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[2020-01-08] In Theory: "Tomorrow" by Silverchair - THUMBNAIL

In Theory: 'Tomorrow' by Silverchair

01/08/2020 02:00 PM

By Matt Montgomery


Australian rock band Silverchair leapt into the world spotlight in 1994 with their debut album Frogstomp, which features this week’s BackTrack, “Tomorrow.” Lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Daniel Johns was only 15 years old at the time, and the band's stripped-down sound and a rawness helped garner them significant airplay. This song takes an accessible approach to harmony that gives us a perfect opportunity to discuss how Roman numerals are used by musicians to talk about chord changes in an accessible and universal way.


Major and minor scales are made up of a sequence of seven notes, or scale degrees. For instance, a C major scale is made up of the notes (named after the first seven letters of the alphabet):

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

We can use any of these individual notes to build a collection of multiple notes, called a chord. Then we can arrange those chords in different orders to get different chord progressions. Since this works no matter what key you’re in and no matter what scale you’re using, it can be helpful to talk about the chords based on where it appears in the scale rather than what actual notes it uses. For this purpose, we often use Roman numerals:

I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii

We use uppercase to refer to major chords and lowercase to refer to minor chords.

“Tomorrow” is in the key of A, so A is the I chord, B is the ii chord, C is iii, D is IV, E is V, and so on. I, IV, and V are used in various combinations to make up thousands and thousands of different songs. "Tomorrow" uses another tried and true chord progression – the verses use a repeating I/bVII/IV progression (A/G/D). We say bVII ("flat seven") because normally the vii chord would be built on a G#.

This progression was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s; you'll hear it many songs, including "Sweet Home Alabama" and "More Than a Feeling." "Sweet Home Alabama" is in D major (D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#) and uses the chord progression D/C/G. Using D as our base, we can see that the progression is in fact I/bVII/IV, the same one used in "Tomorrow."

This is not in any way to say that "Tomorrow" is derivative. Rock music – all music, for that matter! – has a long tradition of using just a handful of chord progressions to create a large majority of the songs. Thinking about music using numerical relationships as opposed to just note names makes it possible to find musical similarities between songs of different keys, styles, and even time periods. Australian comedy band Axis of Awesome illustrates this brilliantly (and with some NSFW language, so be warned) by showing how many popular songs share the same chord progression (in this case, I/V/vi/IV).

Matt Montgomery started as a notetracker and composer for Rocksmith in 2010. Matt received a BFA from the California Institute of the Arts, studying viola and composition. As a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and songwriter, he has worked with Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, IFC Online, Symphony Silicon Valley, California Symphony, and several independent films and commercials.

"Silverchair 08" by deep_schismic is licensed under CC-BY 2.0.

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