One of the biggest challenges I found from my days as a school music teacher was making important concepts come to life and really be relevant to kids. Finding examples of these concepts in their pop music (with school-appropriate lyrics, of course) was one of the ways I found to make these vital connections and invite them to draw comparisons to the historical pieces and theoretical concepts that were the intended objectives.
I stumbled across a song recently that would fit the bill perfectly. Listen, and I want you to try to sing the bass line:
Did you catch it? What’s remarkable about this is the presence of the complete circle of fourths progression–from tonic to tonic with no divergences along the way. Sure, you’ll often hear circle of fourths progressions in limited deployment, but to use the whole thing is not all that common with today’s pop music.
Here’s the progression Ms. Gomez sings around:
C#m F#m B E A d#o G# C#m
or in Roman Numeral analysis:
i iv VII III VI iio V i
(Note the songwriters’ use of the subtonic instead of the leading tone and the major instead of augmented version of the mediant–not uncommon alterations but perhaps this has been consciously done to reflect the mood of the lyrics at those moments.)
On top of the theory stuff, you can also make the connection between Selena Gomez and Bach (along with many other Baroque and Classical composers), for whom this sort of extended progression was more stock-in-trade. You can play the historical music and they will grasp how, from a harmonic perspective, it has been put together.
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