Mode Mixture in John Mayer's Continuum

Author(s): 
Gabe Fankhauser
Year: 
2022
Abstract: 

This one-page assignment is designed for use in undergraduate music theory or graduate music theory review courses. Two questions, one involving part writing and the other analysis, involve popular songs by John Mayer, “Stop This Train” and “Gravity,” both from his 2006 album Continuum. Both questions require some familiarity with mode mixture or borrowed chords, particularly iiø65, as well as basic part writing principles, secondary dominants (V7/V), and figured bass. The product of the student’s part-writing is a reduction of “Stop this Train,” in which seven different chords can be traced to convention tonal harmony and voice leading, yet with some remarkable treatments, including chordal sevenths that are not resolved conventionally, a dramatic suspension in iiø65(7–6), and a cadential six-four and dominant- seventh embellished with a chromatic line. The second question asks the student to compare two solos by Mayer in his show stopping song, “Gravity.” In the studio version, Mayer plays ^6, while in more recent shows, he plays flat-^6, a scale degree commonly associated with heightening drama or sadness in music. A significant portion of each question guides students to consider deeper questions of narrative, that is, what purpose does the modal mixture serve in the narrative in each song. A separate PDF provides a key for instructors, with additional links to YouTube videos.