Buckle in for the ultimate ‘ride’ with our latest drums lesson by Twenty One Pilots.
The unconventional duo comprises singer and guitarist, Tyler Joseph and drummer, Josh Dun, who have taken the world by storm since their self-titled debut album release in 2009.
‘Ride’ was released in 2015 and featured as a single from their award-winning album, ‘Blurryface’. The track follows an emotional journey that explores perseverance through life’s challenges when all seems overwhelming – a message that really appeals and represents their fleet of fiercely loyal and passionate fans known as the “Skeleton Clique”.
In true TØP style, the upbeat production and cheerful instrumental arrangement work perfectly with the ominous message. The pair are masters of working with contrasting themes and musical concepts. Drawing from a rich and upbeat reggae influence, the track features shimmery synths and brooding baselines which are all tied together in a groove that emphasises the upbeat – a track worth adding to your drumming repertoire.
Twenty One Pilots (TØP)
Whether it’s their riveting and energetic live shows or their urgent and profound lyrics, TØP have succeeded in unapologetically owning their ‘sense of self’ while connecting with a world of listeners who seek the same solace from their music.
Their impressive set of accolades consists of Grammy wins to MTV and Billboard awards including: Best Alternative Album of the year for “Trenches” (2019) and Favourite Pop/Rock Duo (2019).
It’s time to place your 16th-note hi-hat rhythm on autopilot. Cruising to a groove that effortlessly combines elements of rock, hip-hop, reggae, punk, electro and pop.
Get on your kit and hitch a ride with Melodics to level up your skills with this iconic Twenty One Pilots lesson.
You’ve probably heard about minor scales in music, and how they’re used to portray feelings of darkness and apprehension. (If not, read this!)
But melodies only make up half the story in music. What about the rhythm? Is it possible to evoke dark and scary emotions with patterns, phrasing, and time signatures alone? With Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better time to answer the all-important question: what makes a rhythm spooky?
Answering this question is a bit like hunting a ghost. You’re not too sure it exists, but you’re in it for the thrill of discovery. Let’s uncover some truths by looking at famous examples of spooky music:
Jaws (John Williams)
Exemplified by a simple alternating pattern of just two notes, the theme for Jaws instantly sends shivers down your spine. What makes the rhythm of this music so fear-inducing?
It begins with a sparse pattern of two notes per bar, with long rests adding to the suspense. Then the tempo starts to build. The rhythm becomes more regular but is accompanied by sharp off-beat bites to keep you on your toes.
It’s the space between the notes that builds anticipation. Just like how you don’t know when the shark will attack, you don’t know when the next notes are coming.
The Exorcist (Mike Oldfield)
Featuring a seemingly simple eighth-note pattern, what is it about this rhythm makes it so spooky? Let’s break down the complex arrangement of notes.
Instead of using different length notes and rests to create rhythm, The Exorcist Main Theme gains its rhythm through the arpeggiating pattern of notes. It’s actually the melody that gives this song its irregular rhythm.
Let’s look at the note E in this pattern, (the lowest note highlighted in green). Notice how it’s on the off-beat of the first bar, on beats 1-& and 2-&. Then it switches to an on-beat rhythm on beat 4, continuing into the second bar on beats 1 and 2. Then back to off-beats in bar three, etc.
Throw in some time signature changes for good measure, and this constant switching of rhythms generates ever-changing tension. You’re never quite sure what’s coming next, just like you’re never quite sure when the next jump scare is coming.
Halloween (John Carpenter)
We’ve seen how irregular rhythms can generate suspense and tension. Equally, regular rhythms can evoke similar feelings. The main theme for Halloween is backed by a straight quarter note pattern on each beat of the bar. So what makes it so spooky?
The unusual 5/4 time signature brings suspense. 4/4 time signatures feel natural and pleasing. 5/4 has one extra beat to every bar, giving it a strange and slightly uncomfortable feeling. The regularity of the rhythm is also akin to a heartbeat, giving the song a chilling sense of mortality.
So, what makes a rhythm spooky?
It’s complicated. There are elements of rhythm that can evoke dark and moody emotions. For example, irregular rhythms can build anticipation. Unusual time signatures and off-beats can generate tension.
The effect that rhythm has on your music is often overlooked, but there’s no doubt that rhythm is a powerful compositional tool. Having these tricks up your sleeve will help you invent new and interesting ways to portray emotions in your music.
