Teach Yourself Music Theory – 21.) Polyrhythms and Hemiolas

As you can see from the title, we are going to talk about some new concepts and add new vocabulary into our musical terminology usage.

Polyrhythm, is the juxtaposition of two different beat divisions happening at the same time. This will create an interesting composite rhythm of the combining beat divisions. Let’s take a look:

Above is a piece of music with a lot of beat divisions working together to create one polyrhythm. We can see that the C4 pitch is played on every down beat of the 3/4 measures, but the arpeggiation (breaking apart of a chord) of the C major triad below is in a division pattern similar to a 6/8 time signature. Play it out and you will hear it.

In the melody line, we see four notes in equal length of a dotted eighth-note. Within the 3/4 time signature, we have four notes of even value going against the quarter-note pulses and 6/8 division grouping arpeggiation. So that too is another addition to the overall polyrhythm.

A hemiola, is similar to a polyrhythm in that it goes against the conventional beat division – but it is more defined of when normal groupings of three become groupings of two:

Here is another exaggerated version of a hemiola, going from odd to even groupings:

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Tip #121 – Double Meter Mindfulness

What is the difference between in playing this melody below correctly…:

And this one as well?:

Honestly, barely anything. Even though the tempos and note value lengths are written different, they are played exactly the same.

This is called a double meter, when the notes can be doubled in value and doubled in tempo to create the same affect as the original. Yes, this is an augmentation – but the tempo change evens it out.

It is important to be mindful of this and how you want to write out your score so that:

  1. The beats/rhythm best fit what you imagine.
  2. The musical ideas clearly presented to the performers to avoid any confusion.

So in other words; while the two examples above are the same thing, be mindful as to which you choose that will best help get the message across to the performers.

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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 #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 #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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Tip #80 – Variation with Anticipation

“I see you shiver with an-ti-ci…

pation!”

Enough Rocky Horror Picture Show for now. Onto today’s tip:

Say you have a simple melody with all of the melodic notes appearing on the downbeats of the measure. But what if you wanted to make it more interesting?

One option is to take the original melody and adjust the rhythm with the use of anticipations. For a quick reminder: an anticipation is music is when a note is played BEFORE the beat.

Below is an example of variations using anticipatory melodic rhythm that you can take inspiration from:


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Tip #76 – Reminder For Simplicity in Interlocking Parts

A little goes a long way, and sometimes that’s exactly what is needed to forming a nice groove.

While it may be tempting to use an abundance of complex rhythms in every separate parts, it can conversely turn to be too cluttered and lack in “groove.”

For today’s tip: opt for having each separate part being simplistic, but also uniquely different from the rest. Then, when combined together, it will create a complex and driving groove they you are searching after. The sum of the parts equals the whole, so make the parts work well with each other before working as a complete unit.


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