Wednesday, August 7, 2013

7/8 and metric modulation in Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean"

Here's the main riff to Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean."
The standard notation for this is a measure of 4/4 followed by a measure of 7/8. I have a problem with compound meters. Not that they're hard, but that they always require some sort of explanation and/or additional notation (triangles and lines, etc). This riff does NOT change from "in 4" to "in 7." The whole thing is in 4; as is often the case the 7/8 is split up a certain way, distributing eighths and sixteenths into unequal beat lengths. It's fairly common to split 7/8 up into two "long" beats and two "short" beats, and that's what happens in "The Ocean." Sure, it's 4 eighths+3 eighths. But those last three eighths sure sound like 2 beats to me.
And here I am conducting in 4 badly.


It would be great if we could adopt something like the following Carl Orff inspired signature. While a bit clunky (and sloppy looking, but I need to stop trying to make it pretty), it's far more descriptive:

I admit it's not immediately obvious, but if you go back to the first way you learned time signatures (top=how many, bottom =what "gets the beat") it's very simple. 4 total beats, 2 quarters and 2 dotted eighths. And if you're still unsure about the way I've distributed the beats, the metric modulation should convince you. Start at 3:14 and you'll hear the following:
The sixteenth note becomes the eighth note, though I find it much simpler to hear the dotted eighth notes in the 7/8 bar as the new beat, or dotted quarter. Unlike "Say You, Say Me," which becomes "1/3rd faster," "The Ocean" speeds up by 25%--the dotted eighth, which is 75% of a full beat, becomes the beat, thus increasing the tempo by 25%.

It would be great if we wrote this instead of 12/8:
But oh well. Conventions will stand, I figure.

Now. About the "key change" during the verse and Robert Plant's strange D minor pentatonic stylings...a post for another day.

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