Two basic questions about very common music patterns in music

I don’t know squat about musical vocabulary but I hope some of you who do might help me out with two questions that I have idly wondered for years and years, namely some info about two very common little patterns (for want of knowing the proper term) that show up in popular song.

First, that thing where it sounds like the tune is doing the aural equivalent of descending a staircase about three steps at a time. Does this have a name? The chorus to “Changes” by David Bowie contains the clearest example of this that I can think of but it’s everywhere. Is it known who invented this little effect and does it have a name?

Second is that rise-and-fall waltz piano thing that has turned up in endless pop hits including Unchained Melody, Skeeter Davis’ The End Of The World and Gerry & The Pacemaker’s version of You’ll Never Walk Alone to name but three. Same question - does it have a name and is there one song that everyone points to and says THIS is where it comes from?

I am a musician, and it puzzles me how many of these kind of things in rock music lack names. I can only think of a handful of drum patterns that have commonly known names (Bo Diddley beat, Purdie shuffle). Shouldn’t that descending pattern at the end of a 12-bar blues have a name?

Anyway, I would call the figure in “Changes” a descending bass, and it’s all over the place in traditional fiddle tunes. I’d call the other thing an arpeggio, common in classical music.

That’s an arpeggio. Essentially, you’re playing the notes of a chord in sequence rather than at the same time.

Maybe I can insert here that eternal question - what do you call that stupid ‘tip-toeing elf’ music (I do believe it is a plink-plink done on a violin) that you hear to denote a character in a wacky comedy is sneaking around, up to no good, but in a suspenseful yet humorous way?)


Just to chime in [ha!] with a related concept, if you break down a chord (say, the 1-3-5 C-E-G in C Major) into non-arpeggiated patterns or even randomness (i.e., E, C, E, G, G, E, C, C…, or into various combinations of single notes and chords – i.e, C-E, G, C-E, G, E, E, G, E-G, C, E-G, C…) that’d be a broken chord sequence or pattern.

I daresay a lot of rhythmic guitaring in particular consists of broken-chord strumming.

Do you mean the turnaround?

I’ve heard “turnaround” used more broadly than that, but that would certainly work.

It’s funny, this particular example is something I’ve thought about myself before and when I saw your thread title I was thinking “Yeah, like that thing in ‘Unchained Melody’!” You’ll also find it or something close to it in both Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and Leonard Cohen’s oft-covered “Hallelujah” (link goes to Rufus Wainwright cover because it was the clearest example I could find of what we’re talking about).

I once asked a friend with a background in classical music about this and she said, like jsgoddess, that it was called an arpeggio. But I don’t know whether these songs are all using the same arpeggio or if they’re actually different.

I’m not sure you understand what an arpeggio is just yet. Check out the wiki article; it’s just the notes of a chord (G major, A minor, or whatever) played separately instead of at the same time. So the notes that make up a G chord (G, B, D) are played one at a time instead of all together.

But every chord has an arpeggio. I mean, you can play any chord’s notes one at a time if you want to. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is in the key of D, so it starts with that chord’s arpeggio, while Rufus’ “Hallelujah” (I don’t know about the original) is in C, so it starts with that chord’s arpeggio.

So it kind of doesn’t make sense to say they’re the “same” or “different”. They’re the same in the sense that they’re both arpeggios, and have the same distances between notes, but they’re different in that they’re completely different chords in different keys.

No, I think I understand what an arpeggio is (I even read the Wikipedia article before posting), I’m just kind of tone deaf. This was probably why my far more musical friend didn’t fully understand what I was asking her. If you say those two examples are completely different chords in completely different keys then I’ll take your word for it, but I can’t tell.

That bassline in the Changes chorus just goes down the scale. I think it’s a “walkdown” although a walkdown might be more harmonically complex. Another popular (maybe) example is the verse to the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil”.

And regarding musical terms there’s the ever-popular “shave and a haircut” - shave and haircut <pause> two bits!

thank you! I asked about this before and people seemed to know what sound I was referring to, but not the actual word for it.

Many thanks for the answers. Glad to see it isn’t just me who always wondered what (it transpires) an arpeggio. Now I know :slight_smile:

(Honest) Questions: Are both G-B-D and G-D-B considered arpeggios of a G chord?

And what about G-B-D-B? …which I think is the pattern for the “Scales and Arpeggios” song in The Aristocats.

I’m asking, because if there can be different arpeggios of the same chord than the comment about not knowing if the arpeggios were the same would make some sense.

Yeah, you make a good point. The notes of an arpeggio don’t have to be played in any particular order to be considered an arpeggio. But the phrase “different arpeggio” still sounds incorrect… it’s more accurately a “different inversion” or “different arpeggio pattern”. It’s really all just semantics; “different arpeggio” is valid, just clunky, IMO. It brings to mind an entirely different chord, not pattern. I wasn’t trying to be snarky to Lamia, I just wanted to make sure he understood.

I would say that arpeggio is the notes in order… either an upward arpeggio or downward.

Otherwise it is a “Broken Chord”

That’s what it was meant to bring to mind. If I had a stronger music background I’m sure I’d know a better way to phrase things, but I don’t know whether it’s correct to say that these two pieces of music both contain arpeggios but the arpeggios are “different arpeggios”, “arpeggios in different chords”, “arpeggios of different chords”, “different chords played as arpeggios”, or something else entirely.

FYI, arpeggio is from the Italian arpeggiare, “to play on the harp”. Strummed, perhaps.

Another example would be Chicago’s "Colour My World’, no?