One little note can cost you the game, the respect of your fans, and the love of your teammates.
One little note can kill your career, and break your band up into smithereens.
What a huge difference one little note can make! The difference between heaven and hell lies in a mere semitone. A half-step between public praise and hater’s hate. One hundred cents between consonant triumph and dissonant failure.
One little note can bring on the scorn of a nation. Even in a song that nobody likes—a schmaltzy waltz that is about as embarrassing to sit through as Happy Birthday.
All of the public criticism for “The Star-Spangled Banner” by pop group The Fray at the NCAA championship a couple days ago1 hangs on one little wrong note, though you won’t hear about it in the news.
The Washington Post wrote2:
It was acoustic, emo and mercifully quick.
Now that’s just mean. I guess the emo thing is somewhat accurate, referring to the two distinct acoustic guitar parts and uh, emotional singing, but why no mention of the obvious wrong note on every third chord? It seems people don’t trust their ears when they hear dissonance. It happens to the best of us.
It can’t be because they made it a “One Five Four Five” Chord progression; everyone loves those!
It might be because the instrumentation was a tad too “Occupy” for people’s tastes, but it’s actually a pretty conservative folk arrangement, and not at all the main reason for the jingoistic indignation stirred up in the public. Guitars, dudes, a tambourine, and a drum—it’s all pretty damn all-American. This easily could’ve been the version George W. Washington sang at the end of the Civil War.
No, it’s got nothing to do with politics. It’s because of one terrible horrible no good very bad little note, as demonstrated in the two widgets below.
The rhythm guitarist plays the I V IV V chord progression in G.
However, the other guitarist hits a high G# over the C Major Chord, instead of a G. At just a semitone away, the sharpened tonic is one of the most dissonant possible wrong notes they could’ve played.
Try dragging over both guitar parts simultaneously in alternating up and down-strokes. Just drag over the start of each measure, then slowly move on to the next pair to get a taste of the delicious dissonance lurking in the cliché chord progression.
The sad part is that the guitarist plays it right in the intro (with the G), and then botches it for the rest of the song (with the G#). Or maybe they were going for something truly progressive?
The whole mess creates a very silly harmony, an unintentional augmented chord—C Major with an added Minor Six (Ab). It’s a musical joke of sorts, and that’s one thing Los Doggies can get behind.
The guitarist responsible for this hilarious Easter egg in our anthem, tweeted in response to the criticism:
“Upon thinking about it, doing the National Anthem is a bit like choosing between Jif and Skippy. You just can’t please everyone,” .
So true! Who could possibly understand the subtleties of such a dark dissonant musical joke such as the sharpened G in a G major love song to your country? What followers will catch the tonal depravity involved in unapologetically disgracing the old forms like that? What compatriots will embrace the musical irony—intentional or not—spread it around evenly, and then put it back on the shelf like nothing ever happened?
I can relate though. When you’re on stage, your mind can play tricks on you; mess you up. Take a look on the youtube below. A clear case of musical madness caught on camera.
 It starts off tonally enough. G Major certainly is a fine key. The first instrumental 8 bars are fine, but it sure takes a sharp turn for the worse in the 11th measure when the guitarist starts hitting the G#, and continues to hit it for the duration of the song. However, if this didn’t have that fuck-up, and had beautiful tertian harmony throughout, with the right chord progression, or fuck it, even just two chords, this would be a lot of people’s favorite anthem rendition, probably even win them a Grammy, instead of being the Barr-mangled banner it is, all because of one little note.
 Cindy Boren. “The Fray’s national anthem at the NCAA title game was a little weird”. Washington Post. April 3, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/post/the-frays-national-anthem-at-the-ncaa-title-game-was-a-little-weird/2012/04/03/gIQAgaHosS_blog.html