Put it into practice.
Get inspired with these Melodics lessons. For the drummers out there, discover how to use unconventional phrase lengths in the context of a Spooky Surf Rock course.
The Ghostbusters theme is at its core an exercise in Rhythm & Blues comping — but it’s been dressed up in the…. costume of 80s synth pop 👻
The iconic theme from Ghostbusters defined a point in Ray Parker Jr’s career. For those less familiar, it seemed he came out of nowhere as an artist. But for those in the know, it’s far from a one hit wonder. Rather, it is a culmination of all his talents as a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, studio engineer, composer and producer.
Given 2 days by a (somewhat desperate) Columbia Pictures to produce a title track, Ray Parker Jr was ready for the job.
But how is Ghostbusters Rhythm & Blues?
Ghostbuster’s chord harmony is ultimate Rhythm & Blues, but it’s not immediately obvious because it leans heavily on the lush synthesizer sounds of the decade, instead of using more familiar, analog instrumentation of the genre, like keys or guitars.
But the Rhythm & Blues influence makes sense, given Ray Parker Jr’s background as a session guitarist for Motown records before starting his own studio, Ameraycan.
Starting when he was only 15 years old, Parker’s musical career spans decades — having played guitar, bass, synth and lent vocals to some of the greats such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers and Bobby Womack, as well as prolific engineering credits, and composer for Barrie White, Earl Sweatshirt and Cheryl Lynn to name a few.
It was one of those days when everything came together — bang, bang, bang — and it didn’t seem like I could do anything wrong. The bass part sounded great, the drums were big. Everything sounded fat.
The main synth was a Korg Poly 61 — and a cheap Jupiter 6 on the bass line! Nothing is doubled — it’s just single lines that really fit together well.
— Ray Parker Jr, on making the ‘Ghostbusters’ Theme.
Play it. Learn it.
If you ain’t afraid of no ghost, then today is your day to shine: Melodics has released Ghostbusters as the latest song to play and learn for premium subscribers.
That main Korg synth line, the Roland Jupiter 6 bassline, and Linn Drums are exactly the sounds you’ll be playing in Melodics’ lesson for the Ghostbusters theme.
Ghostbusters is available to play for premium subscribers on Keys, Drums or Pads, just in time for an extra spooky musical Halloween.
If you don’t have a premium Melodics subscription, or you want to build up your abilities before playing Ghostbusters on keys, pads or drums — we’ve got you sorted, with this handpicked selection of skill-building courses for each instrument.
Level up your left hand technique with the Cassette Basslines course, featuring a series of lo-fi synthy bassline lessons designed to target strength, coordination and agility in the left hand. Then take it to funk town with Mark de Clive-Lowe’s Bassline Bootcamp. Here you’ll come to grips with left-handed basslines and exercises across different styles, and use techniques like walking, octave stretches and complex rhythms. You’ll walk away understanding how bassline melodies can be built with pentatonic scales, intervals and syncopated patterns.
Ba-da-da-da-Ba-da-da-da-Pssh! Let’s learn fills in this course to help transitions, break up patterns and draw listeners’ attention to changes in the music — you’ll need this for some of the iconic Linn Drum fills in Ghostbusters! Then, take it to the next level with Linear Drumming, play basic linear beats, added toms and 1/16 variations, and incorporated fills over section and groove changes.
To get ready for Ghostbusters, you need to go back to the future! Explore these two courses get those skills up. First, in Kicks, Claps, Snares you’ll play 1/8 & 1/16 note syncopated drum grooves and work on your coordination skills by playing hand independent rhythms over bouncy hip hop drum grooves.
Then, expand on a basic Funk beat with a series of variations in the style of the legendary Clyde Stubblefield in Ain’t it Funky. Here, you’ll perform a fundamental funk drum groove, create variations of a drum groove by shifting beats on the kick, snare and open hi-hat, and learn how to perform a swung hi-hat rhythm.
Away from your instrument? Get in the Ray-zone.
If you’re not by your instrument, then get in the halloween spirit and feast your ears on the genius of Ray Parker Jr with this playlist.
Far from a 1-hit-wonder, this playlist showcases a trophy cabinet of his musical credits, from the ’70s right up to present day; spanning genres like Motown, Rhythm & Blues, Disco, 80s Synth, Electronica, and Hip Hop.
