Teach Yourself Music Theory – 11.) Counting Rests and Pickups

By first glace, how would you count the rhythm of the piece below?

It may seem tricky, but there is an easy way to figure this out!

First, let’s talk about the rests. As you know from before, a rest has its own value similar to that of a note. The difference is that with a rest, you don’t make any counting sound for that symbol. One way to practice counting a rest in to count in your head, instead of out-loud. Other ways are to quietly say “rest” or “shh” in a whisper tone.

Now let’s talk about that incomplete measure, also known as a pickup or anacrusis.

Simply, count it as the final beats of what would have been a complete measure. So, in this case of a simple quadruple meter type, this anacrusis would be counted just as 4 because it is the last beat of this particular incomplete measure.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 10.) Counting Rhythms in Compound Meter

Continuing from last week where we talked about counting rhythms in simple meter, let’s talk about what to do in compound meter.

As always, establish the tempo of your basic pulse/beat. This will match to be the dotted quarter-note value of the compound metered measures.

Using a compound quadruple meter type, let’s count the basic pulses. Similar to the simple meter exercise, the dotted quarter-note beats will also be counted in a repeating “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1…” like the example below.

Remember how in compound meters, the beats themselves can easily be divided into threes. So, we will count these eighth-note divisions as “1, trip-, let, 2, trip-, let, 3, trip-, let, 4, trip-, let, 1…” like the example below.

Now how about sixteenth-notes? Those will be counted like “1, ah, trip-, ah, let, ah, 2, ah, trip-, ah, let, ah, 3, ah, trip-, ah, let, ah, 4, ah, trip-, ah, let, ah, 1…” like the example below.

Once again, similar to what was discussed when talking about simple meters, any note value longer than the basic dotted quarter-note pulse will hold the count and omit the counts that occur during it.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 9.) Counting Rhythms in Simple Meter

You might have heard musicians joke about counting, one way or another. Saying that they only know how to count up to 4, or that counting is their life as they wait several measures before hitting a single note.

That brings us to today’s topic about music theory. While it is great that we can read a score and identify rhythms – how do we know what they sound like?

Let’s start off by looking at a piece of music in common time. The meter type is simple quadruple, so we know that beats are grouped into four within each measure.

First, establish a tempo (speed) for your basic pulse/beat. Your beat will match that of the quarter-notes; just as a rule of thumb. Now, count the quarter-notes in a repeating “1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1…” pattern as shown below.

Great! Now let’s try eighth-notes at the same tempo. Remember that eighth-notes are shorter in value and are in-between the quarter-notes. Count these at “1, and, 2, and, 3, and, 4, and, 1…” just like the example below.

Sixteenth-notes are even shorter and will be counted as “1, ee, and, ah, 2, ee, and, ah, 3, ee, and, ah, 4, ee, and, ah, 1…” just like the example below, too.

Now, what about notes longer than a quarter note? Essentially, you will hold the count of the longer note and omit saying the beats that occur during it. For example, a measure of two half-notes would count “1… 3…” while omitting counts on 2 and 4 because the notes are held over those beats.

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Tip #49 – Bending Through a Melody With Blue Notes

Let’s start by answering a question that you probably had: “What is a blue note?”

And the answer is actually not set in stone… because there are two alternating definitions of “blue notes.”

The first definition comes from the idea of what scale degrees are changed from a major scale to a regular minor blues scale. Those would be the:

| b3 – b5 – b7 |

So, by this first definition, anything out of the ordinary from the major scale of the key that acts as a flattened-3rd, 5th, or 7th scale degree qualifies as a “blue note.”

The other definition goes smaller, into quarter-tones. This states that blue notes are even further out of tune with the standard major scale, being quarter-tones apart (either higher or lower in pitch) from the said flattened-3rd, 5th, or 7th scale degrees.

If the instrument you are writing for has the capability of hitting quarter-tones (with bends, slides, tunings, etc.), play around with incorporating those notes from around the flattened-3rd, 5th, or 7th scale degrees. If not, just use the simpler definition of blue notes to achieve a bluesy sound.


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Tip #48 – Using the Mock Blues Scale

Incorporating this mock blues scale, while interesting, is like being sold by a gimmicky infomercial. However, it is worth talking about.

Basically it would be something like this:

HEY THERE!! ARE YOU A COMPOSER THAT USES THE MAJOR SCALE A LOT? DON’T YOU WANT SOMETHING MORE INTERESTING OUT OF LIFE? CAN’T HELP YOU THERE TO CURE THE BLUES, BUT BOY CAN I SHOW YOU HOW TO CHANGE YOUR OLD MAJOR SCALE INTO SOMETHING NEW! SOMETHING TRUE! SOMETHING BLUE!! WITH THESE THREE EASY PAYMENTS OF LOWERED SCALE DEGREES, YOU TOO CAN HAVE THIS BLUES SOUND!

(end scene)

So, what I’m getting at is that to build a mock blues scale, take a major scale and lower the same degrees found in the blue scales. That would give you the scale degrees of:

| 1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – 6 – b7 – 1 |

With it, the original melody would transform as such:

Which can either work really well… or poorly. Either way, it is still an option for interest with any composer.


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Tip #47 – Working the Major Blues Scale and Replacements

In a previous post, I talked about the idea of using the minor blues scale over a harmonic progression. Now, what if I told you that there was a major blues scale version? What kind of melodic treatment would be used over the harmonic progression f you decided to take that route with a major blues scale?

A major blues scale is like the minor blues, but starts on the flattened-3rd scale degree of the minor blues. So, the new scale degrees become:

| 1 – 2 – b3 – 3 – 5 – 6 – 1 |

And they work great of major triadic or dominant chords!

However, it should be noted that unlike the minor blues scale, the root is based of the chord, NOT the key. So, using a blues chord progression in A Major, the root of the scale would change with each sounding chord.

By now you must be thinking: “But wait! If the major blues scale is determined by the chord and not the key… and the major blues scale is a ‘mode’ – essentially, of the minor blues that is determined by the key, can’t different versions of the minor blues scale work? As so, being dependent on the chord?”

While it is not in common practice, it sure works! To use these replacement blues scales, take the original major blues scale and start on the 6th scale degree to get the minor blues version:

As mentioned above, this is not typical practice of the blues, but it does offer interesting variety for sure! Experiment around with it!


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Tip #46 – Adding the Minor Blues Scale

Say you have a cool harmonic progression and what a “bluesy-sounding” melody. Where do you start? Do you go right to bending certain pitches to create “blue notes;” do you use stock licks from your favorite artists that emulated a blues style; do you throw in flattened scale degrees…?

Today we are going to talk about achieving the “blues” sound over a harmonic progression by using the minor blues scale in the melody.

First of all, the minor blues scale is made up of the following scale degrees:

| 1 – b3 – 4 – #4 – 5 – b7 – 1 |

Next, the root is based on the key of the chord progression, NOT the chord itself. In the example below, while the key signature is not defined, one can assume that based on the harmonic progression that the composition is in the key of A Major. Knowing that, a person should use the A minor blues scale over each of the chords.

This may look weird on paper, having a flatted-3rd over a major/dominant chord figure – but take a listen to it! With the lowered scale degree, it certainly sounds out of place, but in fact bluesy! Of course, these are still tension tones (including the #4 scale degree) and should be treated with good resolution… or not, you are the composer!


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