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lament bass

what do these songs have in common?

let's dig deeper into the tracks you've been listening to ------->

I wish we could have had more time to discuss all of the songs you listened to for the class.


I have loved reading all of your responses - below is a word cloud made from the thoughts you all shared from listening in the chat.


You were all right on the money - hearing the connective tissue of the "lament bass" that unites all of these pieces of music!

wordcloud 2.jpg

so what's on the playlist ? 

a little more info about who wrote these pieces of music and when (listen above on YouTube) --->

Feeling Good

Written by: Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse (1964)

Performed by: Nina Simone (1965)

Key: G minor (bass line = G, F, Eb, D)


Written by: Tomaso Vitali (1745)

Performed by: Ensemble Clematis (2011)

Key: G minor (bass line = G, F, Eb, D)

View the manuscript HERE.

Bye Bye Bye

Written by: Kristian Lundin and Jake Schulze (2000)

Performed by: *N'SYNC (2000)

Key: G# minor (bass line = G#, F# E D#)


Written by: Jean-Baptiste Lully (1685)

Performed by: La Petite Bande (2000)

Key: G minor (bass line = G, F, Eb, D)

*** sounds like it is in F minor with a bass line of F, Eb, Db, C because it is being played at A=392, French baroque pitch, a whole step lower than what we use today, A=440

View the manuscript HERE (see page 147)

Hit The Road Jack

Written by: Percy Mayfield (1960)

Performed by: Ray Charles (1962)

Key: G# minor (bass line = G#, F# E D#)

Lamento della ninfa

Written by: Claudio Monteverdi (~1614-1638)

Performed by: Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall

Key: A minor (bass line = A, G, F, E)

View the manuscript HERE

La Blanche Biche

Written by: Emi Ferguson (2017) 

**based on an anonymous folk melody

Performed by: Emi Ferguson (2017)

Key: B minor (bass line = B, A, G, F#)

*** sounds like it is in Bb minor with a bass line of Bb, Ab, Gb, F because it is being played at A=392, French baroque pitch, a whole step lower than what we use today, A=440

View the manuscript HERE (see page 147)

Music to Watch Boys to

Written by: Lana Del Rey and Rick Nowels (2015)

Performed by: Lana Del Rey (2015)

Key: C# minor (bass line = C#, B, A, G#)

Midnight Train to Georgia

Written by: Jim Weatherly (1970)

Performed by: Gladys Knight and the Pips (1973)

Key: Db Major (bass line = Db, C, Bb, Ab)

Just Give Me A Reason

Written by:P!nk, Jeff Bhasker, and Nate Ruess (2011)

Performed by: P!nk and Nate Ruess (2011)

Key: G Major (bass line = G, F#, E, D)

...we could keep going, adding many more songs to this playlist including...

Bach: Chaconne, from Partita no.5 for solo violin

Biber: Passacaglia for solo violin

the lament bass 

a repeating, cyclical, bass line from

one (tonic) descending to five (dominant) ---->

Screen Shot 2020-11-04 at 11.43.30

Musicians took these four descending notes and built (and still build!) harmonies and melodies on top of it.


All of the songs in the playlist use this fundamental structure in someway - thus connecting all of them, from 17th century composer Monteverdi, to 'NSYNC.

the lament bass is usually found in a minor key, but one can also create the same concept in a Major key ---->

Screen Shot 2020-11-04 at 11.43.38

click on the slides below to learn a little more about how all of these songs are connected and why the lament bass has it's power ------->

Musicians often alter the lament bass from the original four notes. One famous version is descending from 1 to 5 chromatically like in Henry Purcell's famous "Dido's Lament" ------->

pourquoi doux rossignol 

Jean-Baptiste de Bousset




played on a Rod Cameron copy of a c. 1700 Hotteterre flute

boxwood and ivory with a silver key


pitch = 392 hz

This is the song we all sang together. It's one of my favourite examples of the "major" version of this bass line. It was written in the court of Louis XIV and would have either been sung or fluted with the accompaniment of a lute (very large guitar). Check out this recording that is a beautiful recreation of what it might have sounded like back then...

view the sheet music HERE

notice how the bass line is notated all the way down in the bottom right corner - this is all the information a keyboard player or guitar player would be given to play with the flute player or singer whose melody is fully written out above.

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 11.56.28

Pourquoi, doux rossignol,

dans ce sombre séjour

M'éveillez-vous avant l'Aurore?


Venez-vous à mon coeur annoncer le retour

Du charmant objet que j'adore ?


Pourquoi, doux rossignol,

dans ce sombre séjour

M'éveillez-vous avant l'Aurore?


Mais si Climaine, a mon amour trop insensible encore,

Abandonne mon coeur au feu qui le dévore ;


Pourquoi, doux rossignol,

dans ce sombre séjour

M'éveillez-vous avant l'Aurore?

Why, sweet nightingale

in this dark abode

do you wake me before dawn?


Have you come to announce the return

Of the one that I love?


Why, sweet nightingale

in this dark abode

do you wake me before dawn?


But, if Climaine is still insensitive to my love

Then abandon my heart to the fire which devours it


Why, sweet nightingale

in this dark abode

do you wake me before dawn?

in my version of Pourquoi Doux Rossignol, listen out for how I'm constantly changing back and forth between the Major and minor versions of the lament. Can you hear when it changes?

compose your own bass


your own 

lament bass

use the following GarageBand files as a place to start ------->

Play the descending four notes of the lament bass on a digital keyboard - sing/hum a melody on top of the bass. Play around with notes that feel like they "fit in" and notes that feel like they "clash" with the bass - find what feels good for you - play around with tempo (fast/slow), feeling, etc. - compose multiple lament bass songs!

