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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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How to write chord progressions a pro would love, Part 13: Order of flats

Here’s the acronym for the order of flats. Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles Father.

Notice that it’s the acronym for the order of sharps backwards.

To be totally clear, the order of flats is: Bb    Eb    Ab    Db    Gb    Cb    Fb
To figure out how many flats are in each flat key, let’s look at the circle of 5ths again.

circle of 5, guitar



If you go counterclockwise around the circle and you get the flat keys – F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, and Cb.

Note that Db can also be C#, Gb can be F#, and Cb can be B. Please don’t worry about this right now. If I ever talk about songs in the key of C# or Db, I’ll explain then. It’s not that complicated, but it would be a distraction right now.
What we need to focus on now is the order of flats. This will allow you to write chord progressions in flat keys.
Here’s the order of flats on the staff…
order of flats
…and here it is expanded.
order of flats blownup
Here are the steps from part 11, this time for flats.
Step 1: Choose a letter from the musical alphabet. I’m  choosing Ab. We’re only dealing with major keys so far, so that means I’m dealing with the key of Ab major. How many flats in the key of Ab major? Find “Ab” on the circle of 5ths. Beside it, you’ll see 4 flats on the 5-line staff. What are the letter-names of these flats?
Step 2: To answer that, look at the acronym for the order of flats above. Go through the order of flats to the fourth letter (because we have 4 flats in this key). That gives you Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db (Battle Ends And Down) This means that the key of Ab major scale has the following notes: Ab   Bb   C   Db   Eb   F   G.
Step 3: Figure out the chords in the key of Ab major. Remember the order of major and minor chords? Here they are again:
I Major                 ii Minor               iii Minor                 IV Major                V Major             vi Minor                  viii Diminished
Now replace the roman numerals with the Ab major scale.
Ab Major     Bb Minor     Cb Minor      D Major       Eb Major     F Minor      G Diminished
 Now you know all the chords in the key of Ab major. You may be wondering how to play an Ab major chord on the guitar. There are plenty of ways as it turns out, but the most popular way is with a barre chord. Here’s a site that helps with that.
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How to write chord progressions a pro would love, Part 12: Interlude

Music Theory

So at this point you’re thinking, “I don’t know anything about music theory, but this kind of smells like it. Key signatures, sharps, flats, roman numerals. Please tell me we’re not doing music theory.”

We’re not doing music theory.
We’re looking at the building blocks of music. The stuff you need if you want go as far as you can. You may not want to go that far. I get it. One of my students once said to me, “You’ve taken something I love and made it into homework.” He didn’t like practicing.
He did like being able to play solos, write songs, and play different styles, though. He wasn’t doing any of that before he started doing homework.
But I get it. It feels like work. I want to convince you that it’s worth it. I can’t. But I can try to make it easier.
So no new information. Instead, here’s a list of all the terms I’ve introduced so far. Presumably, you didn’t know some of this before you started reading this blog. Now you do. Congratulations. You’re a better musician than you were before.


 A unit  of 4 beats.

Bar lines

The short, vertical lines on the staff that visually create the bars. Bars exist between two bar lines.

Function (as in chord function)

This refers to what a chord is used for, whether for ending a song, or a verse, or a chorus (like the I chord) or to create tension (like the V chord). The ii chord and the IV chord have the function of usually going to the V chord.
These are conventional functions. There are exceptions to everything. Don’t be a slave to convention.

Harmonic rhythm

Refers to how many chords you have in a bar and where those chords are placed.


That musical idea that you can’t forget. If you can’t remember a song, it’s usually because there’s no hook.

Hash marks

Bold diagonal lines that show the beats in the bar.


A staff is the 5 horizontal lines that musical notes are placed on. Stave is plural for staff.


Sheet music that musicians read from. A part is specific to the player (bass part, guitar part, etc.).

Lead sheet

A copy of the whole song that usually has melody, chords and lyrics.


A series of 7 notes. Up to now, we’ve only looked at the major scale.


A collection of 7 notes, with one note being more important than the others. If you think this sounds like the description of a scale, you’d be right. But key is different than scale, because it tells you what the sharps and/or flats in any scale.
Think of the scale as something that can only be made once you know the key. The key is like the parent, the scale is the child.
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