Today’s music theory lesson will focus on the chord progression to Bruno Mars’ number one hit, “That’s What I Like.” Specifically, this post will focus on this song’s makes use of extended chords and jazz harmony. Subsequently, these elements help it to stand out from other radio friendly pop tunes. Because of this, it is an ideal choice to learn about using jazz chords and chord substitution in pop songs, and I hope that you will be able to apply it to your own songs. So, with that in mind, today’s music theory lesson will be an analysis of “That’s What I Like.” Since this is a guitar website, I have also included the tab for the three main chord progressions in the song.
“That’s What I Like” – Basics
At first to note is the 4/4 time signature of “That’s What I Like”, coupled with the tempo of 134BPM. Equally important is the song’s slightly swung, half time feel, that really helps with the funky groove. As well as the rhythm, harmonically the song is in the key of Db major. Furthermore, keep in mind that Bb minor is the relative minor of Db major, as it will help with the analysis. Additionally, it would be useful to look at the scale of Db major, harmonised into 3, 4 and 5 note chords:
Now that we have an understanding of the chords, let’s take a look at the guitar tab for Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like”
Bruno Mars “That’s What I Like” – Chords & Tab
Intro & Verse
Firstly, let’s start off with the intro and verse chord progressions to this song:
As you can see, the song starts out on a Bbm chord with an Eb in the bass, which would be chord VI/II. You could also see this chord as an Ebm9 with no 3rd, which would be chord II. Nevertheless, whichever way you choose to think of it, this chord creates a strong harmonic statement at the start of this piece, as it is not often used in pop music.
Following on from the introduction, the table below is an analysis of the first 4 bars of the verse:
Although we are dealing with harmonically advanced chords here, they are all still diatonic to the scale of Db major. The Gb/Ab chord still works because the Ab bass note is in the scale of Db major. Furthermore, the Absus4 chord works because it contains the notes Ab, Db and Eb, again all diatonic to our key signature. The suspended 4th in the Absus4 chord (Db) also leads really well into the 5th of the Fm7 chord, which happens on our next line.
Following on from the first 4 bars in the verse are bars 7-10, in which 3 different chords can be found:
|iii||V/VI||VI7 (also V chord of Eb)|
The first thing to note here is the use of two different inversions of the Fm7 chord in bar 7. Secondly, the use of the Bb bass note instead of Ab creates more harmonic interest, and sets up the Bb7 chord in bar 10 really well. At this point, we have our first chord of the song which is not diatonic to the key signature. As I have noted in the table above, the Bb7 chord is the V chord of Eb. You can see that in both the repeat of the verse, and the pre-chorus, that the first chord is Bbm/Eb, which is essentially an Ebm9 chord with no 3rd. Bruno Mars and his songwriting team want to create a strong V-I resolution here, so they are temporarily treating this chord as chord I in order to do that.
Now that we’ve studied the intro and verse, it’s time to look at the tab for the pre-chorus section of this song:
Before we analyse the chord progression, I want to point out that this can be played with either the rhythm shown above, or with the rhythm from the verse, since both are present in this section.
Now that the rhythm has been established, here is an analysis of the first 4 chords of the pre-chorus:
Although the first 2 chords are diatonic, the Abm7 chord stands out as a non-diatonic chord here. As can be seen from the harmonised Db major scale above, this chord should be Ab7. However, instead it is an Abm7, which is a V minor. I have seen the Supremes use this trick in “Stop In The Name Of Love.” While it is not as common as the IV minor, it is definitely a sound to experiment with. This is because it creates just enough of a departure from the key signature to sound interesting, without sounding too dissonant. It also leads really nicely down to the GbMaj7 chord, as the two bass notes are a tone apart. Finally, Abm7 is essentially a B Major chord with an Ab in the bass. This hints at a plagal cadence when it moves to GbMaj7 without explicitly providing it.
Here is an analysis of the last 5 chords of the pre-chorus:
Again, we have a mostly diatonic chord sequence here, with a nice descending bassline from Bb to Ab to set up the last chord. Then, the pre-chorus ends on a F7#5#9 chord, which is straight out of jazz theory. This could also be written as F7alt, which is short for F7 altered. The #5 and #9 alterations create dissonance in the harmony, which creates a nice tension before the more chilled out chorus. Also, the use of this chord is also classed as a secondary dominant, as it is the dominant chord of Bb, which is the vi chord in this song.
Chorus – “That’s What I Like” Tab
As soon as you’ve got the verse and pre chorus under your fingers, it’s time to have a look at the tab to the chorus of “That’s What I Like.”
As I have noted in the tab above, the chorus is essentially the same progression as the verse, with a different ending the second time around. This ending simply walks down the chords in scalic order from chord vi (Bbm) to chord V (Ab) to chord IV (Gb) to chord iii (Fm) in order to arrive back at the Bbm/Eb chord (essentially chord ii as discussed above.) Subsequently, this descending chord sequence creates a nice sense of resolution.
In light of the length of this article, I felt that the bridge section to Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” warranted its own post. With that said, click here to learn the bridge section of this tune and for part 2 of this article. Until then, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning this song today. Not only can you use some of the chord voicings in your own music, but you can also borrow some of the songwriting techniques and apply them to your own pieces.
Until next time,