GCSE Music Area of Study 3 - Moby: 'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?' from Play

Edexcel GCSE Music Area of Study 3: Popular Music in Context

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  • Created by: Mel
  • Created on: 05-05-12 14:14

Moby (1965-)

  • Born Richard Melville Hall in New York 
  • Brought up in Connecticut, taking classical guitar lessons at school from the age of 9 
  • 1980-1985 he played guitar in a number of punk-style bands 
  • Attended University of Connecticut but dropped out in 1985 to pursue his music career consisting of DJing at The Beat club in New York and gigging/recording with AWOL 
  • Got his first recording contract in 1989 
  • Living conditions were poor (loft with no heat or running water)
  • Released first single 'Mobility' in 1990 
  • Single 'Go' gave him his big break, bringing him to worldwide notice - single makes use of a sample taken from the cult TV series Twin Peaks; charted in the top 10 in the UK 
  • Released a number of other singles in early 1990s 
  • Feels strongly about human and animal rights
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Background to Play

Music covers wide range of styles. Moby comes up with ideas quite quickly but spends long time tweaking and fine-tuning every detail. Spent the majority of 1998 working on tracks for Play, releasing three singles from the album in 1999, which received little public attention in the UK, but his fourth single from the album, 'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?' reached number 16 in the UK charts and was received with critical acclaim. 

'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?' - club dance music, uses lots of samples, uses entirely synthesised instruments as well as sampling tenor melody line, female melody line an the drums accompaniment. It was released in 1999 and was his first mainstream success. It uses samples of Gospel, folk and rock music.

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Sampling Vocals

Moby makes extensive use of vocal samples in his songs - he layers sampled and synthesized instruments to build up the texture of the piece. 

'Why Does my Heart Feel So Bad?' is built around two vocal samples taken from a recording of a gospel choir made in 1953 - it is not cleaned up and the electronic ghostings make it seem more natural, adding extra effect in itself. Both vocal phrases are in the key of A minor, but Moby has chosen to harmonise one with a sequence that makes it feel minor and other with a sequence that makes it feel major. 

Sampled hip hop drum beat is edited to fit into the time signature. Synthesized strings play counter melody, which doesn't distract from main melody. Sub bass feel creates vibration, reinforcing the genre of the music - club dance. 

Four-to-the-floor: a strong reinforcement of a 4/4 beat by a bass drum 

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Moby: 'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?' - Structure

Simple structure based around two-chord sequences arranged in eight-bar blocks. Texture develops, changing amount of instruments playing, rhythms and effects used. 

Chord Sequence 1 - Verse: 'Why does my heart feel so bad?' 

Bar 1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8

Am              Am         Em         Em         Gm         Gm         D           D

Chord Sequence 2a - Chorus (first half): 'These open doors' 

Bar 1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8

C                 C           Am         Am          C            C           Am         Am

Chord Sequence 2b - Chorus (second half): 'These open doors'

Bar 1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8 

F                   F            C            C            F            F            C           C

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Moby: 'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?'


  • Time signature 4/4 
  • Tempo 98 bpm 
  • Varying note length - introduction has longer note values, with decorated semibreves 


  • Strongly syncopated in the piano and drums 


  • Mainly homophonic with melody and chordal accompaniment 
  • Dramatic break before chorus comes in again in bar 73
  • Texture breaks down in the outro to just the first vocal sample accompanied by soft synth pad playing chord sequence 1
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Moby: 'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?'


  • Not a strong sense of key 
  • First chord sequence suggest modal A minor 
  • 2nd and 3rd chord sequences are in C major but do not include the dominant and so are not strongly in C 
  • Verse mainly minor 
  • Chorus major

Three studio effects applied to the recorded parts of the song: echo, reverb and delay. Electronic ghosting is also an effect - Moby found that it added to the emotional effect of the piece. He makes a loop of 'These open doors' near the end of the piece for variation. 

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Important Points

To Moby, it is more important for music to trigger an emotional response than for it to be pristine and clinically well produced, this is why he left the vocal samples with all the background noise intact - experimented with removing noise with powerful digital editing tools, but found that this removed some of the emotional content that he particularly liked, so decided to use the unedited version instead - adds extra texture to the piece. The point where the sample cuts off is very sudden and percussive in its effect, so background noise acts almost as another percussion instrument. 

Use of effects is an important development tool in electronic music, on the same level as traditional development techniques such as melodic and rhythmic development. Moby uses other subtle effects editing throughout the song. 

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Important Points (cont.)

In addition use of reverb and delay, much attention has been given to where sounds all fit in the stereo field (where they have been placed in the left-hand and right-hand speakers) and the EQ applied to each sound (opening 8 bars).

EQ is short for equalisation, originally used to even out problems inherent in early recordings because the media used to record on was far from able to give an accurate reproduction of the original sound - EQ allowed the recording to be more equal to the original sound source. Essentially it is a sophisticated tone control, allowing the relative volume of the treble, middle and bass frequencies to be adjusted independently of each other. 

Harmonies in dance music are generally very simple. Throughout the song, there are only six chords used. Moby does not have an analytical approach to choosing harmonies - he just chooses the chords that trigger the appropriate emotional response at any given moment

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Equipment used on the song

  • Yamaha SPX990 Multi-effects unit - To apply reverb and delay to tracks 
  • Roland TR909 drum machine - Sound source for drum loops 
  • Emu Profomance piano sound module - Piano sound source (two piano sounds on the track, one from an old Yamaha synth and another from the Emu) 
  • Roland Juno 106 - Synth bass sounds 
  • Yamaha SY22 and SY85 synthesizers - String/synth pad sounds 
  • Akai S3200 sampler - Sampling the vocal sounds off the original record and any subsequent editing
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A brilliant set of cards, however, when revising, bear in mind that there is a mistake in the main chord sequence - it should go Am, Am, Em, Em, G, G, D, D.

Samuel Richardson

A fantastic level of detail is included in these notes on Moby and his song 'Why Does My Heart Feel so Bad?' Maybe make some flash cards using these note to help you remember the most important points. 

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