Musonix Publishing - Rock In Sequence is an anthology of 17 tracks dating from the 50s to the present day, with a guide to arranging them on a sequencer. Writtern by musicians for musicians.ISBN 0951721453
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Doing A Simple Thing Well

The ability to absorb and reinterpret musical styles has always been a feature of rock music. The classical influences in A Whiter Shade of Pale were the precursors of a trend which ultimately produced showpieces like Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody and even The Who's "rock opera", Tommy. Later chapters deal with the even more important influences of Latin-American and Carribean music. However, rock is also adept at recycling its own tried-and-trusted formulae: few groups have been more successful at this than The Hollies. The perennially popular ballad, He Ain't Heavy, owes as much to older MOR traditions as it does to more contemporary developments. With its traditional harmonies and lush string orchestration, it probably sounded comfortingly old-fashioned in 1969. From the perspective of another quarter-century of innovation and re-cycling, it now just seems timeless.

He Ain't Heavy
The music of He Ain't Heavy is by the American jazz pianist and singer Bobby Scott, whose compositional pedigree included studies with a pupil of Debussy. The Hollies also wrote their own songs (as a team effort credited under the pseudonym L. Ransford) but the catchy, harmony-laden pop style of all their records is characterised by strong vocal arrangements. The vocal and bvox parts in this song need to be well to the front, using voices such as sax and perhaps oboe for clarity.
STRINGS The string part is silent in Verse 1 but plays an increasingly important role as the song progresses. The coll'8va instruction in bar 36 indicates that the first violins duplicate the melody line (only) an octave higher until the loco ('in place') marking in bar 41. This section may need to be recorded separately so that the tranposition does not change the underlying chords as well. As with Puppy Love in Sequence 4, the use of a string ensemble voice (GM 49/50) should give the effect of a large section of players. In Verse 4, the triple beams over chords indicate that each note should be rapidly repeated. This is known as tremolo and is a classic device for increasing a sound's intensity. GM offers tremolo strings as a separate voice (45). If your synth does not implement this, try repeating each chord eight times per beat.
PIANO The piano is kept well back in the original, and should never dominate the mix. We have outlined a simple rock pattern based on the chord symbols which are printed above the stave: experienced players may want to use the symbols to produce a more elaborate part. In either case, there is no piano in bars 36-48.

Much of the distinctive appeal of He Ain't Heavy comes from the plaintive harmonica solo which opens the song. Accurate pitch and rhythm make any music recognisable but it is the subtle changes in pitch and tone colour, impossible to show in notation, which ensure that it is also memorable, especially in solos. It is therefore worth lavishing some care on these details to reproduce the expressive, slightly over-blown character of this part. Here are some ideas on how you can use MIDI to achieve this.

Pitch Bend

  • The grid shows how several notes start with a small slide up (from about half a semitone below the written pitches) and how the crescendo tempts the player into blowing slightly sharp (positive pitch bend) through the long note. Notice that space is needed to set the control before the first note and that others need to be slightly clipped for the same reason.


  • The crescendo through a single note requires the use of MIDI controller 7 (volume) or 11 (expression) - these controllers will also help with the diminuendo in bar 3.


  • The term modulation usually refers to the small fluctuations in pitch which live players call vibrato and use to add colour and intensity to the sound.
Our book, Music in Sequence, gives some detailed help on using MIDI Controller data on pages 86-87.
The synth user can reproduce these essential aspects of live peformance either by writing the data needed on the sequencer, using the grids below for reference, or by using the synth's pitch bend control, volume pedal and modulation wheel (or aftertouch facility). Synth controls can be used while recording or by overdubbing their movements onto the track after basic notes are recorded. Notice that, to avoid affecting later data on the track, Volume should be reset to normal after use while pitch bend must return to zero.
Synthesiser grids illustration, using the example of he aint heavy, he's my brother from Rock In Sequence ISBN 071195612
He Ain't Heavy ... He's My Brother (1969)
He Aint Heavy - He's My Brother (1969) music sample page from Rock in Sequence ISBN071195612