Listen to Popular Song

In this section you will learn how to listen to popular songs. 

Listening to Popular Song

Concepts - People - Music


Popular Song








Singing Artist

Song Writer



Faith Hill

Robin Lerner

Annie Roboff

Beth Nielsen Chapman



This Kiss

Introduction: The Popular Song


What is a popular song? What does it mean to be popular? Must a piece of music sell a certain amount of tickets or recordings to be “popular”? What makes certain songs popular and others not? In this chapter we will look at some basic characteristics of some popular songs.


You are probably most familiar with the popular song. As you listen to music that is in the popular song category, you will notice that they often have similar characteristics that balance the human need in art for comfort and familiarity with the need for variety. Recognize that the more complicated a song or piece of music becomes, the more people there will be that do not relate to it. With popular music, the consumers of music are often looking for entertainment with that balance of comfort and variety.


Let us look at some of the fundamental characteristics of music that has become “popular.”


1. Major Mode. They are most often in the major mode of harmony. There are some in the minor mode, but by far the huge majority are in major. Popular music is also tonal. It means it fits within our common major/minor system that has been with us for 400 years. As a society, we are comfortable with this system. Any time a musician experiments with music outside the tonal spectrum, they must recognize that they will be writing for a specific market segment and that their music will not be popular in mainstream media.


2. Simple Meters. Most are in duple/simple meter. There are other meters, but duple/simple is most comfortable and familiar to most people.


3. Text. The text is integral. Popular songs are often arranged for instrumentals only. Although the musical can be exact with only an instrument playing the melody, instrumental versions often lose the popularity associated with the song. To many, a good song is a poem with musical accompaniment.

4. Simple Formal Structures. Popular songs most often have simple and straightforward formal structures. A common structure would be: Introduction, Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Verse 3, Bridge, Chorus, Coda (ending). There are many variations of this basic idea.


5. Homophonic Texture. Popular songs today are almost always homophonic in texture, meaning that they have a melody over an established harmony. For variety some counterpoint or polyphony is added from time to time. For the most part, pop songs are homophonic.


6. Singable Melodies that are often embellished by the vocal artist. People like to sing along with their favorite songs.


7. Performer Popularity. Since the advent of MTV the looks of the performer often have as much impact on the popularity of the music as the music itself. There are most certainly a lot of fine voices that don’t make it simply because they don’t look perfect in front of a camera. Most songs are not written by the performer yet the performing artist is given the popular credit.


8. Simple, yet Creative Accompaniment. Underlying the song is a good beat, simple chords played by common instruments such as the guitar and bass. The core backup band is drums, bass, lead guitar, and rhythm guitar. The piano will often be added.


As a means of exploring the popular song, we are going to listen to "This Kiss" performed by Faith Hill.

What is the singable element of a popular song?

  • Texture
  • Melody
  • Accompaniment

What is the most common rhythm meter in popular songs?

  • Duple/Simple
  • Duple/Compound
  • Triple/Simple
  • Triple/Compound


Most popular songs are the mode

Faith Hill & This Kiss

Faith Hill

Faith Hill was born September 21, 1967, and was named Audrey Faith Perry in Jackson, Mississippi. She was raised not far from Jackson in Star, Mississippi.  After forming a band at the age of 17, she left for Nashville to pursue her career as a country singer. She married music executive Dan Hill, which gave her the surname she performs under. She started singing professionally as a demo singer for a publishing company. While doing backup vocals for Gary Burr, a Warner Brothers executive saw Faith in a Nashville club and signed her for a solo record deal.


Her first album, “Take Me as I Am,” was released in 1993. The hit song from this album, “Wild One,” was on the top of the Country Music charts for four weeks. In the spring of 1996, she and Tim McGraw went on the famous Spontaneous Combustion Tour and were married the following October. They have three children together and have recorded several duets.


In 1998, her music crossed over to pop charts with the hit single “This Kiss,” which we will be studying in this chapter. She followed this hit with “The Way You Love Me” 1999 and “Breathe” in 2000. Her Soul2Soul II Tour of 2006, with her husband Tim McGraw, was the highest grossing country tour in history. 1


Faith Hill & Tim McGraw

Faith Hill 

Excellent singer. She has the voice and the looks. 

