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How to write chord progressions a pro would love, Part 2: Harmonic Rhythm

First, a definition.

Bar (often called a measure)

A unit  of 4 beats (most of the time). You know when you hear musicians count to 4 at the beginning of a song? They’re counting the first bar. They do this at the speed of the song so that the other musicians know how fast to play.
I know. Harmonic rhythm sounds kind of daunting. But all it means is how many chords you have in a bar and where those chords are placed. Take a look at the music example below. It should help.
There are three different 4 bar harmonic rhythms – examples A, B, and C. One chord per bar (example A) is a different harmonic rhythm than two chords per bar (example B). And both of those have a different harmonic rhythm than one chord every two bars (example C).
 harmonic rhythm
You need to be aware of this, because your songs will sound kind of  lost if the chords are changing at random places. You’ll also get more interesting rhythmic ideas, like placing a chord on the 2nd beat or the 4th beat. Doesn’t sound that world-altering, but try it. Simple things lead to things you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.
One of those new ideas is to vary the harmonic rhythm. A full bar of C, then a half-bar of F, followed by a half-bar of G, then a full bar of Am. Whatever. Just start experimenting and have some staff paper handy to write things down (I have a free resource for staff paper in the next post). If you’d rather record things and write them down later, great. Just make sure you write it down. It comes in handy when you want to teach someone else the song.
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5 suggestions for establishing ritual


In my last post I talked about using a mind map. If you got a chance to work with it, chances are you’ve got a set of goals and a realistic timeline for completing them. Here are some ideas for having some success.

1. Buy a notebook. Before you go to bed, think about when you have free time the next day. Write in the notebook the specific time that you’ll pick up your guitar, and for how long. For instance, you can write, “ I will pick up my guitar at 1pm tomorrow for 2 minutes.”

Don’t commit to doing anything. Something will happen. It’s the act of picking it up that is most difficult. Once you have it in your hands, it’s usually there

for 10 or 15 minutes even if you only committed to two. It might only be there for two. Doesn’t matter. Success is picking it up every day.

2. Buy an egg timer. After you’ve established a ritual of picking up the instrument, set the timer for 15 minutes. Don’t play past the 15 minutes. You don’t want to run the risk of taking time from other areas of your life that need it. If that happens, you’ll start to view the guitar negatively. If you have more time and your guitar playing isn’t imposing on other priorities, great. Play more if you want.

3. Use visualization. Researchers found that people who engaged in visualizations that included the process of what needed to be done to achieve the goal (ex: fantasizing about learning another language, by visualizing themselves practicing every day after work) were more likely to stay consistent than their peers that visualized themselves speaking French on a trip to Paris. The visualization process worked for two reasons:

  • Planning: visualizing the process helped focus attention on the steps needed to reach the goal.
  • Emotion: visualization of individual steps led to reduced anxiety.

4. Identify resistance. There will come a time when you will be tempted to give up.  When this happens, try to identify what is making this happen. Incorporate an “if-then” scenario once you find the culprit. For instance, if fatigue is stopping you from playing guitar after work, you could set up a system of “If I’m feeling tired after work, then I will take a 20-minute nap and listen to music for five minutes to get myself motivated.” Or leave the guitar out of the case, and make sure it’s in a room where you’ll have privacy. It can be something that simple (not having to open the case) than gets you to pick up the guitar.

5. Creating habits is easier when we make use of our current routines.  Pick a regular part of your schedule and then build guitar playing into it. For instance, instead of “I will play the guitar,” you could say, “When I come home, I’ll have a shower and then play the guitar.” This helps because you use cues from an established routine instead of willpower.

Fifteen minutes a day, patience, and some encouragement once in a while, and you can accomplish what you want.

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