Welcome to the third installment of our tutorial series, Track Breakdowns.
In this series, we take a look at a wide variety of popular tracks, dissect them, and discover why they work.
Ultimately, we aim to teach you the techniques used in each track so that you can apply them to your own productions.
In this breakdown, we’ll take a look at Kaytranada’s “Got It Good”, off his highly acclaimed album 99.9%.
First, we’ll to transcribe the main melodic content in the track. Then, we’ll dive deeper into the track, analyzing the structure, melodies, and arrangement.
Why did I decide to break down this track?
Kaytranada is known for his catchy rhythms and groovy baslines, and less so for his chords and melodies. Looking deeper at his catalogue, he has a vast history of combining creative sampling with original melodies and progressions. Got It Good is no different, as he effortlessly blends between a vibey chord progression and a sampled loop.
Let’s get into it.
Got It Good is in the key of G Minor.
Below is my transcription of the opening chord progression, which we’ll hear throughout the track.
What are we working with?
The basis for this progression is: Cm9 – Dm7 – F/Eb – G
- Cm9: C – Eb – G – Bb – D
- Dm7: D – F – A – C
- F/Eb: F – A – C (with an Eb in the bass)
- G: G – B – D – G
(Don’t worry if F/Eb confuses you, I’ll explain this later)
During the last 2 bars of the progression, the root of each chord stays the same, with certain voices are added/removed. The top note of the Cm9 is omitted, making it a Cm7. Next, the second Dm7 chord is inverted, putting the D on top of the chord. Lastly, the final F/Eb chord has an added F on top.
Before we get into the breakdown, I want to discuss one key concept.
A lot of music theory is subjective. Often times, there are a handful of ways we can look at seemingly static concepts. For many of these, there are no right or wrong answers. The only “right” answers are the ones that help you gain a deeper understanding of the concept.
For example, I told you that Got it Good is G Minor, but you could reasonably argue otherwise. Why is this? The Gm chord never appears in the song. In fact, G Major appears instead.
Then how is this song in Gm?
My main argument is that all other chords (Cm9, Dm7, F/Eb) appear in the key of G minor, but not G major. Thus, I think it’s safe to say this song is in G minor.
The reason I wanted to explain this was to show that we can disagree on concepts and both be right. Heck, you could disagree with everything I’ve written in this article, but as long as you have reasoning to back it up, you’re developing and improving your skills.
Ultimately, my goal is to encourage readers to think critically about music, whether it’s mixing, sound design, or in this case, songwriting.
Alright, enough of that, let’s get started with the breakdown.
- Creative Arrangement
- Slash Chords
- Rephrasing a Chord Progression for 4 Minutes
- Extended Progressions & Voice Leading
- Borrowed Chords
- Contour Repetition
- Backdoor Progression
1. Creative Arrangement
I chose this song because it’s a creative blend of different genres. It’s a bit pop, a bit RnB, a bit hip-hop, and a bit house, all at the same time.
We can see these influences merge in the arrangement of the track.
Following the intro, the track moves right into the hook. This is more of a pop technique. Definitely not something you’d see in your average house track.
From there it flows directly into the first verse, then back to the chorus. Only this time, more elements are added to the chorus to give it more energy and excitement.
After a post-chorus section, it jumps into verse 2 before returning to the full chorus. Next, it moves into a post-chorus that is twice the length of the first post-chorus. The track moves into a bridge, then finishes with an outro.
In a typical pop song, after the bridge you’ll have a grande finale of a final chorus, but Got it Good instead opts for a vibey outro.
Here are three takeaways from the arrangement of Got it Good:
- Play to your strengths
- Play with the listener’s attention using tension and release
- If it sounds good, leave it
Play to your strengths
As I mentioned earlier, Kaytranada is the king of dance rhythm and groove. He played to his strengths in this song by putting a chorus immediately after the intro, locking in the listener for the rest of the track.
Think about it: if the best section of your song is 3 minutes in, most listeners won’t make it that far. If you’re like me and judge songs on Spotify/Soundcloud by the first 30 seconds, you need something at the start of your track to catch the listener’s attention.
Know your strengths, and play to them in the arrangement of your music.
- Are you great at programming drums, but struggle with music theory? Start with a drum hook first.
- Are you you great at sound design? Don’t save it all for the chorus, grab people’s attention at the start.
Play with the listener’s attention using tension and release
Earlier, I mentioned how the second post-chorus is twice as long as the first.
What’s the point of this?
After hearing a 4 bar post-chorus the first time around, the listener is expecting the same arrangement after the next chorus. Instead, Kaytranada extends the post-chorus, doubling it to 8 bars. This builds tension towards the bridge, tension that is soon released.
It builds tension because the listener is expecting the same 4 bar post-chorus, but is left hanging when it continues for another 4 bars. This makes the resolution into the bridge all the more satisfying, since the listener is left on edge waiting for a change to happen.
A great arrangement needs to build and release tension. Nobody wants a song with no tension, just like nobody wants to watch a movie with no conflict.
When writing, ask yourself what the listener thinks will happen next, and use that to build tension and anticipation to drive your track forward.