Faith Hill & Tim McGraw

It does not hurt to be married to a famous country singer

This Kiss

“This Kiss” was released in 1998 as her first crossover song from country music to the pop/adult contemporary. It was No. 1 on the Country charts, No. 7 on the U.S. Pop chart, No. 3 in the U.S. Adult Contemporary charts and also achieved success in the United Kingdom and Australia. “This Kiss” is an example of the number of people it takes to create a hit song. Although Faith Hill receives the notoriety for the song, it needs to be recognized that it was produced and recorded by Warner Brothers. An artist does not do it all by themselves. This hit song was written, not by Faith Hill but by veteran country song writers Robin Lerner, Annie Roboff, and Beth Nielsen Chapman.


The following is an analysis of this great single hit. As you listen, notice the items discussed.


"This Kiss" by Faith Hill

"This Kiss" lyrics


Click this link to view the "This Kiss" video.



An introduction occurs quite frequently in popular forms of music; in fact, introductions are frequent in every genre of music. This short four-measure (16 beats) introduction tells us a lot about the song to come. We are immediately able to identify the meter as quadruple/simple. This means than the heaviest beat is the first of every four beats and that each beat is divided into halves rather than into thirds. We can also hear that it is the major mode. It is sunny in tone.


The introduction begins with the drums playing what is called a “pickup” or “upbeat.” A “pickup” is music that is played prior to the strong beat of a measure without having a strong beat prior to the pickup. In this example, the pickup begins on the upbeat of the third beat of the preparatory measure.


The guitar playing an introduction motif begins on the right on the downbeat of beat one. This simple motif is simple and very effective. After hearing the song once, listeners are able to identify the song immediately by this opening motif. The drums set up the beat with an acoustic guitar playing background setting up the harmony for the song. The slide guitar is also used to add variety to the background. The use of the slide guitar is what leans the music toward the Country Western genre. The slide guitar is most often used in Country music. The motif is played twice. Wow, all of that in only 16 beats.


0:12 VERSE 1

A verse in popular music is music that is used two or three times throughout the composition yet has different text. The verse often tells the story or sets up what the song is about. In this song there are two verses. As we look at the poetry we notice that lines 2, 4, and 6 all end with the sound cry, bye, and sky. We also get a definite idea about what the singer or poet does not want. This negative beginning sets the listener up for the excitement of a relationship that works. The happiness of the singer is greater in light of the contrast.


As you look at the text and listen to the first verse, notice how the same melody is used for lines 1, 3, and 5 with the variety in 2, 4, and 6. Line 2 is rather a continuation of line 1. The melody in both lines seems as though the singer is simply telling a story. The melodic rise and fall is conjunct and very smooth both in pitch and rhythm. Line 3 melodically is a restatement of line 1, but line 4 provides a very effective rhythmic twist in which the singer sings two notes then is silent for the space of one note. This gives the feeling of three parts against a duple simple framework: [Hel-lo (rest)][oh, no, (rest)][good-bye (rest)]. As you listen, notice not only the notes and words but also the effective use of the silent rests. Line 5 again is the line 1 statement, and line 6 builds up but does not end on the home or tonic note. This ending of the verse leaves the listener knowing that there is more to come.


The verse is accompanied by drums and acoustic guitar. It is fun to notice that the guitar plays on the silences of the voices. This technique certainly emphasizes the vocal absence. A descriptive term would be an accented rest or accentuated silence. The guitar, of course, is providing the harmonic framework but is also setting up a steady rhythm. At the end of the verse the harmony moves away to the dominant harmony, which creates tension moving into the course. The dominant chord in our tonal system is the chord that creates the anticipation of the tonic or home chord. At the end of the verse the drums do what is called “fill,” which sets up the chorus.



