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Author Topic: Surf's Up- Breakdown  (Read 541 times)
KaylaWilliamsMusic
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« on: March 30, 2021, 11:35:18 AM »

Hey friends!

I just thought I would share over here that I have a new YouTube series where I break down the covers I post and the first one I shared is of Surf's Up- chords, how I learned and heard different parts/harmonies, get real nerdy haha

If you're into that here is the link:
https://youtu.be/lBx3ieTZ8GI

Much love!
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guitarfool2002
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« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2021, 09:38:52 AM »

That is a very cool and informative video! I'll be rambling a bit but a lot of thoughts happened as I was watching. I think the song Surf's Up is a perfect vehicle for breaking down something that sounds complex and multi-layered, because often when you break down a complex piece of music into segments, and elements, then almost compartmentalize all of those elements into individual parts, you can both decipher and analyze them on a much simpler level. Then the process becomes easier to understand. I do think the chords and chord progression of Surf's Up is pretty complex, maybe not taken as individual chords but rather how Brian loved to use his "slash chords" like Dm7/G to make a simple triad or chord structure *sound* more complex than it actually is. I also give chord progressions my own informal "guitar test"...where many of Brian's chords and chord voicings as heard on his deeper music like Surf's Up cannot be easily played using standard guitar chords. Yet on a piano keyboard, they lay out very neatly and are often a basic triad with a different bass note.

The way you went through the chord progression is alone worth a viewing for anyone interested in how Brian's chords created that ethereal texture everyone knows and loves in the song. As much as I love the later, more fully layered versions, I was always partial to the Inside Pop solo piano version and also the stripped down version on the '93 box set. The mark of a great song is when you can strip it down to the absolute basics of a single vocal and instrumental/chordal accompaniment and the song *still* has that compelling sound, texture, and overall impact. The layering which comes later only adds more goodness like the icing on a fantastic cake.

I think a similar effect in how something complex can be broken down and understood more easily happens with the music of Steely Dan. Just like you describe with Surf's Up, some of those Steely Dan songs and mysterious chord progressions sounded beyond my scope of understanding when I first started listening. Then when you get more knowledge of how music theory and harmony works, you can break down some of the Dan's thicker sounding chord progressions and realize things like one guy is playing a simple F triad on top and another guy is playing a G note in the bass while some instrument in the middle is hitting an E...and then you see how the parts create the effect of a super-thick jazz chord when it really isn't as complex as it sounds. The parts are individually simple, but taken as a whole and combined with everything else, the ensemble of notes creates that complexity.

I think that's the genius of Brian, one element of many. It's that ability to make the complex simple, and vice versa, so the building blocks are more simple musical components which sound amazingly complex and challenging when they're combined skillfully as Brian did in his best music.

I also really like the advice you gave about how to hear music on a deeper level, in terms of figuring out songs like Surf's Up and peeling away the layers. For my studies the course was called "Ear Training" and you had to either complete or test out of so many levels in order to graduate. We did the same things, similar exercises with transcriptions, identifying intervals, hearing chord progressions, clapping and notating rhythms, sight-singing melodies in solfege, etc. What seemed like sometimes pointless drills to me at age 18 or 19 were actually some of the best training my ears could have received, and I use it on a daily basis for what I do. I'd add to your advice that anyone so inclined should seek out any kind of ear training or any course similar to the aural skills program you mentioned, because it really, really does help any musician in terms of learning how to critically listen and how to translate music. I'd also add seeking out some music theory courses: In my day, it was almost all classically-based and taken from the Bach rulebook, both counterpoint and theory. But I did have some later courses where we began looking at popular music in these terms, and breaking down how and why a song used a specific chord or voicing and how it all tied in - And that's when it became more relatable to me. I still smile every time I hear that Picardy third at the end of Happy Together. I'd also add the advice that there is literally so much available online in 2021 for anyone interested to seek out, and any musician will benefit from even a basic understanding of these concepts so when they hear a chord like the Dm7/G in Surf's Up, they know what it is and how it got there to create that sound.

