Tip #86 – Backbeat Inclusion

This will be a short tip today.

In most music, especially those in the cannon of classical music, there is a hierarchy of which beats within a measured grouping get the most emphasis – and that tends to be beats 1 and 3 of a 4/4 time signature.

As blues, jazz, R&B, soul, etc. became more popular, so did the use of a backbeat – which is emphasizing beats 2 and 4 instead.

Funk came around, and the primarily emphasis on beat 1 returned back into the prominence of popular music.

And then disco/EDM with the classic snare hits on 2 and 4 revamped the backbeat.

So…

Point being, not all music has to tend to the “classical” pattern of emphasizing beats 1 and 3. And, one can even experiment with the backbeat as well. How about you just emphasize beats 2 and 5 within a 6/4 measure? Play around with it.


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Tip #85 – Basic Cheat Sheet to Jazz Style Harmonic Substitution

“It’s just a ii-V-I”

I heard that phrase a lot whenever I took a class in jazz or played with a jazz group. And rightfully so, as there are a lot of ii-V-I chord progressions found in jazz standards.

That being said, would jazz music get boring over time if it uses this progression over and over again? Maybe “predictable” is a better word, but the great jazz composer’s & arrangers new how to use harmonic substitutions to create interesting progressions that still resembled the original.

In the famous ii-V-I progression, the ii is the pre-dominant area. The V is the dominant area. And that leads into the I that is the tonic area.

A crash course in harmonic substitutions:

The I tonic chord can be replaced by bIII , III , IV , bVI , and VI since they all share a common tone on the tonic scale degree. In addition, minor and diminished versions of the I chord can work as well.

As for the dominant chord, they can be replaced by the dominant or major chord versions of the bII harmony. Also, they can be the dominants or tritone substitutes of the tonic area’s substitutions acting on the original.

Pre-dominant areas are more open, being the ii, iv, and tritone substitute in relation to the dominant area harmony.

Below is a compromised (but still relatively large) sheet of various combinations of the harmonic substitutions mentioned above with a few extras, based in a starting key of C:


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Tip #84 – New Paths with Multiple Harmonic Functions

You can probably recall a bunch of stories, television shows, movies, etc. where some character is on a journey. And on that journey, they come across a fork in the road that seems to lead into multiple directions. That one spot the character is in – the center of it all – branches into different pathways on where to go.

The same thing appears in music, as chords have multiple functions and various chord quality overlaps in different keys.

For example: If I play a C major triad chord, what would come next? Or better question; what key are we in? Because, a C major triad appears in multiple keys – all with different harmonic functions.

Below is a “cheat-sheet” of common chords found in music and the possible diatonic harmonic functions found in various keys:

Experiment, and see where it leads you to!


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Tip #83 – Making your Programmed Drums More “Life-Like”

Take a listen to some of the drum grooves found in the hit soul/funk/Motown songs of the 1970s and 80s. Listen really closely to what these R&B drummers do to the sixteenth-notes.

That’s right; they swing them! While the eighth-notes are played straight, locking right in between the quarter-note pulses, the sixteenth-notes (typically coming from the hi-hit or cymbals) are swung.

When programming your MIDI drums, you can either use a plug-in for changing the swing amount – or, use this style of notation below:

Obviously, you would not give this kind of chart to a drummer, as you can just as easily tell the musician to feel out a swung sixteenth-note beat. But, in the land of digital music, this is a great way on making your programmed drummer sound more “natural” as one might perceive it to be.


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How To Beat Writer’s Block – Tip #7

When writing music or lyrics, people sometimes are afraid of putting something down – as if they expect the first thing they write to be perfect, so they are petrified to be anything less than that.

We as composers have this belief of this fake phenomenon of hit songwriters sitting down and instantly writing a hit. Let me tell you;

  1. It took them a LONG time to get up to that skill.
  2. If they did write a hit song, it was probably there only one.

So my tip to you, is to write something – even if it is bad (in that case you can reflect on what you wrote and learn from it) – everyday. Set yourself 10-minutes in the morning as soon as you wake up for a creative free-write.

Think of it like this, the more you wait for a “hit” to come to you, the more your song writing will get constipated. However, the more you continuously write, the easier it will be to get those creative ideas out of the body and into the world.

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Tip #82 – Pros of Stagnant Harmony

This will be a short & sweet tip for today; but nonetheless, an effective tip.

Composition does not always have to be about finding original harmonic progressions and innovative uses of harmony. Are they good things to do every now and then? Yes, but it is not the end-all-be-all of writing music.

Remember, using stagnant harmony (say, like a piece just using one chord) is a fair option when composing.

By writing music according to a single harmony – it allows you the composer to explore the other variable aspects of music, such as rhythms, phrasing, performance, melodic movement, lyrics, etc.

Also, it is an effective technique to convey certain emotions as well! So don’t be afraid of trying it every now and then.


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Tip #81 – Compose like a Fashion Purchasing Agent

When composing, you might have come across the mental struggle of liking something that you wrote… but constantly thinking about other possibilities, as if that your amazing composition needs to be edited in some way.

One way to get around this is pretend you are a fashion purchasing agent… hear me out.

A purchasing agent goes to a runway show or department and looks at all the season’s upcoming looks. The agent then considers all possibilities and then makes the executive decision as to purchase what for a company.

You can do as such the same by writing all these possible variation and edits out. From there – look at them, play them out, listen to them – and decide which ones you like. This helps declutter the head and boasts the ego into settling as to finalizing your composition with confidence in what you wrote.


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