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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How To Compose – an Allemande

This post will discuss approaches to writing an allemande.

First of all, an allemande is a dance commonly found in the Baroque era suite. The origin of the dance is believed to be German from historic records and features dance partners facing each other, interweaving arms, turning, and adding slight hops to their steps. These factors should be considered for when witting an appropriate melody for the allemande.

Here are some critical features that are characteristic of an allemande:

  • Meter: 4/4, with strong duple pulse
  • Tempo: moderate, but can vary slightly between relaxed and fast
  • Binary form of AB, with the B section usually longer than the A section
  • If A section begins in a major key, it cadences in the dominant where the B section will start and return back to the home major key
  • If the A section begins in a minor key, it cadences in the dominant/relative major where the B section will start and return back to the home minor key
  • B section often begins with the transposition of the main theme
  • Begins with an upbeat
  • Flowing eighth/sixteenth notes supported by a steady bass
  • Polyphonic; however, can be written for a solo instrument
  • Composed based on this rhythm:

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the style before attempting to compose one! Look into pieces of your favorite composers for inspiration and understanding or direction on how to approach a new work.


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Tip #91 – Understanding the Kanakangi Scale

The Carnatic music of South India has 72 scales (melakartas) comprised of seven different notes in either an ascending (arohana) or descending (avarohana) fashion. These scales are used in a kind of India music called rāga and are extremely beautiful. In addition these scales are grouped into different chakras, based on certain similarities.

Today’s melakarta is the Kanakangi (meaning “golden bodied”) scale, the first scale from the first chakra.

Below is a representation of the scale as if it was put into Western notation:

Both the first (SA) and fifth (PA) scale degrees are in a placement normal to most scales found in Western music. However, the other scale degrees are lowered as well as clustered in chromatic runs. While this may sound dissonant or exotic, this scale gives a great amount of opportunity to play with tension and chromatic passing tones.

Try playing around with the scale, possible harmonies, and progressions!


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Tip #90 – Carousel-ing Harmonic Progressions

Sometimes, it seems that popular music stays with the same chord progression and all the radio-hits are born the same way. Times, you may feel like your harmonic progressions falls into the “norm” category.

One way to break free as well as find something new and exciting is to treat your progression like a carousel.

When looking at a carousel, you see the painted ponies chasing each other in a circle. But which pony is the first? Who is ahead of this race.

Point being taken here: nothing in a cyclical pattern can be defined as being “first” or “last,” so everything can be adjusted in framework to appear as first of last.

Now, let’s take this into practice. Take this common repeated progression below:

So, like the painted ponies on a carousel, let’s imagine that a different church of the cyclical progression is really the start. We would get possibilities from the original like this:

Out of one common chord progression, we have just created three new ones to experiment with and see how they can work with your song. Play around and see what else you can come up with!


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Tip #89 – Crafting Modal Interchange from a Tone Drone

Going back to an early topic of borrowed chords and altering a harmony by changing a chord quality to its parallel major/minor – here is another way on how to view it:

Say you have a melody that you want to craft around a single note drone. In this example, the tone used will be E.

So, E what?? E major? E minor? E Dorian mode? E Mixolydian mode?

Well… why not all give them a shot?

With keeping the tone drone constant in the harmonies (either as a chord tone or upper structure tension), try changing each section of the melody to be in a different mode. Below is the example with every measure changing to a different mode corresponding to E as the center tone.


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Tip #88 – Breaking a Chord Rhythmically

Say you have a chord and a really good voicing too for a measure. It sounds great… but it is lacking a sense of motion that you desire.

Without disrupting the harmony, how do you accomplish it?

One way is by breaking apart the chord so that each of the chord members sound at different times within a period of length. You see this already in stuff like “boom-chuck” guitar accompaniment, Travis picking, arpeggiating, etc.

Besides breaking it apart, try to come up with a pattern as well for it. Below is a common pattern found in ragtime music used to break-apart a chord:

Notice that there are a few arpeggiations of single notes, and broken parts of group chords as well.


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Tip #87 – Using a Break, Be it Three Kinds

Break can mean a couple of different things in music, depending on the genre’s jargon.

One can use a break as an idea of a rest. A break – a sudden pause – in the music that can be used for dramatic effect or a place for breathing.

A break can be literal, using sounds of something crashing or breaking apart. This can be performed live, or used as sample.

Or, the most conventional meaning – where the rest of the ensemble stops playing (or holds back greatly in dynamics) while a single instrument takes a solo line. This can be used to surprise the listener while bringing attention to a specific sound source before the rest of the ensemble returns.

Try putting it into your new composition!


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