Relative minor and secondary dominants in Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley
We will analyze the chords used in Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah," and explore some interesting music theory concepts that arise.
"Hallelujah" is one of the most iconic and beloved songs of all time, originally written and composed by the legendary Leonard Cohen. Over the years, many artists have covered the song, but Jeff Buckley's rendition is arguably the most famous and widely recognized. In this article, we will analyze the chords used in Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah," and explore some interesting music theory concepts that arise.
The song begins with the famous chord progression of C Am C Am F G. This progression is a classic example of the I-vi-IV-V chord progression, which is commonly used in many popular songs. In "Hallelujah," however, the progression takes on a unique twist. It creates a reluctant feeling by alternating between C major and A minor. Both of these chords are tonic functions, so harmonically there is little momentum. It creates a static feel that doesn't know where to go, which perfectly ties in with the emotion of the song.
The use of the relative minor chord is a common device in music theory, and it can be seen in many other popular songs. In "Hallelujah," it's used again when alternating between the subdominant IV and its relative minor ii. Again creating a bittersweet feeling that perfectly matches the lyrics of the song.
The relative minor also play a role in the deceptive resolution F G Am ("the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall"). Usually a cadence of IV V would resolve to the I chord as the tonic. But this progression moves to vi (Am) instead. We call this "deceptive resolution". A cadence set up to create the expectation of a certain chord (C major), only to disappoint that expectation by moving to a different chord (Am). In this case, the Am still fulfills part of our expectation, because it's the relative minor of the expected C. But it still tickles the ear by not being quite what we anticipated.
Another interesting aspect of the chord progression in "Hallelujah" is the use of secondary dominant chords. These are chords that are not part of the key of the song, but are used to create tension and lead to a chord that is part of the key. In "Hallelujah," the most notable secondary dominant chord is the E7 chord, which is used to lead to the Am chord. This creates a strong sense of resolution and helps to emphasize the importance of the relative minor chord in the song.
Overall, the chord progression in "Hallelujah" is a masterful example of how music theory can be used to create a certain mood with minimal harmonic tools. The alternating between major and relative minor, the deceptive resolution and a secondary dominant is all it takes.
I hope you feel an urge to play Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" version right now. You should also try to use one of the music theory tools from this article in your next composition. And above all, have fun making awesome music!