If It Sounds Good, Leave It
Even though Got it Good has pop sensibility, it strays from the arrangement of a stereotypical pop track.
It’s not typical to start with a chorus and end without one, but in this track it works.
In other words: if it sounds good, leave it. Never try to force your song to be something it’s not.
2. Spelling Counts
When you first learn how to build chords, you’re taught to use the root note of the chord in the bass. For example, if you’re playing a C Minor chord (C-Eb-G), you’re told to use C in the bass.
However, you can use a bass note other than the root of your chord.
For example, instead of playing C in the bass for a C minor chord, we could play a G instead. Let’s listen to these played against each other:
The second chord is an example of a slash chord. A slash chord is a chord that specifies a bass note other then the root.
The way we notate slash chords is with the root chord, followed by a slash, followed by the bass note played.
In this example, the second chord played was Cm/G, pronounced “Cm over G”.
Which bass notes sound good in a slash chord? Typically, the third and fifth will sound best in a slash chord, but you can use any note in the scale.
Now, what’s the point of slash chords?
Slash chords have more to do with what you’re doing in the bass than in the chords. A bassline is a melodic line itself, so it’s important to carefully choose which notes are played.
Slash chords allow us to get more use out of a chord. Instead of playing just the root in the bass, we can choose from a few different notes that will alter the overall character of the chord.
Above, you learned the third chord in the progression was F/Eb, i.e. F Major with Eb in the bass.
In other words, instead of playing a F in the bass, Kaytranada uses Eb.
Why? Also, Eb isn’t even in an F Major chord, what exactly are you trying to pull on me Connor?
Let me explain.
First off, Eb is not in F Major, but it’s still in the key of G minor, meaning it’s fair game to use in the bass.
Second, the reason Kaytranada chose Eb was most likely because it sounded better for his bassline. Sure, it doesn’t reinforce the chords as well as an F would have, but this song is less about the chords, and more about that groovy bassline.
Let’s listen to the intro progression with a F major chord instead of F/Eb. First, I’ll play the original progression, followed by Cm9 – Fm7 – F – G.
Which do you prefer?
The first progression is more dissonant, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
The dissonance from the F/Eb is immediately resolved by the family-friendly G major chord. This adds character to the progression by building tension and release.
The second chord progression works fine, but doesn’t have the “bite” of the first progression.
Now, how do you write with slash chords?
When I use slash chords, it has more to do with the movement of my bass than anything else. Just as a melody that jumps around a lot can be hard to follow, a bassline with too much movement can throw the listener off course.
Let’s look at an example.
Take the following progression: G – Bb – F – Dm.
In the first half of this example, we’ll hear the chord progression with the root note played in the bass.
As you can see, the jump between the 2nd and 3rd and the 3rd and 4th bass notes is large. To fix this, I changed the bass note of the third chord to a C, making the chord F/C. The result is a smooth, slowly ascending bassline. Listen to the clip below, and see if you can hear the difference.
3. Rephrasing a Chord Progression for 4 Minutes
If you read the previous track breakdown, you may remember a concept called rephrasing. Rephrasing is when you take a core idea, manipulate it, then present it in a new way.
How does Kaytranada use rephrasing in Got it Good? During every section, some iteration of the initial progression is present.
During the first verse, there is a bassline that outlines the chords in the initial progression. The chords are gone, but they’re still “present” because they’re being implied by the bassline.
Below is a rough transcription of the bassline.
As you may recall, the intro progression was: Cm9 – Dm7 – F/Eb – G.
The bassline we hear in the verse and chorus is rooted by the same bass notes in the intro progression. I’ve highlighted these MIDI notes above, i.e. C, D, Eb, G.
In this way, Kaytranada is “rephrasing” his initial chord progression with a bassline that underlines the intro chord structure.
Kaytranada also uses rephrasing with the sampled loop he plays during the intro. The sample guitar/vocal loop is outlying a progression similar to the one played in the intro. He plays them on top of each other during the intro, further linking this association.
(If you’re a geek like me and want to check out the original sample he flipped, click here)
At each point in the track, one of these three iterations is playing: the intro chord progression, the funk bassline, or the sampled loop.
In this way, Kaytranada is able to take a basic idea and expand upon it to create a full and exciting track.
4. Extended Progressions
Let’s look back at the intro progression. In particular, let’s focus on how Kaytranada takes a 2 bar progression and extends it to 4.
There are three changes to the second half of the progression: the top note is removed off of the Cm9, the Dm7 is inverted so the D is on top, and an F is added on top of the F/Eb
This makes the second half of the progression sound slightly different from the first, effectively extending the progression. It’s not much, but it’s just enough to make the second two bars seem different, keeping the listener interested and engaged.
Why these notes in particular? As I discussed in the previous track breakdown, we perceive the top note of a chord to be a distinct melody line.
The only notes Kaytranada changed in the second half of the progression were top notes, which effectively shaped the melody line of the progression.
Let’s listen to just the top note of this progression:
To reiterate: the voicing of your chords is incredibly important. Experiment with different voicings, paying particular attention to the top notes of the chords.
