What do the chords of a patriotic classic have in common with some popular hits?

It’s the 4th of July, and, along with fireworks and flags, that means patriotic music (at least for our American readers). In that spirit, we will be analyzing a famous 4th of July tune and looking at how some of the chords it uses show up in modern music. The song we’ll be looking at is the beautiful Battle Hymm of The Republic.

In this article, I’ll be referring to chords mainly using Roman Numerals, so if you aren’t familiar with how this is done, I recommend reading our Introduction to music theory for songwriting first.

Below is the analysis of the chords used in the verse synchronized to a YouTube video. Appropriately, the background video happens to use scenes from the movie The Patriot, which shouldn’t be surprising given this song’s patriotic history.

[hooktheory htid=”uDw65IGoUlZs” youtubeid=”NpYzzMDZJSc” showchords=”true” showmelody=”false” showromannumeralsonstart=”true”]

In the video montage from the YouTube clip above, Mel Gibson yells a lot, waves his arms wildly, and attacks a person in uniform. In other words, sounds like a typical Friday night for Mel. And yet, set to this song as the background, it’s impossible not to feel patriotic. It’s a powerful reminder of the sway that music holds over our emotions.

This song uses a few chords in noteworthy ways.

One chord I want to highlight is the I64 near the end of the progression. A quick note for those unfamiliar with the notation for inverted chords: a I64 in the key of C is just a C with a G in the bass (C/G). The interesting thing about this chord is not so much that it is used, but how it is used.

The use of I64 → V → I (C/G to G to C in the key of C) is an extremely common and powerful way to end chord progressions across many genres of music. Truth be told, it’s more common in Bach than in popular music, but it still shows up from time to time today. One current example is the hit We Are Young by Fun which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February and is still getting a ton of airtime. Notice the nice use of I64 → V → I in the chorus analyzed below:

[hooktheory htid=”foxHIRj1Uq48″ youtubeid=”r-fkn9eqg5I” showchords=”true” showmelody=”false” showromannumeralsonstart=”true”]

The use of the ii6 chord (Dm/F in C) in Battle Hymm is also noteworthy because it has a very distinct sound that isn’t all that common in pop harmony. That’s not to say it never shows up, however. A great example of a popular song using the ii6 in the same way is Can’t Help Falling In Love by Elvis:

[hooktheory htid=”94sdJciSV68m” youtubeid=”xELdH1Flz-0″ showchords=”true” showmelody=”false” showromannumeralsonstart=”true”]

Reader challenge: ii6 isn’t very common, but I know of at least one other famous song that also uses ii6 → I64 → V → I exactly as in Battle Hymm. It was #1 on the Billboard 100 for 7 weeks in the early 90’s and won a Grammy Award for Best song written for a motion picture.

Can anyone name that tune?

  • Jeff Wenzinger

    Everything I do I do it for you – Bryan Adams.
    I’ll admit, I had to wikipedia it.
    Lots of great Disney songs in there too.

  • Kyle

    The end of the chorus in Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” has a I64 -> V -> I, although there’s a (I) pedal point under the whole thing – but the progression is clear as day.

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Dave

      Sounds like a song that should be added to the Wiki! Any takers?

  • Kyle

    Stumbled on another interesting I64-V-I, which is actually V7/V-I64-V-I: Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”. End of intro is the first occurrence.

  • mike

    I think that is amazing! I never saw it in the song before!

  • Paige

    I never understood how songs could be related to eachother. This is so cool.

  • Raj

    This is great!! I never ever saw the similarities in songs before!!! helps me a lot!!

  • Nick

    This is awesome :) keep up the creativeness!

  • Josh

    This is a great use of popular music to explain key concepts.

  • david

    i like how this show a patriotic side and a music side which goes hand in hand

  • Sarah

    I really liked this! I never realized how similar the songs were! Great job!

  • Soua

    It’s amazing to know how music work and the melodies and chords of it. I enjoy repetively listening to these. Thank you 😀

  • Yee

    Great job on using videos as example to explain how modern music are related to older generation songs.

  • Veronica

    Using those three songs were brilliant, it helps comparing the way songs were written when you include songs us, young students can relate to then comparing it to an older song. It shows how recent songs are similar to older songs.

  • Denise

    This is very helpful for students studying music, being able to tie songs from the past to more recent popular songs is a great way to show how they connect.

  • Tou

    It’s really cool to see the similarities of songs from before and now relating to one another. The connection of the two is really something that one can be intrigued with.

  • 106558783

    the best part about this information is the relations between the new generation and the history of music. This will make students realize that music haven’t changed much as a whole perspective.

  • Tom

    It’s truly amazing that someone can bring all these music together. After listening to these songs you can really hear the similarities in the tone of the songs. This is absolutely amazing!

  • Dildeep

    Its amazing how well this website has been designed. I love how everything has graphics making the environment fun and playful. I also love how the emphasis on how the music has changed over the decades is shown and how they are similar as well. Some things that I absolutely love are the comparison of songs and how this whole industry is saw as an art and gift.

  • bo

    This really helps younger students like myself relate to music. I can see the connection from older songs to the new popular ones.

  • Alex
  • ALex

    How do you make the gray melody note that is the first note in the melody of wonderwall? appears to be between 2 and 3? Also, what do the 1-7 represent? the 1st-7th nashville numbered notes?

  • Bee

    Nice!! keep up the good work

  • m4al

    thanks for your good work, that means a lot to music beginners like us.

  • Kendell

    Wow! It truly is weird that songs have many things in common and people never even realize it! I definitely never knew so many songs had musical background that related to Battle Hymm of the Republic. For example, the song, Tonight We Are Young, is a song that i really enjoy, and find rather catchy. Little did I know it followed the music stylings of Bach. Music today is related to music from older generations, some much older, and I find it intriguing to see how this website has compared them. Things you were never even realize are all around us. Because I am not very experienced in music, I would never have put two and two together. So having the writers of this page physically show me how the music corresponds is helpful and interesting.