How Music Works

May the Fourth Be With You?

Perfect Fourth

Why fourth am I so preoccupied?  No, this isn’t a Star Wars reference (well, maybe a little). We all have that one song (or type of song) that we return to over and over again.   For some of us, is that hard-rocking song that we used play every time we got into our first car.  For others, it’s that song that we used to dance to with our friends every Friday and cemented the bonds that last a lifetime.  Some remember the song that was playing when they first locked in embrace with that someone that was destined to be in our lives forever.  For a few, it’s the song that played right after they left.   For all of us, music is so locked in our memories that we only need to hear those first few bars to know exactly how we are going to feel for the next few minutes.   For me, it’s the perfect fourth.

What Is A Perfect Fourth?

So, what the heck is a perfect fourth?   Well, technically speaking it is two notes, five semi-tones apart, which makes little to no sense to most of us.   On a piano keyboard, the notes C (the key just south of the two black keys on a keyboard) and F (the one just below the three black keys) represent a perfect fourth.  This is just an example as you keep moving up a keyboard (or guitar) one key at a time, including those black keys, there are 12 perfect fourths on the keyboard.   Again, while all of this is correct according to music theory, this really means nothing until you hear.

Perhaps the most recognized example of a perfect fourth are the first two notes in Amazing Grace or the first two notes in the Bridal March (“Here comes the bride”).  Once a chord is wrapped around these two notes, then (for me) you have musical magic.   Some well-known examples of songs that used this musical trope include Love Me Tender, Born in the USA, Achy Breaky Heart, Only Living Boy In New York (one of my favorites), What I Got, and Hold On by the Alabama Shakes.   If you are familiar with these tunes, you may notice that the fourth can either be very pensive or make you want to immediately jump out of your seat and this is precisely what I love about this versatile little arrangement.   With just a little change in speed, you have a different mood altogether, but always very happy.   

Perfect Fourth
Perfect Fourth on piano keyboard

So, Now What? A Beautiful Catastrophe

Well, I’ve jumped in the fray with a couple selections of my own to add to the panoply which I hope you will enjoy.   For the new album, A Beautiful Catastrophe, I have intentionally used this as both a reflective backdrop in “Mercy” but also a more energetic medium in “Neon Nights”.  I honestly have to control myself as I am susceptible to overuse, but don’t be surprised if it pops up again.  For me, whenever the fourth makes its way into my ear, it makes me sit up and take notice, most often with a big smile on my face.   Happy listening.