All drummers have experienced this: there’s a complex 16th note fill you want to play, but it’s just too fast. Or maybe it’s a simple groove but the band wants to play it at 200 BPM and you can’t keep up. You start to tense up. Your timing and accuracy is slipping. Your bandmates are glaring at you, urging you to stick to the tempo.
There’s a physical limit to how fast you can play. How do you overcome this limit and increase your speed and endurance on the drums?
Speed and endurance comes from working efficiently. And efficiency comes from technique. Let’s uncover one of the most influential techniques in modern drumming that makes fast drumming effortless: the Moeller Method.
The Moeller Method
The Moeller Method is a technique that uses a ‘whipping motion’ to increase speed and efficiency. This technique combines multiple drum strokes into a single arm motion, letting gravity do all the hard work. Now that’s efficiency.
Here’s how it works for a straight eighth-note pattern.
The down-stroke: Lift the stick up high above your drum using your whole arm, loosening your wrist on the way up in a whipping motion. Use gravity to bring it back down to strike the drum. This is the “down-stroke”.
Use your fingers to control how far your stick rebounds off the drum. The stick should just hover above the drum after the down stroke. This will set you up for the next part of this technique.
The up-stroke: With your stick hovering above your drum ready for you to lift up again, why not tap the drum while you’re there? With a flick of the wrist, tap the drum on your way back up. This is the “up-stroke”.
Try repeating the down and up strokes in a single, fluid, “whipping” motion. Remember to stay loose and relaxed.
Watch this video for visual guidance on how to play this this technique.
Remember: you’re getting two strokes for the price of one arm movement, which takes less physical effort and you’ll be able to play faster for longer. This is the secret to increasing your speed and endurance.
Take on the challenge.
‘Take On Me’, by A-ha, is backed by an eighth note hi-hat pattern at 169 BPM. The groove is simple but it’s fast. At 3 minutes 49 seconds long, you’re going to need to build your endurance to keep up the tempo till the end. The simplicity of the beat in ‘Take on Me’ means that you can really hone in on this life-saving technique, and not worry about any unexpected notes or complex fills.
Don’t go too hard too fast. Like all good things, it takes time and practice. When learning the Moeller Method, remember to slow it down and break it down into its parts: the down-stroke and up-stroke. Melodics Daily Warmups are the perfect space to practice the Moeller Method. Use the Quarter and Eighth Notes lesson to build up your speed and endurance slowly.
What do you call a zombie who writes music? … A decomposer!
Ok ok, but what about a zombie who is just trying to write a satisfying chord progression while playing in a minor key? (Because zombies don’t play in Major keys).
For maximum satisfaction, this zombie might consider reaching for something called the “harmonic minor scale.”
When you think of the most satisfying chord progressions in a major key, they often end with something called a 5-1 cadence (also known as “dominant” or “perfect” cadence).
This is where you play the 5 chord (the dominant or V chord) which sets you up for a strong resolution on the 1 chord (or “tonic” or I chord). In the key of C Major, a 5-1 cadence is G Major to C Major. Listen to an example of that sweet dominant cadence in this ii-V-I chord progression.
We’re going to show you how to give your music maximum thrill-factor by getting all the benefits of a major-sounding “dominant” V-I cadence, whilst still keeping things spooky by playing in a minor key scale.
But when you’re in a minor key, the chords are going to be a little different.
In natural minor this pattern is:
1. minor 2. diminished 3. Major 4. minor 5. minor 6. Major 7. Major
As you can see the 5 chord in the minor scale is a minor chord, so the satisfying 5-1 cadence is not so satisfying anymore. There is not the same tension and release, and it can feel a little lack-lustre. For more oompf, the 5 chord needs to be Major.
The way we can get around this is with the harmonic minor scale.
The harmonic minor scale is almost identical to the natural minor scale — there’s only one note different, but it makes a big difference in how the scale sounds.
To change a natural minor to a harmonic minor scale, you raise the 7th degree by a half step. So in C minor, the Bb is changed to a B. This is the same in any other key — just remember that the only difference between the natural and harmonic minor scale is that the 7th degree is raised one half-step (to the next closest note).
Now instead of the 5 chord being G minor (as you find with the natural minor scale), with the harmonic minor scale it’s G Major which brings the life back to the 5-1 party. You could say it’s re-animated 😱
In most popular songs, this is how the harmonic minor scale gets used. While the song is basically written normally in the minor key, to make the chord progression work “better” the minor 5 chord gets changed to Major. A simple trick!
