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How to make chord progressions a pro would love, Part 14: Rhythm

Rhythm might be the most important thing in music. Because of this it’s a good idea be able to understand it when you see it on the page. Seeing rhythm on the page is different than seeing notes.


A note on the page is information (where to put your finger(s)). Rhythm on the page tells you what to do with that note.
This means that you need to learn some notation. Notation allows you to read music. It also gives you the ability to take what’s in your head and put it on paper.


Musical symbols used to communicate musical ideas.
Just writing that down excites me. It’s just so cool to be able to give people your ideas on paper. Having to teach people your songs takes longer, and people forget stuff. Having a written version means you have something you know works.

Journal time

Writing down rhythms gives you an idea of the kinds of rhythms you like to use.  Different rhythms create different emotions. Writing down rhythms and putting your emotional reaction beside them helps you understand your musical self. It’s like journaling.
The idea of notation makes some people nervous. The whole subject sounds like it might be really complex. It can be when it’s used at a high level. But we’re not using it at that level.
As a matter of fact, we’ve already been using notation. Remember hash marks?


Hash marks are a kind of incomplete rhythmic notation. To make them complete, we add stems to them.
 hash with stems


Stems are lines that are attached to hash marks or notes. Think of the hash mark or note as the flower and the stem as a…stem.
Those hash marks with stems (the ones above) have a name. They’re called quarter notes. A quarter note takes up one beat in a bar. If there are 4 beats in a bar, then there are 4 quarter notes. You can have bars with an number of beats, but we’re
sticking with 4 right now.
 Which brings us to the image directly above. That’s called a time signature. All that does is tell us how many beats are in the bar (the top number), and what kind of note takes the beat (the bottom number). If the bottom number is a four, then a quarter note is the beat.
Now look at this.
You might be confused.
You can see the time signature at the right, in front of the treble clef. I just said that the top 4 tells us that there are 4 beats in the bar, but I’ve used 8 notes. I’ve also used a horizontal line to connect the stems to create four groups of two notes each. What the hell?
Let me explain.
In the world of rhythm, some notes are longer than others. To communicate that, we need to use different symbols for each type of duration. There are a lot of different durations. We’ve looked at quarter notes, and we’ve looked at the ones above that are giving you trouble.
Those are called eighth notes.
Quarter notes. Eighth notes. If you remember your math, you’ll know that 1/8 is half the size of 1/4. If you don’t remember your math it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that eighth notes take half the amount of time as quarter notes. Or  think eighth notes are twice as fast as quarter notes.
So. If an 1/8 note is twice as fast as a 1/4 note, then that means that we have to play two 1/8 notes in the same time as one 1/4 note. Put another way, two 1/8 notes fit into the same amount of time as one quarter note. Below is an image of that relationship.
And here’s what it would look like in actual music.
If this is confusing you, don’t worry. This isn’t the last time that I’ll use this technology. In fact, I’ll be using it all the time, so you’ll see it in a lot of different ways. Hang in there. Or, as always, email me, and I’ll try to help.
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