Ableton Liveschool trainer Michael Di Francesco has many many projects and equally many talents. In between albums and touring for Van She, one of his aliases, Touch Sensitive, managed an eight-week stint at number 1 on the Beatport indie chart in 2012 with his Anna Lunoe collab “Real Talk”.
Michael recently dropped his latest Touch Sensitive track “Pizza Guy” and it’s already caught over 300,000 plays on soundcloud. “Pizza Guy” is in G Major, but has an intriguing mood, so we picked is brain on the music theory behind this.
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Michael: “The whole track is based on one simple idea, the ostinato melody that just repeats and repeats while the bass line moves around under it….the long release times of the synth playing the ostinato melodies notes gives the impression there are chords there when there aren’t really any”
Michael’s ostinato melody is G-E-G-D-G-E-G-D repeated. The long release times on the synth makes these notes blend together and implies the presence of a chord. As the G is being played twice as often as the E or D in this melody, it’s reinforcing G as the home note (the root of G Major).
Michael: “The overall effect of this melody combined with the bass notes gives it a particular mood”
The bass line in Touch Sensitive – ‘Pizza Guy’ is E-D-C, E-B-C. The emphasis here is on the C note as it’s being played twice as often as any other (and held longer also), this emphasis makes the C note feel like a second home. If we add the C note that the bass line revolves around to the ostinato melody, we’d have C, E, G and D – which together make a C Major add 9 chord. So before reading further, let’s re-iterate that the most played note in the ostinato melody is G, while the most played note in the bass line is the C.
Michael: “I avoided using the F# note which really affects the mood”
Now on to the really interesting part, Michael has avoided using the F#, let’s discuss that! Thinking about the circle of 5ths, we know that G Major is next to C Major, which means (amongst other things) that these two scales share all but one note. That one note of difference is the F# (if you’re in G Major) or the F (if you’re in C Major). So while Michael’s song is in G Major, by avoiding the F# note he’s also implying that he could be in the C Major key, which adds complexity and interest to the piece as it creates a feeling of playing in two keys at once. This technique of avoiding certain notes and as a result creating ambiguity as to which key your song is pretty simple, but can be really effective in creating a unique an interesting mood. The ambiguity between G Major and C Major has been further intensified in Pizza Guy by the how ostinato melody focuses around the G (implying the G as the root note), while the bass line focuses around the C (implying C as the root note). It really brings to mind Miles Davis’ classic quote “it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play”.
Want to try it at home? Take a look at the circle of fifths and pick two adjacent keys, for example E Major & A Major. Work out which is the note of difference between them (in the case of E Major and A Major it’s the D / D#) and completely avoid using this note in your track. Then make some elements of the track focus around the E, while others focus around the A to further emphasize the ambiguity of which key your track is in. Good luck!
For another track breakdown check out Elizabeth Rose’s tutorial on the music theory considerations behind writing the hooks and melodies for her single “The Good Life”.
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