Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Song #350 of 9999 - Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas

Song #350 of 9999

Title: Carry On Wayward Son
Artist: Kansas
Year: 1976
Album: Leftoverture

When I'm short on time, I go for the personal stories. Tonight is one of those nights.

When I auditioned to get into the music department at college, I was required to take a music theory test. I hadn't had any formal music training beyond my school saxophone lessons but I had taught myself the piano and bass guitar. The test had thirty-five questions and I got one wrong. I still remember the question because it was the only answer I was unsure of. Name this chord:

The choices were something like this: 
a) D6; b) Bm6; c) F#m; d) Adim

I chose A because the chord was almost a D6 (D-F#-A-B) but the answer was B because it is a B Minor chord in first inversion, which is represented by the number 6. I understood the concept of inversions but I didn't know anything about figured bass symbols so....34/35 for me.

Afterward, the music theory professor commented that there must be quite a music theory program at my school. (pause for laughter from FHS graduates) I said no, there are no music theory classes at my school. He asked how I learned all of this stuff and I said "Well, I listen to a lot of progressive rock." He was surprised to say the least. And when he asked me how I learned about the early Greek modes, I countered his question with "Have you ever heard of Kansas?" (some events may be slightly dramatized)

I can't even begin to measure how much I learned in high school by transcribing songs by Rush, Yes, Kansas, Genesis—even Triumph—but a lot of those things can be counted in this full-length version of Kansas's biggest hit, "Carry On Wayward Son." Reproducing the opening a cappella harmonies by myself (with multiple tape recorders) and eventually with others was eye-opening. The bass line was an important etude in my technical development. The contrary motion of the piano arpeggios in the verse (l.h.=a-c-e-c; r.h. e-a-c-e) pushed me in the direction of true hand independence. And the lead vocal range taught me about vocal cord nodules. (Just kidding--if I had them, I certainly wasn't getting them fixed anytime soon.) Sadly, I did not learn great lyric-writing from Kansas, even though I thought I had at the time. And just learning all of this stuff without music sharpened my ears in a way that fully prepared me for a collegiate ear training regimen. Even though I've moved on from prog rock and tend to favor, shall we say, a slightly more subtle approach to songwriting, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart this style of music and particularly this song, which I still find enthralling in a completely genuine way.


  1. I also got a theory question wrong because it was phrased as a "6" chord, which I interpreted as having an added sixth, not first inversion. Small world.

    1. Ha! That's pretty amazing. I think it's a faulty question now of course. But I never forgot it and it's a good story.

  2. SO many of the riffs in this song are a BLAST to play.

    1. Agree! Not sure if I can still play it--it's been a while. Piano part is still firmly in my fingers, though.