Music theory: passacaglia.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was in college. One spring quarter — we had quarters back then, none of this semester silliness — I took an introductory music theory class taught by Vern Sutton. (Tragically, his Wikipedia entry does not mention his many *appearances* on A Prairie Home Companion.)

It was an enjoyable class, although I had trouble concentrating when I listened to the classical pieces assigned as  homework. To me at that time, instrumental music = background music, no need to pay attention. Duh.

On of the few bits of information I retain 40+ years later is the term passacaglia, which he explained meant a bass line that became a secondary melody. The example he gave was Rocky Raccoon by the Beatles. (This is a cover but still a decent example.)


I told you all that in order to tell you this.

My personal favorite example of passacaglia, somewhat later than the Beatles’, is Bob Marley’s Stir It Up, which just came up in my iTunes. Take a listen.

Okay, this is your opportunity to all chime in to tell me what a genius I am to have picked up on this (not that that bass line is easy to ignore).

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4 Responses to Music theory: passacaglia.

  1. highlyreasonable says:

    Clearly you are a genius to have picked up on this. 🙂 I wasn’t aware of the term or the meaning, but you taught me something (always a good thing) and I will be listening more closely in hopes of picking up on some other examples. Thanks!

  2. Kym says:

    Tom is a HUGE fan of the passacaglia and is a master at picking out bass lines (although I’m sure he’d be astounded to find out there is an actual musical term for it!). And now . . . I’ll have Rocky Raccoon going through my head for a week! 🙂

  3. Richard Jensen says:

    My favorite example of passacaglia is Mysterious Ways by U2. I remember telling my teen aged son that if the only significant thing I did in my life was to write that bass line I would consider my life well lived.

  4. mlegan says:

    I heard a teenaged busker playing Rocky Raccoon in the skyway last week. Now I’ll listen instead of running. He was terrible.

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