That’s cool for chords and the undead. But what about the melodies to play over them?
The raised 7th degree in the harmonic minor scale is pretty cool (that’s the difference between the minor and major third when you’re playing the G major 5 chord). Instead of a whole-step between the 6th and the 7th, it’s now 3 half-steps (also known as an augmented 2nd — or minor 3rd). Having such a wide interval between these two notes is unusual in western music, which is what gives the harmonic minor a pretty exotic sound (some might say Spanish or Arabic) which can also sound mysterious or spooky to some ears. Give it a try!
This is great if we want to use that creatively, but if we’re wanting something smoother without all the baggage and expectations which can come with something sounding exotic, we can turn to the equally-evil minor twin: the melodic minor scale.
This scale is similar to the harmonic minor, but gets rid of that minor third sound. To achieve this, we also raise the 6th degree of the scale by a half-step. Now the interval between the 6th and the 7th is a whole step again so it sounds much smoother. In fact, when you compare a melodic minor to the major scale side by – the only difference now is the minor 3rd note.
Reviewing all the scales
Here’s the weird bit. Given how close the scale is to the major, you play the melodic minor scale differently going up vs going down, but we won’t go into that here…
The best way to learn it is by doing – hear how odd an melodic minor sounds if you play it descending (too close for comfort to a major scale really…)
But this is the best thing about the minor key! With all three of these minor scales at your disposal, you can blend or combine elements from each at any time you like to lend what you’re playing different flavours.
To perform melodies using both scales, and recognize their structure and sound.
The difference between the ascending and descending forms of the melodic minor scale and how it’s used.
To become proficient at playing in minor keys by mixing tonalities and recognising their distinct qualities.
If you’re not at your instrument right now, here’s a playlist of music to start prepping your brains ears to the sounds of the minor scale family. Remember to keep your ears peeled for whether or not a dominant V-i cadence is being used instead of the natural v-i minor cadence.
The answer is that they all feature the ‘Straight Four Snare Rhythm’, a drum beat characterized by having a snare hit on EACH quarter note of a 4/4 bar.
Comparing ‘Straight 4′, ‘4 to the floor’, and ‘half time’ rhythms
The snare’s sharp, attacking sound (aka “staccato”) along with the punch of the kick drum, are often one of the core defining features of a given rhythm. Snare hits can be considered rhythmic anchors that a groove can be built around.
A typical 4/4 drum beat, such as your classic rock beat, or a disco style ‘4 to the floor’ will typically feature two snare hits — usually on the 2 and 4. ‘Half time‘ rhythms will often contain only a single snare on the 3. The snare’s prominent role within the rhythm means that with only half as many snare hits within the bar, it feels as if it’s playing in half time, even if the tempo is technically the same.
The ‘straight four‘ snare rhythm, on the other hand, mimics what the kick drum does in a disco ‘four to the floor beat’, and emphasizes every single down beat of the bar, with snare hits occuring on 1, 2, 3, AND 4.
How to give your music more (or less) energy when you need it.
Now, given this, what is the purpose of having a snare hit on every beat? In what ways does this rhythm feel different from the more typical rhythms you find in modern 4/4 music?
In the same way that decreasing the amount of snare hits in a bar makes a groove feel ‘slower’ and more relaxed with half time beats — increasing the amount of snare hits using straight 4’s increases the energy of the rhythm, giving it a driving momentum that adds tension and excitement to the music.
Straight 4 Snare rhythms are often used as a way to add tension and energy in the moments before a section change in a piece of music. Alternatively, the rhythm might be used to add a sense of contrast, creating a difference between the sections that occur before or after it — listen to our straight 4’s playlist to hear it in action and train your ears.
The straight 4 snare rhythm’s presence as a rhythm played on a drum kit has been around for ages, but in the way that we are talking about today as a musical device in modern songwriting is now closely associated with soul and motown music.
Take ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough‘, for example. At about 1:22 in, the Straight Four rhythm makes an appearance for four bars just before a change of section. It’s a lovely moment that adds a little bit of tension immediately before launching into the next verse
This tendency for the rhythm to appear in soul and motown music isn’t just relegated to music from the 60s – more modern interpretations of the style retain the usage of this rhythm as well – as can be seen in Silk Sonic’s ‘Leave the Door Open.’
