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Types of Rhythm

Small-scale rhythm, large-scale rhythm, medium-scale rhythm. What do these things mean?


Essentially, it’s a matter of perception. How does the listener perceive the sounds that are coming at them? How does the composer control the sound in order to control those perceptions?


Small-scale rhythm

Small-scale rhythm is what most people think when they hear the word “rhythm.” It’s what you’re most aware of when you hear music. More than pitch or harmony, you hear and retain small-scale rhythm.


Here’s an example.



This kind of thing can be repeated over and over to create a type of hook.


Medium-scale rhythm

Medium-scale rhythm refers to where the stress is placed in each bar. Over the course of a phrase of music (say 3 bars), a listener will be aware of accents in each bar that add up to a coherent rhythm.


So take the rhythm above and add accents, and you might get this:

medium-scale rhythm


As a listener you notice those accents and unconsciously form a background rhythm superimposed on the small-scale rhythm.


Large-scale rhythm

Large-scale rhythm is more abstract. It’s usually communicated in musical events that stand out from those around it. These don’t occur that often, but a listener notices them.


They could be the entry of a new instrument, or a chord that’s louder than all the ones around it. It could be a change of rhythm. These types of events act as mile-stones.


Thinking about what the musical milestones are in both songs and instrumental pieces gives you something to move toward when you’re writing. It also makes the whole thing more coherent for the listener.


These large-scale things often occur intuitively as you’re writing, and it’s easy to miss them. Stay aware, and you’ll have material to build the whole piece around.



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Suppressing self-expression is really hard. This makes suppressing originality really hard, too. I mean, you can do it, but only up to a certain point.


This is good news! You don’t have to work to be original! You just have to work to learn about music if that’s where you want to be original.


Constructing ourselves

We construct ourselves out of our experience of living in a particular culture.We do this by making decisions about how we’re going to act based on what we experience. These decisions express who we are in the world differently than anyone else.


We see it on the street in the way people dress, how they cut their hair, their hand gestures. We see it in songwriting in the way people put chords and words together.Why can people still use the 12 bar blues progression and get away with it? Because they bring themselves to it. Whatever that is, it’s expressed in the choices they make while they’re playing or writing.


Originality isn’t an issue. Stretching yourself is. Go ahead and steal other people’s music.Anybody who’s ever played to blues is doing exactly that. The challenge is to take what you steal apart and put it back together in an interesting way.


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Guitar Extended

I love stomp boxes and editable pedal boards. But the problem is that regardless of what sound you build with them, you still get a guitar sound, and everyone knows it.

Twenty different distortion sounds all point to one thing: overdriven guitar and the particular styles of music that this sound implies. The same applies to any effect: they all lead the imagination in the direction that whoever designed them wants to go.

None of this is a problem if you want to make music that sounds like other music. In fact, you need these tools if you want to do that. But what if you don’t want to do that? What if you want to build your own sound?

Guitar Extended is a blog that can help if you want to go beyond the standard effects that we all find in guitar stores. Check it out.




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7th chords

You can use the chord-making technique I’ve been talking about to make 7th chords too. All you do is add the 7th note of the scale to 1, 3, and 5 that you already have.


E   F#   G#   A    B    C#   D#

  2    3       4    5    6      7


That gives you E G# B D#. These are the notes of an E major 7th chord.


Invent some chords

Find three different groupings of those four notes. This a bit more challenging than doing it with triads, but in some ways it’s more fun. Sometimes you get three of the notes, but can’t get the 4th because your fingers can’t stretch that far. So you’re faced with a puzzle.


Is there another way to play that 4th note if you can’t reach it with a left hand finger? The answer to that question will take you in directions you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.


Two possibilities:

  1. Play the three-note chord by itself and then play the 4th note by itself.  This means that you have to let go of the chord to play the note. You get something more like an arpeggio. You can invent some interesting chord/note patterns this way (i.e. chord – chord – note – chord – note –note, etc).

emaj7 paradiddle

The more comfortable you get moving between chord and note, the more interesting the rhythm will become.

2.Play the three-note chord, hold it, and then play the 4th note by tapping it. This is like playing chord and melody together. Try                 tapping other notes besides the initial note you couldn’t reach.


Can you think of any other possibilities for playing impossible chords?

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Making Chords in Every Key

If you want to do this, you need to know your key signatures. Good news. It’s not that complicated.


Take a look at the image below.

circle of 5, guitar

Notice how, as you go clockwise around the circle (starting on C), you gain one sharp every time you change letters. The key of C has no accidentals (sharps and flats); the next letter/key – G – has 1 sharp; the next letter (key of D)  has 2 sharps, etc.


Go counter-clockwise and you gain a flat every time you move.


So that means that you can take any key – say E major – and do the same thing that you did with the key of C. The key of E has 4 sharps (check this out above) so…


E   F#   G#   A    B    C#   D#

1    2          4    5    6      7


Start on E, take the 1, the 3, and the 5, and you get an E major chord – E  G#  B.


Now make five E major chords. Now move between them. Now move between them and the C major chords you made. This is a lot of work, I know. But worth it.

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There are a ton of resources on the net for learning about composition.


From my Pinterest page (where you might find other things of interest).


If conventional composition is what you’re looking for, try this resource.


I’ll keep trying to put stuff up that you won’t find anywhere else. Not that the ideas are totally unique. But I  haven’t found them expressed in this way anywhere else.



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