Just wanted to say thanks for another great video on Surf's Up, and for offering some very useful advice to musicians out there who are interested in how and why a massive song like Surf's Up sounds the way it does in terms of chord construction and the underlying theory behind it. Great stuff!

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"All of us have the privilege of making music that helps and heals - to make music that makes people happier, stronger, and kinder. Don't forget: Music is God's voice." - Brian Wilson
KaylaWilliamsMusic
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« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2021, 09:10:58 PM »

That is a very cool and informative video! I'll be rambling a bit but a lot of thoughts happened as I was watching. I think the song Surf's Up is a perfect vehicle for breaking down something that sounds complex and multi-layered, because often when you break down a complex piece of music into segments, and elements, then almost compartmentalize all of those elements into individual parts, you can both decipher and analyze them on a much simpler level. Then the process becomes easier to understand. I do think the chords and chord progression of Surf's Up is pretty complex, maybe not taken as individual chords but rather how Brian loved to use his "slash chords" like Dm7/G to make a simple triad or chord structure *sound* more complex than it actually is. I also give chord progressions my own informal "guitar test"...where many of Brian's chords and chord voicings as heard on his deeper music like Surf's Up cannot be easily played using standard guitar chords. Yet on a piano keyboard, they lay out very neatly and are often a basic triad with a different bass note.

The way you went through the chord progression is alone worth a viewing for anyone interested in how Brian's chords created that ethereal texture everyone knows and loves in the song. As much as I love the later, more fully layered versions, I was always partial to the Inside Pop solo piano version and also the stripped down version on the '93 box set. The mark of a great song is when you can strip it down to the absolute basics of a single vocal and instrumental/chordal accompaniment and the song *still* has that compelling sound, texture, and overall impact. The layering which comes later only adds more goodness like the icing on a fantastic cake.

I think a similar effect in how something complex can be broken down and understood more easily happens with the music of Steely Dan. Just like you describe with Surf's Up, some of those Steely Dan songs and mysterious chord progressions sounded beyond my scope of understanding when I first started listening. Then when you get more knowledge of how music theory and harmony works, you can break down some of the Dan's thicker sounding chord progressions and realize things like one guy is playing a simple F triad on top and another guy is playing a G note in the bass while some instrument in the middle is hitting an E...and then you see how the parts create the effect of a super-thick jazz chord when it really isn't as complex as it sounds. The parts are individually simple, but taken as a whole and combined with everything else, the ensemble of notes creates that complexity.

I think that's the genius of Brian, one element of many. It's that ability to make the complex simple, and vice versa, so the building blocks are more simple musical components which sound amazingly complex and challenging when they're combined skillfully as Brian did in his best music.

I also really like the advice you gave about how to hear music on a deeper level, in terms of figuring out songs like Surf's Up and peeling away the layers. For my studies the course was called "Ear Training" and you had to either complete or test out of so many levels in order to graduate. We did the same things, similar exercises with transcriptions, identifying intervals, hearing chord progressions, clapping and notating rhythms, sight-singing melodies in solfege, etc. What seemed like sometimes pointless drills to me at age 18 or 19 were actually some of the best training my ears could have received, and I use it on a daily basis for what I do. I'd add to your advice that anyone so inclined should seek out any kind of ear training or any course similar to the aural skills program you mentioned, because it really, really does help any musician in terms of learning how to critically listen and how to translate music. I'd also add seeking out some music theory courses: In my day, it was almost all classically-based and taken from the Bach rulebook, both counterpoint and theory. But I did have some later courses where we began looking at popular music in these terms, and breaking down how and why a song used a specific chord or voicing and how it all tied in - And that's when it became more relatable to me. I still smile every time I hear that Picardy third at the end of Happy Together. I'd also add the advice that there is literally so much available online in 2021 for anyone interested to seek out, and any musician will benefit from even a basic understanding of these concepts so when they hear a chord like the Dm7/G in Surf's Up, they know what it is and how it got there to create that sound.