If you have a Mac, iPhone, or iPad, download the following Garageband files as a starting point. Play around with changing the tempo, instruments, adding new instruments, and recording a live instrument or voice.

sound and 


dig deeper into Josh McDermott's study about how people hear sound, Synesthesia, and more ------->

The Washington Post

Music is universal - but the way it makes us feel may not be


Sarah Kaplan

July 13, 2016

The Atlantic

The Surprising Musical Preferences of an Amazon Tribe

Ed Yong

July 13, 2016

Journal of the History of the Neurosciences

Synesthesia: Is F-Sharp Colored Violet?

Amy Ione and Christopher Tyler


Developmental Psychology

Synesthesia: A new approach to understanding the development of perception

Ferrine Spector and Daphne Maurer


sound and perception

recurring funerary  

musical rhetoric

a few motifs that musicians employ to signify loss, mourning, and funeral rites ------->

The Lament Bass

you guys've got this one...

Funeral March

Many composers have written pieces in the style of a funeral march - often using a slow, duple meter (2/4, sometimes 4/4) in a minor key. Here are just a few examples from thousands that exist.

Beethoven, Symphony no.7: Mvt II: Allegretto

This iconic movement (which is used a lot in film scores!) has a steady rhythm throughout - the rhythm of processional funeral drums. r.


You can hear it as ' long - short - short, long - long ' repeated over and ove

Beethoven himself conducted the premier of this Symphony which was a benefit concert for soldiers who had been wounded at the Battle of Hanau - with many thinking this movement was a funeral march for the fallen soldiers. The audience was so moved by the movement they requested it be repeated immediately.

This video is awesome as you can really see the funeral rhythm.

Henry Purcell: The Queen's Funeral March Sounded Before Her Chariot

This piece was a literal funeral march for the Queen Mary of England. In it, you can hear the important role of the drums that, through time and ritual, have come to signify funerary practices.

Frederic Chopin: Marche Funebre

This solo piano piece has become incredibly iconic for it's emotional power. Listen to the steady rhythmic pulse - feel the up / down motion that constantly renews itself - giving the listener of a slow march. Take note when this rhythm stops, and when the key changes minor (doom and gloom) to Major (reminiscent and possibly hopeful).

J.S. Bach's "Sighing" motif

Much of Bach's output was defined by lamenting as he was employed by the Lutheran church for most of his life where we was required to write new Sacred (church text based) pieces of vocal/instrumental music each week. Many of these pieces explore the themes of lamenting in the Christian tradition and Bach developed lamenting musical motifs that run throughout his works. 

Bach's "sighing" motif is usually groups of two slurred notes that illustrate musically, the sound of sighing.

Western/European Classical music's Christian Church tradition

Music, as a tool for reflection, grieving, and lament, has been hugely important in the Christian tradition - a tradition that Western/European Classical music was partially born out of and developed in. Thus, there are many "forms" (types of songs / pieces) that are directly related to Sacred practices of mourning that composers continue to use today. Some of these are:

Mass (ex. Josef Haydn, Mass in C Major)

Requiem (ex. Giuseppi Verdi's Requiem)

Passions (ex. J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion)

Hersch music

Prof. Hersch's 


I have many favourite's a few to start...--->

We spoke a lot about the physical impact of sound waves, and how our ears, and bodies, perceive them. For me, the combinations of notes - the sound waves - that Michael chooses hit me very physically both as a listener and a performer. As a performer, I mentioned how playing some of the notes he chooses makes my body feel like it is being ripped apart. As a listener, I often feel that the note combinations he chooses align different energies within my body - causing different parts to tense or relax as a I listen. 


When I think of Michael’s music from the perspective of construction, the following are ever-present for me:

Clarity of form and intention.

Execution of craft and skill.

His work is searingly direct while simultaneously far-reaching in emotional impact. It is powerful, cutting both like an axe, and like the thinnest piece of paper.  

For me, the way that he builds, uses, and creates sound is best likened to the discovery of an alternate dimension. There is nothing inherently “avant-garde” about his writing - but he is able to unlock and show (to me) new possibilities and dimensions of sound that exist within each instrument he writes for - dimensions that go from unseen to parallel with his guidance - as if you’ve tuned your radio dial into a station that you didn’t know was floating through the air all along....

Try to find a quiet space where you can listen alone, without the distractions of your phone, computer, or other people. Pay attention to your body, your breathing as you listen. If you had to paint the music, to describe it to someone else, what imagines do you see, words would you use?

Last Autumn, selections

These selections are some of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. If you like the following tracks check out the full album - it's 2 hours of more wonderful music that takes you on an epic journey! Choosing only four tracks from the whole album was excruciatingly hard!

Images from a Closed Ward

I love this whole piece, but the 13th movement is a real heartbreaker. Listen to both versions - and hear how different they are! I've always thought this track would make a really great pop song...

Carrion Miles to Purgatory

Ghostly, the 8th movement - when I listen to this I get the imagery of constnatly opening doors, in a sort of dreamlike state - things are a little fuzzy, hazy, you can't quite make out the details, but you can feel the differences of each room as you open (and shut) the doors...

Lastly, watch him tear up the piano in a performance of his music with violinist Miranda Cuckson. If you guys can get to a concert where Michael is playing, try and sit as close as possible so that you can feel those sound waves!

big topic 

extra links

some links to pages I have created that go deeper into some of the things we spoke about ------->

extra stuff



my music! here are a few selections of some of my interpretations of "old music" from today's perspectives--->