This time the rhythm appears in the final iteration of the chorus of the song, occurring about 2:40. Up until this point of the song, the chorus has a more typical rhythm accompanying it, with a snare on the 2 and 4, but for the final chorus, the straight four snare rhythm is played instead, which provides a vitality and energy that wasn’t present before – elevating it to a fitting climax near the conclusion of the song.
But MoTown and soul are not by any means the only places where this rhythm finds a home either – Muse’s ‘Starlight‘ is a great example of the Straight Four rhythm being incorporated into a modern rock context. In Starlight, the rhythm appears during the pre-chorus where it helps creates an evocative build-up towards the Chorus itself. The chorus features a more stripped back instrumentation, with no drums at all, so having a high intensity snare rhythm leading into this section creates an effective contrast, adding to the drama of the piece.
Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna My Way’ is another hit that uses this rhythmic device. This time, a variation of the rhythm that features flams instead of singular snare hits is a key component of the intro of the song. It’s a boisterous and attention grabbing technique that draws focus right out of the gate. It’s a bold and in-your-face moment that provides a perfect jumping off point for a high-energy rock hit.
Learn to play Straight 4 in popular music
The straight four rhythm is a flexible drum technique that can be used over many genres and in many different contexts.
Or keen to explore the fundamental beat? Try Melodics’ essential ‘Motown Rhythms’ course for drums, which covers the must-know Motown grooves from the 60s, 70s & 80s — of course including the iconic straight 4.
Do you have a certain mood or theme you are wanting to establish in your song? Just like the sounds of the instruments themselves or the lyrics, the chord progression plays a large role in defining the overall feeling of a piece of music.
The chord progression is the series of chords that form the overall harmonic structure of the song. Within each key, there’s a series of different chords that all work within that key – you can choose the order that you play them in and which chords you choose.
There’s plenty of chord progressions to choose from when you’re writing a tune, and plenty to learn about but let’s take a closer look at one in particular, the VI, VII, i progression in the context of ‘Running Up That Hill‘ by Kate Bush.
This chord progression is in the key of C minor. As well as defining the movement and tone of a song, the chord progression also helps to really cement the song within its key.
This progression begins all the way up on the key’s VI (6th) chord (aka. Ab Major). By not starting the progression on the root chord (i), starting on the VI gives it a sense that it’s alreadybeen rising — as one of the last chords available in the 7 note chord scale, the VI chord has a strong upwards direction to it as if the progression is already nearly finished.
This is because it naturally wants to resolve up to the “tonic” or the home base of the key (the i chord). If you this chord progression to climbing Mt Everest, we’re starting our climb already in the death zone and the only way from here is to the summit.
The VII chord (Bb Major) which is the second chord played in the progression, reinforces the fact we’re still climbing. At this point, we can see the summit — but we’ve still got one last push to get there. No going back now.
Finally, the progression resolves at the top with the i chord or the “tonic” (C minor). Time to plant the flag and take in the views, before doing it all over again.
This progression is in a minor key which gives it a darker melancholy edge, but at the same time because it moves so strongly upwards from the beginning, it gives it a sense of optimism as we head towards something brighter and more hopeful.
You can see why it fits so perfectly with a song named ‘Running Up That Hill’ — and how the rising tension and sense of optimism worked so well during one of the most climactic scenes of Stranger Things season 4.
The progression through VI VII i occurs in parts of many songs, such as ‘Lean On‘ by Major Lazer. But it’s also just as common to vary the order of the 3 chords in this progression — such as the close-cousins i VII VI VII, or VII VI i i, or i VI VII progressions
Can you think of any other songs which have this optimistic and uplifting chord progression? If you’re not at your instrument right now, start training your ears and listen out for examples in our Climbing Chords playlist.
Climb upwards through popular chord progressions for keys
If you’re interested in getting to know the basics of chord progressions, try out Melodics’ course on common chord progressions. Learn to read chord progressions written as Roman numerals, practice moving between chords and shift hand positions and practice playing chords as melodies and harmonies in the style of New Wave music.
And for premium subscribers, you can learn to play ‘Running Up That Hill‘ just like Kate Bush to get a first hand experience of how this progression works so you can add this to your creative repertoire.
Having an appreciation for time signatures is useful for playing every instrument (both melodic and rhythmic) — but how do you decide what kind of rhythm/time signature you’ll use? You could ask this question another way… How do you decide which shirt to wear in the morning?
It all depends on the mood you’re going for and in some cases, the style or tradition of music you’re playing or making.
