A Day in the Life - the Beatles

  • Background Information and Performance Circumstances.
  • Performing Forces and their Handling.
  • Texture.
  • Structure.
  • Tonality.
  • Harmony.
  • Melody.
  • Rhythm, Metre and Tempo.

Background Information and Performance Circumstanc

  • It's the concluding track of their 67 album, 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. 
  • The songs were designed for studio rather than live performance, because they couldn't do live performances anymore due to the screaming of fans, which drowned out their music. 
  • Four track tape technology that was used in previous albums, was further developed in this album. 
  • It was a 'concept' album, inspired by the example of the Beach Boys' album 'Pet Sounds'. 
  • The songs explore the theme of loneliness. 
  • The format of the album is that of a 'show within a show', in which all but one of the songs are performed by the fictitious 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. 
  • The impression of a live performance is created through the addition of crowd noise, applause, tuning up sounds at the beginning of the album, and by a 'locked groove' (endless loop recording) featuring noises from the post recording party at the end.
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... Background Information and Performance Circums

  • The musical and stylistic range of the album is huge, ranging from rock songs ('With a little help'), pseudo-vaudeville ('When I'm sixty-four') to experimental ('Lucy in the sky with diamonds', 'For the benefit of Mr Kite').
  • The musical resources used on the album far exceeded their original set up of two guitars, bass, drums and vocals of their early recordings - they used keyboards, Indian classical instrument, sound and tape effects, a brass section, and a 40 piece orchestra in 'A Day in the Life'. 
  • The song is clearly assembling two seperate units - one by John Lenoon with bleak and morose material, and a more upbeat section by Paul McCartney. 
  • There is an instrumental section that links the two units, and forms a loose ternary shape overall (ABA). 
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Performing Forces and their Handling: Vocal Lines.

Vocal Lines:

  • The verses are sung by Lennon. 
  • Generally syllabic word settings, except for melismas on 'turn you on'. 
  • Mid to high range in phrases 1 and 3, lower tessitura in phrases 2 and 4. 
  • Overall range of a tenth, from E to G. 
  • Highest note G is reached at close of verses 2 and 3. 
  • There are repeated melodic motifs. 
  • Transitions are also sung by Lennon - wordless vocals, sung in high register.
  • The middle section is sung by McCartney. 
  • It is lower in tessitura, gravitating towards the lower E. 
  • It spans a range of an octave (from B to B). 
  • The lyrics are less reflective. 
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Performing Forces and their Handling: Piano & Acou

Piano & Acoustic Guitar:

  • Simple chordal patterns in the Introduction and throughout Lennon's verses (guitar plays strummed quaver chords, while chords on piano vary in length). 
  • There is little melodic interest in the parts for these instruments. 
  • The piano plays 'concerto like' chords after the words 'Albert Hall', an example of word painting. 

Bass Guitar:

  • It plays a more elaborate version of the piano left hand, therefore creating a heterophonic texture. 
  • The verses are dominated by downward scale motion. 
  • It plays a pedal E in quavers during the orchestral link passages. 
  • The bass has a more active part in middle section, with some chromaticism.
  • There are arpeggio shape melodies in the second transition. 
  • Notably it avoids walking bass patterns. 
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Performing Forces and their Handling: Drums/Percus


  • Verse 1 and first phrase of verse 2 are accompanied only by maracas. 
  • The full kit enters with a fill into phrase 2 in verse 2. 
  • There are frequent tom-tom fills, and the quaver rhythms on hi-hat and snare create a double time feeling in the middle section. 

Orchestral Sections:

  • These were introduced quite late as a way of bridging the gap between the verses and middle section. 
  • It is a type of aleatoric (chance writing), but the performers were given reference points to indicate the rate of progression. 
  • It is essentially an atonal slide, made more powerful by the overdubbing of four takes into the final mix. 


