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In Bob Marley's song "Could You Be Loved" popcorn picking is used which is a percussive sounding rhythm guitar technique. The song is in B minor key and uses these cords: Bmi, D, Emi, F#mi, G, A, i.e. all chords of the mode except C#dim.

Here are all notes that were used in popcorn picking over each chord:

  • chord Bmi: B, C#, D, F#
  • chord D: D, E, F#
  • chord Emi: D, E, B
  • chord F#mi: F#
  • chord G: G, B, C
  • chord A: A

As you can see all notes are in the mode except the note C played over chord G.

Why is it like that and it sounds good?

When I played in the song over chord G notes G, B, C# it sound terrible and yet C# is in the mode but not C.

You can hear it between 0:22 and 0:25 here.

If you are not sure what I mean here you can see a guy playing exactly the popcorn picking part.

Here another video.

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2 Answers 2

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The C is there, in the single line “popcorn” guitar part. It is simply an “upper neighbor”, which is played in between two B’s. It doesn’t matter that it is not a chord tone, it works because it is both preceded and followed by B, which is a chord tone. The reason it works well is regardless of what the notes of the key are, over a major chord ^3^4^3 sounds more typical and natural than ^3^#4^3 most of the time.

The actual line is this, each letter represents a 16th note and commas are 16th rests:

GGGG,GG,,,B,C,B,

When playing these types of lines there is nothing wrong with using non-chord tones as neighbors or passing notes, it gives these types of lines a more melodic flavor.

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  • Thanks for reply. So passing tone in terminology of music theory. I am more interested why it sounds good. Better if I use only G chord tones, say, G - B - D - B or only notes of mode, say, G - A - B - A, or G - B - C# - B? Why the passing tone works well for G chord and was not use over other chords? Aug 7, 2023 at 19:55
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    @azerbajdzan Melody is not made up of only chord tones so when playing melody, non-chord tones are often used as well as chord tones. The non-chord tones are usually notes that are part of the key but they do not have to be. In the case of the C on the G chord, it was an artistic choice, it sounded good to them even though C is not part of the key of the song. One can only speculate as to why they used it only on that chord, there is no answer to that question. Music is art, it doesn’t have to follow rules. Composers make choices but the choices don’t have to follow what a book says is right. Aug 7, 2023 at 21:35
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    It may be worth noting that G to C is a perfect fourth, whereas G to C♯ is an augmented fourth. It seems unsurprising that the perfect fourth would sound more consonant than the augmented fourth. (That said, the C♮ does sound "like an accidental" to me—the context makes it consonant, but it still has a pleasant foreignness.) Aug 8, 2023 at 2:52
  • @TannerSwett Good point, also a ^1^3^4^3 sounds much more natural and inside than ^1^3^#4^3. Aug 8, 2023 at 4:40
  • @azerbajdzan Because of TannerSwett’s comment and suggestion I added a little extra info to the first paragraph of my answer. Aug 8, 2023 at 4:59
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I'm jumping on a old thread here, but my perception is:

You can think of the key as either B minor or D major (or switching between the two). Most of the negative lyrics are in the verse (Bm home) or land on minor chords, whereas the chorus is based around the relative major (D as home). The chord preceding the chorus is A (the dominant of D) which strengthens the feeling of D now being Chord I in the chorus. This A chord is also the major chord under the word "light" - which like the perfect cadence into D, also leads us from the negative (minor) section of lyrics (and harmony) into the hopeful lyrics (and harmony) of the chorus.

My analysis here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Y9dIocRBrvM-LXgfQZf41-5Mm6lVoLiV0CInbTrRQdc/edit?usp=sharing

So, if we analyse the chords in the key of D major (which this section is based around), then when you get to the bit (I think) you are referring to you have the chords:

D, Bm, G, D.

or:

I, vi, IV, I.

When you get to G (IV) you have a plagal cadence from IV to I (G to D). When sitting on chord IV (G), which I think is where this C creeps in, it sounds "better" because C is the subdominant of G. So you kind of have a secondary subdominant implied there: C->G->D, coming round the circle of 5ths in fourths. Plagal->Plagal.

So, in summary I perceive the C to be borrowed from the subdominant of G, which is the subdominant of D (the key, or at least home of the chorus): VII->IV->I. Like how in lots of music you often see the extended cadence II->V->I rather than ii->V->I.

The VII->IV->I extended plagal cadence is common in blues / rock and pop etc. which is where I believe this sneaky little "C" comes from.

This is a good explanation of the Beatles doing this explicitly with the chord progression itself, whereas in Could You Be Loved the "C" is just borrowed, or the sub-subdominant is implied:

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