The Extreme Sadness of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know – A Chordal Analysis

Loneliness, sadness, a touch of regret and sarcasm. All emotions wrought out by Gotye’s #1 single “Somebody That I Used to Know”.

Click here to review the song and video, if you want.

“Somebody That I Used to Know” is written in the key of D minor. I believe this particular key is used for several reasons:

D minor’s relative major

D minor is related to F major. F major is a fairly easy key for peoples’ ears to understand, with only one flat (B-flat) and its relationship to C major (being the V chord in F major) and closeness in the circle of fifths. C major is the home base for major keys, with no sharp or flat notes (all white keys on a keyboard). The idea here is accessibility for the listener. This is not absolute accessibility, however. Think o fit as taking a familiar painting, and changing the color scheme to give it a darker tone or mood. The familiarity of F major brings about positive, happy vibes, but they’re warped into a minor key, and the clouds roll in.

Use in the chord progression

The use of D minor also plays an important role in the chord progression. Most of the song is a simple i – VII progression. If i is D minor, then VII is C major. C major, the previously-noted home base for music-listeners’ ears!The you-play-this-chord-and-everything’s-okay chord!

This sets up a severe dichotomy. D minor, sad. C major, happy. Back & forth, back & forth. The fact that the tempo is close to 120 BPM (129, I believe), makes it feel like a clock, ticking away the seconds until your life is over because your girlfriend dumped you last week.

With C major as such a starting point for your music ear, to make C major the place you to from D minor, is unsettling, at best. Oh, the misery!

The chorus is not much more complicated, i – VII – VI – VII. Wanna hear some other songs that employ a i – VII – VI – VII progression?

Dream On – Aerosmith

My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion

And, probably the most well-known i – VII – VI – VII progression (for the ENTIRE SONG):

All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan

Yeah, I’m referencing Aerosmith, Celine Dion, Bob Dylan, & Gotye in a single article. Listen & compare !

Your brain is pre-programmed to associate the music of “Somebody That I Used to Know” with sadness, break-ups, losing that special someone, general and specific melancholy, etc.

2 Replies to “The Extreme Sadness of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know – A Chordal Analysis”

  1. Why do Minor Keys sound sad?
    If you want to answer the question, why minor chords sound sad, there is the problem, that some minor chords don’t sound sad. The solution is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can just convey processes of will, but the music listener fills this processes of will with emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic movie in television, the movie cannot transmit emotions directly, but processes of will. The spectator perceives the processes of will dyed with emotions – identifying with the protagonist. When you listen music you identify too, but with an anonymous will now.
    If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will “I don’t want any more…”. If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will “I don’t want any more…” with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words “I don’t want anymore…” the first time softly and the second time loudly.
    This operations of will in the music were unknown until the Theory of Musical Equilibration discovered them. And therefore many previous researches in psychology of music failed. If you want more information about music and emotions and get the answer, why music touches us emotionally, you can download the essay “Vibrating Molecules and the Secret of their Feelings” for free. You can get it on the link:
    Enjoy reading
    Bernd Willimek

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