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Predictability: harmonic rhythm

I wrote a post about this a while ago :


But we could use more detail.


Strong/weak beats

Conventionally, strong and weak beats are distributed as follows:


  • Beat 1 – strong
  • Beat 2 – weak, but stronger than beat 4
  • Beat 3 – strong, but not as strong as beat 1
  • Beat 4 – weak


When there are only two chords in a bar (which is usually the case), beat 1 is strong and beat 3 is weak.


Strong/weak chords


  • The I chord is the strongest, and is normally on the strongest beat.
  • The V chord is weakest and is usually on a weak beat
  • The IV chord and the ii chord are often on a strong beat, since they’re usually in front of the V chord, which is on a weak beat
  • The iii chord and the vi chord can be found on either strong or weak beats


Here are two examples, one correct and one incorrect.

strong:weak correct

Notice how the V chord (G7) is on the weak beat (beat 3), and the ii chord (Dmin) is on the strong beat. The I chord is on the strong beat twice in this example.


In the next example, the V chord is on beat I and the I chord is on beat 3. Conventionally speaking, this is backwards

strong:weak wrong


Right and wrong

Right and wrong don’t really apply here. You want to be sensitive to convention, but you don’t want to be a slave to it.

Play the “correct” progression above, followed by the “incorrect” progression. Which one feels more normal? Which one feels best?

Look at some songs that you know. Which ones conform to the conventions I’ve been talking about? Which ones don’t?


Look at the songs you write. Again, which ones conform and which ones don’t?

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