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  1. #1
    JarredMcAdams's Avatar Ubisoft SF Game Designer
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    BackTrack Spotlight: "Just" by Radiohead



    Each week we showcase an existing song from the Rocksmith DLC library on the weekly Twitch stream, in addition to the current week's offerings. We’ll announce the BackTrack here each Wednesday and offer some thoughts about the featured song.

    This week's BackTrack Spotlight again comes from me, notetracker Jarred McAdams.

    Radiohead -- “Just”
    Originally released as Rocksmith 2014 DLC on November 26, 2013
    Notetracked by Anthony Martinez
    All arrangements in E Standard Tuning



    There’s a tendency among people who know just enough about music theory to be dangerous to think of it as a set of rules for creating good music -- that you have to know the rules of music and follow those rules for your music to be “correct,” and that breaking those rules will result in music that sounds “bad.” I don’t share this outlook.

    Music theory doesn’t govern music – music theory describes music. It’s a way to talk about musical patterns that can be reused or adapted for different purposes. It can communicate how a certain effect was achieved and how it can be reproduced. Music theory doesn’t tell us how things are supposed to work. It’s just a shared vocabulary for talking about music.

    Radiohead’s “Just” seems to go out of its way to break a lot of the conventional rules of music theory. The chords don’t all come from a single key. The melodies don’t conform to the conventional scales and modes we learn when we first begin to play. On closer inspection, however, there are thematic connections tying everything together, and music theory does indeed give us the language to talk about them.

    The song hovers around a key center of C Major, but there are so many notes and chords that don’t belong to that key that it can be misleading, and one could be excused if the arrival at the C Major chords didn’t always feel like a solid point of arrival. This is an opportunity to use your ears and trust your intuitive sense of which chord feels like a resting place. There are sound theoretical reasons for deciding that we are in the key of C Major, but nothing carries more weight than the fact that our ears tell us that this chord is “home.”

    One of the principle contributors to the off-kilter sound of this song is the relentlessly ascending octave motif; it’s established early on and used repeatedly throughout the song. By the end, the octaves are allowed to climb further and further upward, almost to a vanishing point, never landing on stable ground. This effect is achieved in part by the use of the octatonic scale (so called because it has 8 notes instead of the usual 7 – also known as the diminished scale). In this scale, you go up a whole-step, then up a half-step, then another whole, and another half, and so on. Since the scale is entirely symmetrical, there’s no clear sense of any note being the main note; all notes are equal, so no note feels like a point of arrival.


    The four chords that begin the song have an odd ring to them, and don’t make a lot of harmonic sense at first. We start off with a C Major chord but are immediately thrown off with an Eb Major chord (borrowed from C minor). This moves down to a D, leaps up to an F, and then moves back to C where we started – all Major chords. We have essentially the same pattern repeated twice: Up a minor third, then down a half-step, and then up a third again. Putting these four chords in scale order gives C-D-Eb-F – and as luck would have it, this is a subset of the octatonic scale featured so prominently in the lead guitar over this progression.

    The verses start off with an A minor but immediately move to Ab Major (pivoting on a common tone of C). Once this transition is made, we again see a number of chords borrowed from the parallel minor (Ab, Eb, Bb), until the third phrase when the descending parallel Major chords drive us down to the key defining chord of F Major, foreshadowing the F#-F movement that will dominate the chorus.

    The repeated C-F#-F sequence in the choruses can be parsed in a number of different ways, but perhaps the most obvious is to think of it in terms of the jazz theory concept of a tritone substitution. The basic premise of a tritone substitution is that chromatic harmonic motion can be enhanced by replacing a chord with the chord built on the note a tritone away from it (a tritone is another name for an augmented 4th). This concept is used here to strengthen the already strong pull from C Major to F Major.

    That’s a lot of vocabulary for a 4-minute song. A fair question is whether Thom Yorke had all this in mind when he wrote the song. I doubt he did. I think he was probably using his ears to tell him what sounded the way he wanted it to sound, and that’s what I recommend to all of you as well. Learning how to talk about music articulately and concisely is useful, but listening carefully to the music and reaching your own conclusions about why and how it does what it does is a much more valuable skill.


    As a quick aside - The video for this song is worth your attention as well. I won’t spoil it with a synopsis, but it’s one of my favorite music videos. It has a story that’s just as off-kilter and thought-provoking as the music. Give it a watch.


    Jarred McAdams joined the Rocksmith team in 2011. He studied composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and holds a Master's degree in composition from Mills College. Jarred has served as a composer, performer, writer, and video producer for many artistic and commercial projects, and has worked on a variety of music game franchises since 2008.
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  2. #2
    mbarsott's Avatar Senior Member
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    Thanks for the excellent lesson and for sharing the video. Most Radiohead and Incubus' songs did sound a little odd to me at first. but I am starting to "get used" to them.
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  3. #3
    Steamroller52's Avatar Senior Member
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    Nice pick for Backtrack, love listening to this one but haven't spent any time working on it yet...will give it a shot tonight.

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  4. #4
    Good stuff
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  5. #5
    DanAmrich's Avatar Rocksmith Dev Team
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    That video is wonderful. And the band and video director have no desire to reveal the mystery...
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  6. #6
    DanAmrich's Avatar Rocksmith Dev Team
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    That video is wonderful. And the band and video director have no desire to reveal the mystery...
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  7. #7
    The_Working_Man's Avatar Senior Member
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    Took your recommendation and watched the video. Thanks.
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  8. #8
    toymachinesh's Avatar Senior Member
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    I still think the Solo in "Just" (the outro solo) when Johnny just kind of hammers on that note (3:37) and where he goes from it, is one of the greatest things ever done on guitar. Then again, I REALLY love Radiohead lol
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  9. #9
    Steamroller52's Avatar Senior Member
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    OK so I put an hour of RR into this one tonight, and thanks Jarred for your explanation of the Octatonic scale, it helped me instantly with the ascending octaves, I was able to play by ear and not even look at the screen for sight-reading help, I could just focus on moving whole step, half step, on the fretboard. Got an 86% accuracy on my first run, which was pretty sloppy, but I can see myself putting in some more time on this one and cleaning it up quite a bit. And Toy I agree, that's a really cool sounding outro...really fun song!
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  10. #10
    infocat1's Avatar Senior Member
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    Cool, cool, cool. Love this song.
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  11. #11
    Finster Folly's Avatar Member
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    Originally Posted by DanAmrich Go to original post
    That video is wonderful. And the band and video director have no desire to reveal the mystery...
    Do you REALLY want to know?....
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