The Motown Beat

The Motown Beat
• A medium tempo, between 100-120 beats
per minute
• A strong backbeat
• Light timekeeping, usually percussion
• Moderate syncopation
• A bass line in free rhythm
• A dense, multi-layered, heterogeneous
Motown Melody
• Riffs
– Instrumental riffs tend to be shorter
• Saturation
Motown Harmony
• Our experience with the Blues taught us
three useful things about harmony
– We hear harmonies from the bass up
– I, IV and V are the three basic chords of the
blues—and of early rock
– The change from one chord to the next creates a
Motown Instrumentation
• A rhythm section contains three types of
– Bass instrument (stand-up or electric bass)
– Chord instrument (guitar or piano)
– Percussion instrument (drum kit, tambourine,
Dynamics and Inflection
• Dynamics refers to loudness and softness
• Inflection is dynamic variation on a small
scale, a stress of one note over another
• Hierarchy
– Vocal lines most prominent
– Bass line and backbeat next loudest
– All other lines in the background
• Texture is the relationship of different layers
of musical activity
Most common
a) Melody
b) A strong backbeat
c) Light percussion
• Motown songs consist more of a set of
preferences than a set of prescriptions
• A persistent feature in Motown recordings
is call and response
• The form of the song amplifies and
reinforces the verbal message
• Mostly through the alternation of verse and
Summary of the Motown Sound
• Light timekeeping (percussion and chord
• Melodic saturation
• Moderate syncopation
• Rich instrumentation
• Hierarchical dynamics
• Dense, multilayered texture
• Verse/Refrain forms that climax at title phrase
Why is Motown So Influential?
• A balance between melody and rhythm
• Multiple points of entry (riffs and hooks)
• A fresh new vocal sound close to
mainstream taste
• Instrumentation that appealed to a wideranging audience
• Easy to follow forms