Just wanted to say thanks for another great video on Surf's Up, and for offering some very useful advice to musicians out there who are interested in how and why a massive song like Surf's Up sounds the way it does in terms of chord construction and the underlying theory behind it. Great stuff!



I love your whole commentary here! You clearly know your theory!

I must've picked up my writing style from learning and absorbing Brian's style because my entire life is slash chords  LOL but yes you've got it, on it's own so many parts are actually quite simple but put together definitely complex. And I don't play much guitar but I understand that these bizarre piano voicings don't always translate easily on the guitar!

I totally agree, the solo piano version is just so beautiful and puts a gentle spin on such a masterpiece.

Steely Dan is such a great comparison, boy they also did some crazy things! I watch Donald Fagen once talk about "Peg" and how it was based on a major take of the 12 bar blues and my mind was blown! They were the kings of complexity truly, a lot of jazz influence in their writing.

Ear training is something I still do today for fun, you can never stop learning and strengthening your ears/instrument I think. Definitely agree, there are lots of apps now for ear training which are so easily accessible. I do find lots of people listen to music a bit more passively which is why I always suggest getting a pair of head phones out and really listening to the music and trying to hear different instrumentation, definitely was something I did growing up without realizing how helpful it would be later on! I really appreciate your insights here and thanks so much for the kind words, hope you'll keep listening Smiley
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guitarfool2002
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« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2021, 02:16:39 PM »

Absolutely looking forward to your future installments! And I'll repeat again, I think every fan should watch your breakdown of Surf's Up to get a new appreciation for the song and what went into the composition.

Amazing too that your recent uploads feature two of my favorites from the 70's: the Bee Gees' Night Fever, and a cover of Couldn't Get It Right by Climax Blues Band. Both are songs which I've put on many a mix tape back when that was a thing. The four big songs from the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever soundtrack are stone-cold classics, in at least two cases among the best pop songs of the past 50 years. Speaking of chord changes, and some real harmonic twists and turns, "How Deep Is Your Love". That is a tough one to play on guitar and sing, which is why I give major props to John Frusciante for doing it solo at concerts and really letting the brilliance of the song itself shine through. And "More Than A Woman" is one of the best recordings I've ever heard. Maybe future installments?

Thanks again for the great videos, looking forward to the next ones!
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"All of us have the privilege of making music that helps and heals - to make music that makes people happier, stronger, and kinder. Don't forget: Music is God's voice." - Brian Wilson
KaylaWilliamsMusic
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« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2021, 10:36:40 AM »

Absolutely looking forward to your future installments! And I'll repeat again, I think every fan should watch your breakdown of Surf's Up to get a new appreciation for the song and what went into the composition.

Amazing too that your recent uploads feature two of my favorites from the 70's: the Bee Gees' Night Fever, and a cover of Couldn't Get It Right by Climax Blues Band. Both are songs which I've put on many a mix tape back when that was a thing. The four big songs from the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever soundtrack are stone-cold classics, in at least two cases among the best pop songs of the past 50 years. Speaking of chord changes, and some real harmonic twists and turns, "How Deep Is Your Love". That is a tough one to play on guitar and sing, which is why I give major props to John Frusciante for doing it solo at concerts and really letting the brilliance of the song itself shine through. And "More Than A Woman" is one of the best recordings I've ever heard. Maybe future installments?

Thanks again for the great videos, looking forward to the next ones!

That's so kind, thanks for checking it out glad you got something out of it!!!

Oh man, those songs are such classics, I love LOVE '70s music! I mean, I love all oldies but the '70s was where it was at! How Deep is one of the most beautiful ballads honestly that and More Than a Woman (and about 20 others) are some of the best songs ever written. I'm a huge Bee Gees fan, they are as close to my heart as the BB's. ALSO- one of those 2 songs may be my next cover  Cheesy

Thanks again my friend!
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