5. Borrowed Chords
Now, let’s tackle how and why we can use a G major chord in a G minor song. This relates to the concept of borrowed chords.
Borrowed Chords : A borrowed chord is a chord borrowed from the parallel key (minor or major scale with the same tonic). Borrowed chords are typically used as “color chords”, providing harmonic variety through contrasting scale forms, which are major scales and the three forms of minor scales. Similarly, chords may be borrowed from the parallel modes, the various modes beginning on the same tonic as a scale, for example Dorian with D major. (via the wikiwiki).
Every major and minor scale has seven diatonic triads, chords that are naturally occurring within the scale. These are great starting points when writing a chord progression.
However, limiting yourself to just seven chords is well, limiting.
Instead, you can “borrow” chords from different keys to add variation and excitement.
At its core, the concept is simple: take a chord from the parallel major or minor scale and insert it into your progression.
In Got it Good, Kaytranada uses a borrowed chord at the end of the intro progression, borrowing a G major chord from the parallel major key, G major. I’ve highlighted the borrowed chords in the progression below.
Let’s look at an example of how we can write using borrowed chords.
Take this basic C Major progression: C – Em – Dm – F. It’s a bit stale, so I’d like to introduce a borrowed chord. I’ll choose from a chord in C minor, the parallel minor of C Major. I’ll choose to borrow a D major chord, replacing the Dm. This will make the progression C – Em – D – F. Let’s take a listen to these played one after the other.
This second progression has a bit more character then the first. To me, it sounds more mellow and cheerful.
Here are some tips for using borrowed chords.
- Borrowed chords are often “substituted”, as I did in the example above. If you want to substitute a chord with a borrow chord, look for the chord from the parallel key built off of the same root. For example, I choose to substitute Dm with D. If I decided to borrow a chord for the fourth chord, I could substitute a Fm for the F.
- Borrowed chords sound great inserted after the same diatonic chord is played (i.e. Dm followed by D, or F followed by Fm). Want an example of this? Check out Some Chords by Deadmau5.
- Personally, I find myself using borrowed chords later in the progression. This let’s me establish my tonic (root note), then deviate with a borrowed chord.
- Experiment! Not all borrowed chords will sound pleasant, so experiment until you’re comfortable using them.
6. Contour Repetition
If you’ve done any research into songwriting, you know just how powerful repetition is. In this track, Kaytranada uses what I like to call contour repetition.
Melodies can be looked at having a shape, where they naturally rise up, fall down, and make leaps up and down.
Rather than give you a formal definition, let me show you what I mean by contour repetition.
Take the example below, a 2 bar melody in the key of C Major. While the first and second bar differ, they have the same exact melodic shape and rhythm. The only difference is the starting note.
This makes the 2nd bar sound familiar, despite it playing a completely different melody line.
Kaytranada uses contour repetition throughout Got it Good. He first uses it in the intro. Take a listen to the original below, and listen for the distinct melody lines at Bars 1 and 5.
The melodies differ, but they have the exact same shape. Let’s look them separately.
Here is the first melody:
Here is the second melody:
Now, let’s look at these melodies stacked on top of each other. The first melody is in green, and the second melody is in grey.
As you can see, these melodies have nearly identical rhythms and contour. This makes the second melody sound new, but familiar.
Takeaway: Contour repetition is a great way to introduce new melodies that relate back to the main melodic idea.
7. Backdoor Progression
This has been a pretty dense article, so I appreciate you reading the whole way through. Songwriting is a dense topic, and I’ve tried my best to pull as much out of this track as I could.
The last tip I’ll leave you with is a fun technique called the backdoor progression or backdoor cadence.
The backdoor progression is a nickname given to a particular chord resolution popular in jazz music. It’s the relationship that describes the F/Eb – G motion used in Got it Good. I’ll spare you the theory behind it and just tell you how to use it.
If you’re in a major key and would like to resolve to the I chord, you can use the major chord which is one whole step below the root.
If you’re in C Major, the “backdoor” chord is Bb Major. If you’re in the key of G Major, the backdoor chord is F Major (i.e. the one used in Got in Good).
There’s a lot more to it then this, but this should be enough to get you going. If you’d like to learn more about the backdoor cadence, check out this article.
I hope you were able to take away some useful tips from this article. Learning proper songwriting is a difficult process, so I want to help make the journey as easy as possible for you.
I tried to pull out as much valuable information as I could from this song, helping you to better understand what makes a great song, well, great.
There’s a good amount of information to digest here, so I’d recommend re-reading it a few times to soak up all the different elements.
The point isn’t to memorize everything in this article, but to let this article guide your workflow, adding additional tools to your music-writing arsenal.
Lastly, if there are any songs you’d like covered, please let me know!
Want to read more breakdowns? Click here to visit the Track Breakdown Glossary.
The transcriptions aren’t 100% exact, but they’re essentially there. The point of this article wasn’t to exactly copy the song; rather, I wanted to get the general idea of the melodies and chords, so as to further break them down. Also, there are certain subtleties I left out to make the teaching more direct and effective.