Let’s take a look at the 12/8 time signature in the context of ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ by Tears For Fears, available to play in Melodics this week for premium subscribers.
The rhythm of the song gives it a shuffling feel, like you’re tumbling through it. It’s got a feel somewhere in-between the steady pulse of a four to the floor beat, and the triplet feel of 6/8.
Have you heard that shuffle rhythm before elsewhere?
It can also be known as the “Purdie Shuffle” (exemplified by Bernard Purdie in Steely Dan’s ‘Home At Last‘, or John Bonham in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Fool in the Rain‘) in drum circles, but you’ve likely heard it frequently in all sorts of contemporary songs.
That sound can be a creative choice to evoke a certain mood, but often it’s related to making music in a particular style. As well as pop music, this rhythm is also used heavily in doo-wop, blues and jazz – so it can be used in some cases to reference or imitate those styles as well.
Now you know what it sounds like, what actually is 12/8?
As a more uncommon time signature, 12/8 might look and sound intimidating — but don’t worry there’s nothing weird, “irregular” or “odd” about it! You can easily think of 12/8 time as basically using triplets within the context of a regular 4/4 rhythm. Here’s how:
12/8 means there are 12 1/8th note beats in each bar.
But what you can’t immediately see from reading the time signature is that those 12 beats are organized into four groups of three 1/8th notes. The four groupings is what gives it the familiar pulse of 4/4 but with the “triplet” feel of 6/8. It’s like a buy one get one free deal for time signatures.
With 12 beats to choose from, there’s a world of opportunity when it comes to deciding which beats the chord changes occur on. With the intro of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ the first synth chord (A/D) is on the “1” beat — and the second chord (G/D) jumps in a little early on the “2-and-a” beat, imparting a slightly urgent feel to the intro groove.
If you’d like more context around the sound and feel of triplets (outside of 12/8) — you can often hear triplets in the syncopated, staccato vocals of Bone Thugs n Harmony, Three 6 Mafia, and Migos, which really helps to give them their distinctive flows.
For standard subscribers, make your goal this week to understand time signatures and how to play songs in 2/4, ¾, 4/4 and 6/8.
Melodics’ ‘Time Signatures’ course (for Keys and Drums) is a great starting point to structure your practice around, and if you’re a drummer you’ll be super prepared to dive into ‘Shuffle Grooves’ just in time for when ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ drops this week.
Do your chords disappear or lose their punch when mixed with the rest of your tracks? How do you make your chords stand out within a powerful pop arrangement?
There’s a simple trick that’s used to “voice” simple chords in a way that makes the sound full, but not muddy when you’re in competition with big vocals, big drums and other powerful song elements.
Triads in right hand, Root note and 5ths in the left hand.
Because you’ve got multiple octaves at your disposal on a keyboard, a simple chord like C Major (C, D, E) can be played in a huge number of ways and there’s no rules that say you can’t double up notes, or spread them out across the keys. This technique of playing the same notes in the chord but across different keys on the keyboard is called “voicing”.
In “Green Light” by Lorde, the chords are voiced in a particular way that adds weight to cut through and highlight the piano part as a core song element. This is done by playing the plain old triad in the right hand, and then playing just the first (the root) and last note (the 5th) of the chord in the left hand.
The reason this works so well is that playing the root and 5th note an octave below adds some more bass, but the middle note (the third) is omitted here, so it just adds fullness without sacrificing clarity.
Looking at another example with a full F# minor triad with the right hand (yellow), and just the root and the 5th note played an octave below in the left hand (blue).
Learning how to use pop progressions
If you’re not at your instrument right now, you can still start training your ears by listening to how the chords are expressed in these pop bangers.
Learn about pop chord progressions with a mixture of root positions, inversions and open chord voicings, as well as build your skills in performing them with syncopated rhythms, arpeggios and melodies.
Do you have some chords or progression for a song idea, but want to figure out a rhythm and timing that will work to capture the mood of what you’re imagining or back up the timing of your instruments or vocals?
Just like the chords in a progression provide the harmonic backdrop to a tune, a song’s time signature can play a major role in defining the feel of a progression, and help reinforce the rhythm of your instruments and meter of your vocal delivery.
You might already have a basic understanding of common time signatures and how they generally sound (like 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, or 6/8) – but if not, skip to this handy guide near the end of this article.
