Last weekend, at a party here in Brooklyn, I discovered that Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” is a karaoke favorite of mine. Why? Because the chart-topping song (#3 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time of this writing) is really fun to sing. Also, because the vocal melody is an ideal way to learn about the seventh scale degree.
Dark Horse gives off an evil vibe. This is partly due to the minor key, the pitched down vocals, and the use of tritones (plus the baby crying “Oh No!” at the very beginning doesn’t help). Another contributor to the mood and overall melodic interest of the song is the usage of both types of sevenths.
Let’s start off by listening to our song in question:
Let’s get the nitty-gritty out of the way: There are two types of sevenths commonly used in pop music: the minor seventh (A.K.A. the subtonic) which is a whole-step down from the tonic, as well as the major seventh (A.K.A. the leading tone), which is a half-step down from the tonic. In pop music, either or both sevenths are commonly used in both major or minor keys.
In Dark Horse, we are in the key of B♭ minor (although the So you want to play with magic? section flirts with the relative major key of D♭ major). Our minor seventh scale degree is A♭ and our major seventh scale degree is A♮ (natural).
Now let’s listen for the sevenths in the piece. The minor seventh can be heard in Katy’s very first vocal line (the word “you” in “I knew you were“) as well as throughout the first half of each verse (another example is the next line, the word “you” in “and here you are“).
The major seventh can be heard in the second half of the verse (the “aph” in “Aphrodite” and the word “one” in “Make me your one and only”).
Can you hear it?
It is very important to be able to hear the difference between the major and the minor seventh. Being able to hear the distinction will increase your music listening enjoyment, as well as increase your tonal palette, if you are a songwriter.
I am a big fan of the minor v chord when you are in a major key (Beyonce’s “God Made you Beautiful” is a great example of that). The minor v is created by lowering (♭) the 3rd of the diatonic major V chord, which is the seventh with respect to the tonic.
Can you think of any other songs which use either major or minor sevenths (or both) in an interesting way? I would love to hear about it in the comments!