American Tune

I’m going to start another weekly series in the blog starting today – where I look at a song of my (or maybe in the future your) choice and give you guys a quiz on it. It won’t be for everyone, but hopefully some of you musicians and aspiring musicians out there will get something from it.

The melody of this 1973 Paul Simon song is based partly on a Christian Hymn written in the Middle Ages called O Sacred Heart Now Wounded. The first 8 bars are almost identical melodically and even after that there are certainly other traces of the hymn’s melody in Simon’s song.

But it’s the fast-moving chords and their relationship to the melody that drew me to this song – it’s beautifully created in my opinion, and that’s before we come to the lyrics.

So here are some questions – some are easier than others. Feel free to comment below with your answers if you want. Answers in tomorrow’s blog.

  1. In what key is the song? Does it change at all?
  2. How many beats in a bar?
  3. How many bars in Verse 1 (i.e. from the beginning of Verse 1 until the beginning of Verse 2)? Are they all the same length?
  4. Usually in pop/rock/folk/country music, the 1, 4 and 5 chords are major and the 2, 3 and 6 chords are minor. Are there any examples of this being reversed (i.e. the 1, 4 and 5 being minor or the 2, 3, 6 being major)? If so please give bar and beat numbers.
  5. How many times does a diminished chord appear in the song? Is it always the same diminished chord?




I'm Kieran and I play piano. Actually I do a bit more than just playing - I teach others how to play, and I write music, arrange it and host/produce shows.

2 thoughts on “American Tune

  1. Hi Deirdre – it is a beautiful hymn – and thanks for your comment.
    PS it’s never too late to learn!


  2. O Sacred Heart sore-wounded…one of my favourite tunes/hymns. I know Paul Simon’s American Tune influenced my attraction to it and he did ‘borrow’ heavily from it…close on 100%. I would dare to say. Your questionnaire below makes me wish I just didn’t have to rely on my ear alone to feel music…Knowledge is a massive bonus so, wish I understood more, like you & other confident musicians. Belated good luck and success in 2019.

    Liked by 1 person

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