Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Descending Half-Steps

The human ear likes to hear descending half-steps (a half-step is the smallest interval between notes,  e.g., going from C to B or G to G flat).  I don’t know the science behind it, but something about descending notes pleases us.  Last month I spoke about how artists commonly use descending major scales in music, but descending half-steps are no less commonly used. 

In my search for examples for descending half-steps, the clear-cut victor is the guitar work by Jesse Harris on “Don’t Know Why,” a hit from Norah Jones’s 2002 album, Come Away With Me (Jesse also composed the song).  On this song, in the key of B-flat, the guitar descends from the major 7th (the note A) all the way down to the major third (D).  A full fifth!  It’s one of those classic examples of “less is more,” a perfect selection of just the write notes.

Give a listen.

Descending half-steps are used in shorter runs all the time.  Some songs that come to mind are Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven," Radiohead's "Paranoid Android," "My Way" - made famous by Frank Sinatra - and nearly every jazz song ever written.  It's just one more thing to consider when listening to or performing music. 


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