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Author Topic: The "Happy Birthday" Epiphany

Gold Hearted SuperFan!
Member # 955

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Icon 1 posted January 03, 2008 11:02      Profile for MacManKrisK     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The world-famous song, "Happy Birthday To You" has a long history, a bit of copyright hullabaloo, and one fatal musical flaw.

"Happy Birthday to You"'s starting note is a perfect 5th away from it's tonic note. I will clarify by giving examples in the key of F major (and note here that Happy Birthday is almost always professionally played in either F or G major.. I prefer F).

If you are singing "Happy Birthday" in the key of F, your first chord is therefore an F chord, which draws the ear to the bass note of the chord (yes, you guessed it.. F) and this is where, if just given that one chord, people will start singing from. The problem is that the melody of "Happy Birthday" doesn't start on the F note, it starts on the C below that F. If you start "Happy Birthday" by singing an F, you'll wind up in the key of Bb major which is WAY too high for anyone but little kids and professional sopranos to sing.

I can offer two solutions to anyone who may be accompanying the singing of "Happy Birthday."

The first option is straightforward; simply play the last phrase of "Happy Birthday" as an intro, thus setting the ears of the singers to the correct key so they will start on the correct pitch. Unfortunately, you will lose some of the spontaneous quality of the performance.

The second option is more technical in theory, but sill very very simple in practice. Instead of starting the singing with the tonic chord (in this case F) which is so very common, simply start by playing the dominant-seventh chord (in this case C7) and add a C note to the top of the chord to lead the ears of even the most tone-deaf onto the correct pitch. The additional C note is optional, of course, and only available on note-oriented instruments (piano, harpsichord, pipe organ, marimba, etc.). After the first two notes, change back to the tonic chord (F) as usual.

I can't explain why this excites me so much as to have to post about it, but.. it just does. [Big Grin]

I'm sure any other music theory geeks we may have around here will either go "yeah, I get it" or "duh, you didn't know that?"

"Buy low, sell high
get rich and you still die"

Posts: 2331 | From: Southwest Michigan, USA | Registered: Oct 2001  |  IP: Logged
Tom- geeking around

Member # 2876

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Icon 1 posted January 07, 2008 03:14      Profile for Tom- geeking around   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Gentlemen, this is an example why alcohol and internet access doesn't mix.

No, on a more serious note. I can understand why it excites you that much and it's "good to know" info I can brag with eventually.


Pizza and ginormous jugs is what I need!

Posts: 374 | From: Vienna | Registered: Aug 2004  |  IP: Logged

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