Let’s begin by listening to the song we are discussing today:
Miley Cyrus’s #1 smash hit “Wrecking Ball” was released late August 2013. Provocative video aside, this song has two interesting musical characteristics:
- Relative Key - Alternating minor (verse) and major (chorus). D minor and F major
- Suspension - A compelling 4-3 suspension found at the beginning of the chorus
In our discussion today, we will be focusing mainly on the prominently placed suspension at the beginning of the hook. Why? Because, in fact, much of the structure and power of the song comes from this single suspension.
Let’s begin with a basic definition. A suspension is a type of non-chord tone (a note which is not part of the current harmony). To be specific, a suspension is a note which is held over from the previous chord (the preparation), so that it is continued during the chord change (the suspension), and finally resolved to a chord tone (the resolution).
In the case of Wrecking Ball, the suspension occurs at the start of the hook (“I came in like a wrecking ball…”). Please see the chart below for the precise placement of each step in the suspension process. As you will see, the fourth scale degree is suspended and resolved to the third, hence it is called a 4-3 suspension.
As the chorus notated above begins, the suspension immediately stands out as the primary point of interest in the piece. It then sets the trajectory for the shape of the remaining melody of the chorus.
In fact, a careful analysis shows that the chorus melody is derived from and flows out of this single suspension. (As a side note, the chorus melody occurs over the golden chord progression, I V vi IV). Additionally, the daring placement of the suspension smooths the transition from minor to major.
I hope you can now begin to appreciate the importance of suspensions. You will see this musical device appear time and again as we analyze additional pop songs. Can you think of another piece that uses suspension?