Sometimes it’s not so clear why you might use some time signatures over others. If you’re happy with experimenting in 4/4, and haven’t had reason to move outside this comfort zone — then we’ll discuss two examples, “Hey Ya!” by Outkast, and two versions of “With a Little Help From My Friends” that might show you how exploring some new time signatures can freshen up your sound when you’re creating music.
If you’re away from your instrument, we’ll also show you some other examples you can listen to now or any time, and then whenever you’re ready to give it a go, we’ll show you which courses and popular songs you can learn to play different time signatures on with Melodics.
Is “Hey Ya!” in 2/4, 4/4 or 11/4?
Separating some time signatures from genres that stereotypically use them can be tough. For instance, 2/4 is really common in bluegrass, folk or punk – but outside of these genres, our ears aren’t really trained to recognise them so easily.
Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya!’ is a really interesting example as it’s rooted in hip hop, pop soul and funk. It sounds like a 4/4 but has the in-your-face movement and momentum of 2/4 phrasing…
Why? It secretly has a single measure of 2/4 in it.
When counting along to the beat, count: three measures of 4/4, one of 2/4, then two more of 4/4 (or 4+4+4+2+4+4). If you add these all up, that’s 22 beats spread over two bars — hence why some people say “Hey Ya!” is in 11/4. But imagine reading 1 bar of music without a bar line for 11 whole beats 😢 — counting by 4+4+4+2+4+4 is much more natural, and the single 2-beat bar of 2/4 really captures the “lively” and “pushy” spirit of the song.
If you’re unsure what the difference that one bar of 2/4 makes (in an otherwise 4/4 song), check out this video of ‘Hey Ya!’ reimagined as a straight 4/4 beat. You’ll be able to hear the important role time signatures play in backing up the timing of vocal melodies or instrumentation.
In 4/4, ‘Hey Ya!’ sounds a little bit off — HINT: listen to the drum snare vs the vocal timing.
As the final word in each line of the vocals is delivered, the rhythm progression feels like it hasn’t quite finished yet, and still needs a couple more bars before it’s ready for a turnaround. It’s missing a snare!
But (thankfully) in the original 2/4 version, the drums and punchy vocals are perfectly in step at the end of each line, helping to drive home the rhythm at the same punchy pace and timing of the vocal delivery we all know and love.
Use time signatures to set the “mood”
For a great example of how extra beats in different time signatures can impart different moods in songs, compare these two different versions of the hit song “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
The original is written and played by the Beatles in 4/4, but Joe Cocker’s iconic cover totally reinterprets it in 6/8.
With more space after each vocal line for the chord progression to play, a much more epic, pausing, and melancholy feel is created — aided also by the slower overall tempo, and playing it in a different key of course ;). Such is the power time signatures hold!
Time Signatures Explained
A time signature is often expressed by two numbers (like a fraction) which gives you a rough rhythmical overview. The top number indicates how many “beats” are in each “bar” of a piece of music. The bottom number indicates the “note value” or “subdivision” of each beat.
The beat is often described as the main rhythm listeners might tap their toes to when listening to music, or the “1,2,3,4” that a musician counts while performing. It’s the basic unit of time which keeps pulsing and repeating throughout a piece of music.
Also called subdivisions, a note value indicates how long a particular beat (or note) is relative to the length of the whole bar.
For common time signatures, note values tend to be described as whole (1/1), half (1/2), quarter (1/4) or eighth (1/8) notes.
Tying it all together
So now you have an overview of counting beats (numerator) and each beat’s note values subdividing that beat (denominator), you might be a little more comfortable with why we describe common time signatures as we do – like 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, or 6/8.
Now it’s time to put knowledge to real-world context — have a listen to some of the iconic songs in their time signatures below and practice counting out the number of beats per bar in time to the music.
3/4 — Three beats per bar, one 1/4 note per beat
6/8 — Six beats per bar, one 1/8 note per beat
3/4 and 6/8 are almost twins. Depending on your tempo and how you like to count things, it can make more sense to notate and count a song in groups of six eighth notes (6/8), or you might be more comfortable just counting 3 quarter notes (3/4) over the same track. How would you count these songs?
If you’re interested in getting to know the basics of time signatures, try out Melodics’ course for drums on ‘Exploring Time Signatures‘, or ‘Seeing Subdivisions‘ for finger drumming on pads. You’ll learn about note lengths, and how time signatures can work in contemporary music.