Under the Bridge appears on the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s 1991 album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
The song has three verses and three choruses. The first two choruses are sung to the words ‘I don’t ever want to feel…’ while the third chorus contains the words ‘Under the Bridge, downtown…’ The song contains an intro and outro and also two interludes: the first interlude is for 4 bars and uses the verse chord progression while the second introduces a new key and chord progression.
0:00 – 0:27 – Intro – 8-bars
0:27 – 0:57 – Verse 1 – 8 bars plus two bars held E major seventh chord, 10 bars total
0:57 – 1:26 – Verse 2 – 8 bars plus two bars held E major seventh chord, 10 bars total
1:26 – 1:49 – Chorus 1 – 8 bars: ‘I don’t ever want to feel…’
1:49 – 2:00 – 4 bar interlude
2:00 – 2:29 – Verse 3 – 8 bars plus two bars held E major seventh chord, 10 bars total
2:29 – 2:51 – Chorus 2 – 8 bars: ‘I don’t ever want to feel…’
2:51 – 3:13 – 8 bar interlude
3:13 – 3:57 – Chorus 3 – 16 bars: ‘Under the Bridge, downtown…’
3:57 – 4:24 – Outro – 8 bars of the interlude and 3rd chorus chord progression plus one bar to finish, 9 bars total.
The intro is for unaccompanied guitar and consists of two 4-bar phrases. Both phrases repeat the chord progression, D – F sharp – D – E – F sharp. The E major chord appears for only part of a single quarter note beat and is treated as a passing chord.
Diatonically, all three chords appear in one key: B minor (in the melodic minor scale).
The D major chord must be taken from the descending form of the scale while the E major and F sharp major chords must be taken from the ascending form of the scale. The chords may be found in this key but the progression does not sound like the key of B minor. So, if the chords don’t belong to the key of B minor, or any other key, what is their connection?
The D and F sharp major chords share one note in common: F sharp,
and this unites these chords. Creating progressions from seemingly unrelated chords is a common technique found in many forms of music, including Classical and Jazz. It means that any chord may be used in a progression even if it is not diatonically related, all that is needed is a common note between the chords. Aside from the common note connection, it is also possible that the Chili Pepper’s guitarist, John Frusciante, simply liked the sound of the chords, D and F sharp, played sequentially and so created the progression.
Regardless of the origins of the introduction, the intro chords D and F sharp frame the key of the next section of the song: E major
The fact that both chords lie a tone on either side of E means that the F sharp major chord can be used to move easily to an E major chord, which begins the verse progression. The F sharp major chord can also occur diatonically in E major as an altered supertonic chord.
Like the intro, the verse also consists of two 4-bar phrases which repeats the progression, E – B – C sharp minor seventh – G sharp minor – A – E – B – C sharp minor seventh – A, or, I – V – vi7 – iii – IV – I – V – vi7 – IV in the key of E major. The 8-bars of the verse ends with a sustained E major seventh chord which is held for two bars. The chords of the first verse are played simply, without any melodic embellishments.
Harmonically, the G sharp minor chord in the second bar of the phrase can be heard as a half-step approach chord, which is a common technique in Jazz and other styles of music. Most chords can be approached by a chord which lies either a semitone above or semitone below its root. In our example, the G sharp minor chord is diatonic, but chromatic half-step approach chords are also common.
The E major seventh chord adds extra colour to finish the verse’s 8-bars. The bass also accentuates this chord with several repeated E notes, and the drums enter with a ‘click’ pattern.
Verse 2 uses the same chord progression as the first verse but the chords are now embellished with fills and chordal arpeggiation.
The guitar is still unaccompanied except for the drum’s ‘click track’. Verse 2’s 8 bars also ends with two bars of the E major seventh chord which leads into the first chorus.