In contrast to what the singer doesn’t want in the first verse, the text lets us know what this love is; the first six lines all begin with “it’s.” The melodic contour is still rather conjunct, straightforward, and simple. This directness gives the listener a sense of comfort, which is so essential for a song to be “popular.” However, the real spice is the rhythm of the melody. The principle feature of the chorus is a practice called “syncopation.” Syncopation is the practice of emphasizing notes off the normal beats of the rhythm or emphasizing the “offbeat.” Notice “It’s” and the word following are always off the beat. In line 6, in setup for lines 7 and 8, the performer throws in an extra “ah” on the offbeat before beginning “impossible” on the next offbeat. In lines 7 and 8 “This” and “kiss” are all on successive offbeats. Wow, this creates a lot of energy. Note “This kiss” in line 8 is a direct repeat of line 7 thus really driving the energy to the listener. This is an incredible use of the practice of syncopation.


One of the difficulties of creating vocal music, whether it be “pop” or “art” vocal music, is placing the emphasis within our words on the rhythmic emphasis of the music. If the heavy portions of the text do not line up with the music, the words actually become difficult to decipher. Listen to the words and notice that even in all of the syncopation, the emphasis of the words still lands on the beat within the music. This whole chorus is masterfully written.


The guitar and bass are again setting up the harmonic structure while the drums accentuate the syncopation idea by putting a heavy hit of the drum on beats 2 and 4 in each measure. Another rhythmic point of interest is in line 7 under the word “unstoppable.” Here, the harmonic accompaniment intentionally lands their chords right on the downbeats of counts 3 and 4 of the measure, thus providing a stark contrast to abundance of syncopation. Throughout the chorus you can also hear the slide guitar improvising in the background. Again, it is that slide guitar that keeps this piece grounded in the Country Western tradition. Without the slide guitar, this piece could easily slide completely over to adult contemporary.


0:53 VERSE 2

As is typical of second or third verse, the music is essentially the same as the first verse. Take note how “good heart, soft touch, fast horse” is the same as verse one rhythmically. In this verse in line four, the guitar plays a simple syncopated scale thus adding just a touch of variety to the verse. Listen again to how the emphasis of the words lines up with the emphasis of the music beats.



As is typical, the chorus is the same as before. However, the writer has inserted “unthinkable” and “unsinkable” for “impossible” and “unstoppable” in the first statement of the chorus.



Now that we have two expositions of the verses and chorus the writers felt a need for a little more variety. To fulfill this need, a “bridge” has been a common device in songs. Here the melodic material is different as well as the overall harmony. Another difference in this particular bridge when comparing it with the verses is that the bridge has four phrases, whereas the verses have only three. The first three phrases are essentially the same with just slight variations in the music. Phrase 4 is in direct contrast with the prior three phrases. As with the verses, the bridge ends on the dominant chord, thus creating the tension to continue toward resolution.



In this chorus, the words “subliminal” and “criminal” are used in lines 6 and 7. There is also a backline of vocals doing “whoas” and “ahs” in the background for the variety factor.



In this short section the writers have taken the first line from the chorus “It’s the way you love me” and add “baby” and “darling" in two successive statements. In between the two statements, the vocal backline sings, “It’s the way you love me, baby” in imitation of the solo vocalist.



This chorus is exactly the same as the third statement but with backup singers. The recording starts the fadeout toward the end of the chorus. The chorus add-on returns for a moment, then the song returns to the chorus for the final fadeout. It is the opinion of this author that ending music has been particularly troublesome to musicians since the beginning. It is really difficult to create a good ending in music. Admittedly, I would be hard pressed to define a good ending in music. Recognizing the difficulty, it is often a lot easier to just avoid the problem by fading out, as they did with this song. The fade-out leaves the listener satisfied yet wanting to continue to sing this favorite.


The form of this piece would be:


Introduction| Verse 1| Chorus| Verse 2| Chorus| Bridge| Chorus + Add-On| Chorus + Add-On| Fadeout


Listen to this piece several times until you really understand and comprehend the preceding analysis. For the quiz for this chapter, you will be asked to read a descriptive or hear a portion of the song and then be asked place that description or music segment into the overall form of the song. For instance, you maybe asked to tell the difference between the various choruses. Good luck.



Faith Hill is married to 


  • There are 3 verses in the song "This Kill."
  • There are 2 verses in the song "This Kiss."


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