi and III - that's what threw me… now I just need to figure out why that III is 'acceptable'.

6
  • 4
    For me, 'do' 'time' and 'whine' all sound exactly the same pitch, bang on the ^5 of the key. Not having ap maybe helps/hinders?
    – Tim
    Jul 12, 2022 at 12:29
  • 3
    @Tim - I ran it through Melodyne & added to the question.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 12, 2022 at 14:01
  • 1
    Just curious, for comparison, what does the Melodyne graph look like for a string quartet passage like this? youtu.be/wpoYUNfB-BI?t=42 What I've getting at is the red line (pitch?) inside the blob (amplitude?) isn't straight anywhere. If I reading it correctly there is pitch variation everywhere... and that is natural. Jul 12, 2022 at 17:59
  • 1
    @MichaelCurtis - I can show you a picture of it - i.stack.imgur.com/AfGfx.png - but it means little to me. The entire thing reads sharp, but within that, things seems pretty 'static' in comparison.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 12, 2022 at 18:03
  • 1
    Well, if the red line is pitch, the quartet pitches are much more stable. I wonder is singing text - and at a fairly fast tempo - might account for more pitch variation? Jul 12, 2022 at 18:05

2 Answers 2

6

Final edit: I did some experiments, and the general feeling is that any gradual pitch bend of a note or a series of notes of gradually changing pitch is OK, as long as it starts on the right pitch or at least keeps moving and doesn't play a steady bad pitch for too long. And when the bending stops and the pitch clearly settles somewhere, then it better be in tune. I can't tell if others feel the same. And then my original speculation on why this particular pitch bend makes musical sense:


This is probably subjective, but to me, bending the melody Bb towards B over the G power chord turns the total chord from a G minor to a G major chord. Particularly for dominant chords, I like to make the third ambiguous by bending it between minor and major, or play both at the same time. In this song, a G major would be something like a secondary dominant G -> Cm. With a little more bending it starts to remind something quite different.

music example

I haven't really experimented with it to know where the limits are. Does the note have to start on either minor or major, or does the pitch matter at all, as long as it's somewhere between the limits of minor and major? Intuitively, I'm inclined to say that particularly in blues/jazz/rock contexts, it doesn't matter where exactly the third is.

EDIT. Here's the spectrum of the "listen to me whine" line in the Transcribe! transcription application by Seventh String Software: Transcribe spectrum

Here's the spectrum for the G-based chord after "whine": Transcribe spectrum G chord

Anyway, if there's indeed some B natural in there, then the singer is just slightly bending towards that. But to me it sounds like an overdriven power chord without actually attempting to articulate a major third.

One more picture. G-D power chord played with a simple sawtooth waveform through an overdriven guitar amp simulation. Transcribe! suspects there's a bit of a B note, even though none was played. Even a single G note played with the saw wave has some B in its overtones, but with the overdrive it's louder.

spectrum of an overdriven G power chord

8
  • 3
    I think this is it! Interesting question and interesting answer. A sharp major third might be nails on a chalk board, but a sharp minor third (especially sung over a major or open fifth chord as it is here) is quite agreeable. The basketcase melody would even work if it was sharpened all the way to a B natural (as you well pointed out here with your yesterday example!)
    – Some_Guy
    Jul 12, 2022 at 14:47
  • 2
    Interesting idea. The odd[er] thing is that the G Maj 3rd is actually stated - I can kind of hear it myself & melodyne confirms it's there [top right of the first red box]. So we have an implicit minor 3rd [5th of the root key] & a stated major 3rd, yet he sings right in the cracks, in a kind of 'split the difference' manner.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 12, 2022 at 14:54
  • 1
    [I've added some more info to the Q, without distorting the original point so it doesn't mess up your answer, just adding info I'd noticed after the initial Q]
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 12, 2022 at 17:10
  • 1
    @Tetsujin There appears to be a faint B and it's shown in the spectrum as well, but it sounds like an accident, maybe a B string sounding through a little bit. I compared the sound on the record to actual articulated major and minor barre chords played through an overdriven amp (sim really), and Green Day's chord sounds like just a power chord, not meant to be a major. I could use the G chord from Green Day as a guitar sample backing a G minor chord without problem. Jul 12, 2022 at 17:20
  • 1
    It's really hard to tell from the video [which may not be the 'truth' anyway] but he seems to have the guitar tuned down to D not E, so there would be no open B… which doesn't help at all. The B still seems the most 'natural' pump, even if it's only the vocal doing it. [btw, there's no argument from me here, I just can't quite straighten it all out in my head. It's a punk song, it should be 'easy'. ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 12, 2022 at 17:55
2

I'm the first to analyze any microtonal detail, but come on... it's a punk rock song. The intonation is a bit all over the place, and that's kind of for its own sake. Insanity, paranoia, self-suppression... there's a lot of inner conflict here, and the swaying, sort of over-boiling pitch expresses this better than anything.

What is special about the ⅲ is that the minor note isn't at all in the guitar part, and so the vocal part has more freedom do go astray without it being all to obvious. But to my ears it's still definitely too low to make it a Ⅲ chord. Though keep in mind that even a powerchord contains a just major third as an overtone, but not a minor third, in that sense the B-natural does indeed sound, and with the overdrive sound and absent anything else in the arrangement at that point, one may be tempted to hear it as more of an actual note than you otherwise would. Perhaps Melodyne is also falling fool to that, it's not that it can perfectly distinguish any sound components, just remarkably well.

Regarding comma pump, in principle there could indeed be one here: if you construct the Cm as a Pythagorean whole step over the B♭ (instead 5:3 sixth over the tonic), then the G in it is already sharper than 12-edo, and if you then build a just minor third over that, it'll be perhaps 20 cents sharp on paper. But again... in this genre, nah.

2
  • Thanks for pointing out the overtones in a power chord. But I didn't quite get what you're suggesting as the answer to the main point of the question - why doesn't the slightly sharp pitch feel irritating for this note? My intuitive hypothesis was that it's ok, because it's a third relative to the bass note and it's ok to bend the pitch anywhere between a minor and major third, as is regularly done in bluesy genres. Jul 13, 2022 at 11:36
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica I wouldn't agree that it's “ok to bend the pitch anywhere between a minor and major third” as a general statement. It always has a certain effect that may or may not be appropriate. In this case I'd say it is appropriate mostly because the whole piece asks for angry and unconforming expression. But yeah, if the guitar played a full minor chord in a clean sound at that spot, the vocal would have probably adapted and sung the note a little flatter as well. Jul 13, 2022 at 16:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.