Thursday, January 20, 2022

Sonic Sorcery: Chromatic Descent with Bob Dylan's "Feel My Love"

Bob Dylan is a man of many talents and, musically, of many lives. 

With a career spanning 60-odd years, with classic songs coming from almost every decade, collaborations with other music legends, 125+ million records sold (with 32 of his 80+ album netting gold or platinum status in the US), Academy Award and Golden Globe alongside his 10 Grammy Awards & countless Grammy nominations (as well as both a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize for Literature, & other accolades), and much more, Bob Dylan's name & work is written, as it were, into the very stone of modern western culture.

In 1997 he wrote and recorded a song called "Make You Feel My Love" that has since been covered by over 400 artists, with charting versions from Billy Joel (who performed the first commercial release, peaking at #9), Garth Brooks (peaking at #8), and most recently by Adele in 2008 (charting in 10 countries and peaking at #1).

The song has a beautiful descending chromatic line we'll discuss in a moment, and an unusual but compelling chord progression.

Lets jump right in!

"Make You Feel My Love"

C - - - /G - - - /Gm - - - /F - - - /
Fm - - - /C - - - /D7 - G - /C - - - /

F - - - /C - - - /C+ - F - /C - - - /
F - - - /C - - - /Dm - - - /G - - - /

Worthy of note: The F to Fm (four chord to four minor, or IV to iv) is not an uncommon move to push back to the root (the C chord), but what is far less common is the 5 chord moving from major - in this case, the G to Gm (or V to v).

But it creates an amazing chromatic line: C - B - Bb - A followed by Ab - G - D# - G - G

That line tracks with the chords, of course, with the C note from the C chord, B note from the G, Bb from the Gm, A from the F, and so on.

From a songwriting perspective, its interesting that the melody also moves down, though it never makes use of the chromatic notes. An example of a song that does make use of the chromatics in the melody is the old Rogers & Hart song "Bewitched, Bothered, & Bewildered" (that has an ascending chromatic bass line), but keeping the melody firmly rooted on the notes of the key keep the song sounding like a beautiful pop ballad rather than an beautiful jazz ballad.

Learn this song well enough to play it with confidence. Then try using the same chordal ideas in one of your own composition.


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