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Jolene’s Timing Tricks


Dolly Parton’s 1973 hit, Jolene, is a contemporary classic. It only has four chords but weaves a certain magic. I thought this was just the bittersweet tang of the lyrics, the protagonist recognising she is second best but begging for mercy from her rival. However, working on it recently with the ukulele group at work, I’ve realised that it is also down to the timing. Have a listen to this slowed down version and mark each beat on a bit of paper, leaving a space between the bars (perhaps easier said than done for some of you but this was what I did this morning):

The average pop song follows a regular pattern – four beats in a bar and bars clustered in multiples of four to form sections of 8, 12, 16, etc bars. Jolene leads in with four bars of Am, each four beats long (and covered by a juicy repeated riff). However the count for the chorus is:

1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4

That 2/4 bar gives the singer some room to shake out the note a bit and the extra bar on the end provides a moment to reflect. Overall, the chorus does have 12 bars but made of two of these asymmetrical groups of 6 rather than plodding through 1 2 3 4 twelve times. Similarly, the verses are 10 bars long; two four bar phrases but with an extra bar tacked on the end of each half. Along with the words, this contributes to the crafting of the song.

Now to see if we can master this at the uke group!

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