The first chorus consists of two 4-bar phrases which repeats the progression, F sharp minor – E – B – F sharp minor – E – B – F sharp minor, or, ii – I – V – ii – I – V – ii in E major. The first two chords of the chorus, F sharp minor and E major, are reminiscent of the F sharp major to E major progression which connected the intro with the first verse. The bass, which enters at 1:27, creates some rhythmic movement against the guitar, which plays the chorus progression without embellishments.
Following the first chorus is a 4-bar interlude which uses the same chord progression as the verses, except now the bass joins the guitar. The bassline supports the guitar into the third verse, 2:00, and simply outlines the progression by playing the root notes. During the chorus when the guitar is playing unembellished chords the bassline has more movement, while during the first interlude and third verse where the guitar is embellished the bassline is simple. In this way, rhythmically, neither instrument gets in the way of the other, also, having one part with less movement means it doesn’t detract from the other part.
The third verse follows the same 8-bar form as the first and second verses, and the same sustained E major seventh chord leads into the second chorus, 2:29.
The second chorus follows the same 8-bar form as the first chorus.
At 2:51 begins the second interlude and a change of key, the drums also enter fully. The second interlude consists of four 2-bar phrases: the first three repeat the progression, A – A minor – G sixth – F major seventh, or, I – i – VII6 – VI7 in the key of A minor, while the fourth 2-bar phrase consists of the chords F major seventh – E seven – G, or, VI7 – V7 – VII in A minor. The modulation from E major to A minor is effected through the use of mixture. Mixture is when elements from minor is used in major, or the reverse – elements from major is used in minor. The A major chord at the beginning of the second interlude progression can be heard as the subdominant (IV) in E major. The third of this chord is then lowered to create an A minor chord and the music continues in this key. When the progression is repeated in the third chorus, the A major chord is no longer connected to E major but is simply a major tonic chord in A minor which, through the use of mixture, can be played as either major or minor.
The F major seventh – E seven – G major progression at the end of the second interlude is cadential and confirms the key of A minor.
At 3:13 begins the third chorus which is 16 bars long and consists of repeated two bar phrases which use the same chord progression, A – A minor – G sixth – F major seventh, from the second interlude.
There is slight rhythmic variations between the repeats of the 2-bar phrases but the guitar and bass consistently come together for the F major seventh fill.
Under the A major chord the Chili Pepper’s bass player, Flea, plays only the root and fifth of the chord so avoiding the third – the third defines whether a chord is major or minor. He does, however, include the minor third (C) under the A minor chord.
John Frusciante’s chord progression keeps the open A string as a pedal note and if the guitar was played unaccompanied this would need to be indicated by the guitar chord symbols: G6 /A – Fmaj7/A. Because the inversion of a chord is always determined by the lowest sounding note of a texture, in this context these inversions are not necessary as the bass notes G and F put the chords in root position. Notice that the same chord shape is used for the basic G major and F major chords. In both instances it is the open high E string which gives the basic triads their extensions: E makes a G triad a G sixth chord, and E makes an F triad an F major seventh chord.
The same chord progression is used for the 8-bar outro. In the outro, the guitar part contains different fills over the F major seventh chord, and now also the A minor chord. John Frusciante also includes a variation on the F major seventh chord:
Here, the chord to the left is the F major seventh chord, and to the right is an F major seven flat five chord. Both contain the same notes, F – A and E, however, the F major seventh contains the fifth (C) while the F major seven flat five has its fifth flattened: C becomes C flat or B natural. By removing one finger from the B string a slightly different colour is given to the basic sound of the F major seventh chord. Using open strings as pedals and to create variations on standard chords is a common technique used by bands such as the Foo Fighters.
Techniques and concepts used in Under the Bridge:
- Common note chord progressions
- Half-step approach chords
- Chordal embellishments
- Different rhythm between guitar and bass parts
- Chordal ambiguity by omitting the third
- Determine inversion of chords by lowest sounding part
- Use the same chord shapes with open strings to add colour and variation to basic chord shapes