  • Four track technology created a sound that could not easily be reproduced live. 
  • Use of panning. 
  • Addition of alarm clock sound before McCartney's bridge. 
  • Overdubbing of three pianos and harmonium on the final E major chord, enhancing the sound to last approximately 40 seconds. 
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  • Mainly melody-dominated homophony. 
  • Variety is created through aleatoric orchestral sections, and the stylistic differences between Lennon and McCartney's material. 
  • Bass and piano left hand essentially the same basic line throughout, but the bass part's embellished version creates a heterophonic texture. 
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  • Strophic structure of Lennon's material (which is in G major). 
  • The verse lengths are asymmetrical. 
  • McCartney's E major middle section creates a feeling of ternary form. 
  • Introduction: bars 1-4: overlaps final chord of previous track, acoustic guitar strums opening sequence of verse with piano joining in. 
  • Verse 1: bars 5-14: five 2 bar phrases in G major, but with hints of modal E minor. 
  • Verse 2: bars 15-23: 5 phrases lasting nine bars. 
  • Verse 3: Bars 24-34: 5 phrases lasting eleven bars. 
  • Transition 1: bars 35-46: orchestral slide, merging with end of verse 3, with a pedal on E and closing with E major chord at bars 45-46. 
  • Bridge/Middle section: contrasting section in E major, with tighter tempo, two and a half bars phrase lengths, and there are 4 phrases. 
  • Transition 2: bars 58-67: wordless vocals and orchestral octaves in cycle of fifths progression in opposite direction of usual progresion.
  • Verse 4: bars 68-78: 6 bars with semi-tonal material from the end of verses 2 and 3. 
  • Coda: bars 79-89: repeat of orchestral slide with more active drum part, ending with overdubbed E major chord. 
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  • Verses are in G major, but with more focus on the submediant E than usual and with no use of the dominant chord D. 
  • The flattened seventh chord F major is employed. 
  • Orchestral transitions begin with a trill on B (mediant of G) and works through an atonal slide to a chord of E major. 
  • The bridge/middle section is in E major, the parallel major of the relative minor, and with strong hints of the mixolydian mode (D major chords). 
  • The second transition travels round a cycle of fifths twice before returning to a conventional IV-V progression to G major for verse 4. 
  • Coda: orchestral slide again from B to E major. 
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  • The chords used in the introduction from a I-III-VI-IV (G-Bm-Em-C) progression which is repeated and decorated for the first part of the verse, arriving on Am9 by use of a passing C7 chord. 
  • The second half of the verse begins the same way, but then heads down a fifth to F major chord instead of C7, a common modal inflection in rock music. 
  • A plagal cadence leads back into verse 2. 
  • The stepwise descending bass line creates some unusual inversions - IIIc in bar 5, and seventh chords in third inversions in bars 6 and 7. 
  • The bridge/middle section uses the flattened seventh chord, but otherwise alternates between the tonic and dominant ninth. 
  • The second transition section outlines a cycle of fifths from C to E (C-G-D-A-E) twice. 
  • There are few conventional cadences and no perfect cadences in the song. 
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  • The melodic style is diatonic, major and pentatonic by turns, with little sign of blues influence (flattened thirds). 
  • Most of the melodic shapes are disjunct, favouring leaps between harmony notes. 
  • Verses consist of elaborations on three ideas presented in the first two phrases of verse 1: A (bars 5-6), alternating upward thirds and fourths from central B, creating ambiguous tonality and pentatonic feel. B: (bar 7), upward third from G to B, followed by a stepwise 4-3-2-1 shape, in G major. C: (bar 8): strong upwards fifth for word setting 'made the grade'. 
  • The second half of the verse uses the ideas in the pattern ABB which allows the verse to end on the tonic G, perhaps in agreement with the definite statement 'I saw the photograph'. 
  • At the end of verse 2, two new ideas are introduced: D (bar 22), semiquaver downwards semitone using a lower chromatic auxiliary note. E (bar 22 beat 3), rising second inversion arpeggio shape, ascending to the highest note of the vocal line. 
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... Melody.

  • Motif 'E' allows verse 2 to finish an octave higher than verse 1. 
  • Motif 'D' becomes important later when it is inverted and repeated to form the melismatic 'turn you on' and the overlapping slow orchestral trill that starts transitional sections.
  • Motif 'E' precedes motif 'D' in verse 3 and is rhythmically augmented and inverted, 
  • Verse 4 uses elements of the endings of verse 2 and 3 one after the other.
  • The bridge/middle section consists of two and a half bar phrases, which are then repeated in the pattern x,y,x,y - the main interval is a third, major and minor, which creates a triadic and pentatonic feel in the first phrase. 
  • A sequence is used in the second phrase of the bridge/middle section. 
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Rhythm, Metre and Tempo.

  • Two tempi are used: around 77bpm for the verse, and 82bpm for the bridge/middle section, but the predominantly quaver pulse gives it a much faster feel of 164bpm. 
  • The accompanying piano and acoustic guitar gives a very clear 4/4 pylse in the verses, using mostly crotchet and quaver movements and with very few syncopations. 
  • Tha majority of vocal phrases in the verses begin on the second quaver of the bar. 
  • The solidity of chordal accompaniment allows the drummer some freedom in his fills, which are often syncopated, and use triplets and sextuplet semi quavers. 
  • The most conventional rock rhythms (bass drum on beats 1 and 3, snare on backbeats), occur sometimes in verses, and can also be heard in first orchestral transition. 
  • The accompaniment to the bridge section is made more lively by the use of additive rhythms in bars 48-49, and 54-55. 
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