Use of Suspension in Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball

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.

Wrecking Ball Suspension Chart

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?

About the author

Eric Strom

My name is Eric Strom and I write this blog. This is a blog about the music theory of pop songs. In each post, we study the music theory of a pop song currently on the Billboard Hot 100.

12 Comments

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  • Mr. Strom,
    This is an excellent explanation of suspensions. I feel like I learned something today. I’m going to be listening for golden chord progressions and 4-3 suspensions (as well as others) all over the place now. I think I can give Wrecking Ball another chance.

    Thanks,
    Tyler

    • Hello Mr. Twombly,

      I clicked through to your official website linked above, and I would like to thank you for your EP entitled “Love Songs.” I especially enjoyed your ballad entitled “Po-Too-Weet” which features a simple pleasant melody and wonderful whistling. Thank you for writing such a nice song. If it wasn’t for people like you, I would not have any songs to critique here at Pop Music Theory.

    • Ben,

      Thanks so much for your feedback! I checked out your Songcraft project, it is pretty neat. We need more projects like yours in the world. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Mr. Strom,
    Being a crew primarily made up scientists and dreamers, our understanding of music theory is not keen. However, our access to and wanton enjoyment of the popular musics of planet Earth is enriched by the critical and clearly disseminated information made available here on your blog. We look forward to expanding our understanding of the hidden complexities in Earth’s popular musics.

    • I am most honored that your dignified ship has tuned into and received my transmissions. I am flattered by your kind words. Please know that I am always dialed into the works and writings released by crew members on your ship. I wish you the all the best in your interstellar travels. End transmission.

  • I think that the 4-3 suspension/ resolve is the most clichéd musical idea in pop and rock music. it is so safe and unoriginal IMO.

    • Well, this blog is all about looking for those golden threads of pop music theory that we hear again and again. Your impression is your subjective listening experience. This suspension is selling a lot of records and making a lot of money. And it’s greatly pleasing people with less sophisticated ears as yours. At the end of the day this is Miley Cyrus dude.

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