How Music Works – Rhythm

Drum array


“[We] have an instinctive sense of where the pulse may be even if it’s inaudible”


As humans, we one of the only animals in the world that can hear our mother’s heartbeat in the womb – the first rhythm we ever hear. This could be why we are also one of the only animals that like to dance around and create new kinds of music. The heartbeat is not only in ourselves, but in music. The pulse is a heartbeat-like repetition with the same periodically timed beats. All songs have a pulse, whether you can hear it or not.

Beats are often divided within themselves into two or four mini-beats. In theory, though, they can be divided however you want to. Waltzes are examples of beats divided into three’s, with a 1-2-3 repeat loop.

Half notes are called minims, quarter notes are called crotchets, eighth notes are called quavers, and sixteenth notes are called semi-quavers.

Accent is the stressing of certain notes to put emphasis on it. Humans do it naturally, imagining an accent on any beat even if every beat is exactly the same. Composers in the past have always been experimenting with changing and shifting accents within songs and melodies. Humans also very much like syncopation, which is playing or singing off of the main beat. Syncopation became famous during the rise of playful jazz, but it’s been around a lot longer. Good uses of syncopation make the music sound more like a human made it and less like a song made by a machine with rules and harsh regular beats.

Rag time music was birthed out of an artist trying to imitate marching bands on the piano; on the left hand there’s a beat, and on the right is the main melody and harmony covering up the beat and in between. However, it was not until Jazz and Swing music that syncopated music didn’t still have rules on how to use it. In Swing music, the syncopation is lagging just a little bit behind, bringing a mischievous cheeky feel to the song.

During this same time in Cuba, a new type of song emerged that inspired many different types of dance. Cuba took aspects from all of the techniques we’ve talked about and put them altogether with aspects from their own music. This made a very fun sounding and almost sensual genre of music. In Jazz music, the syncopation is holding the beat behind, in Cuban song the bass line and melody are both going slightly faster, anticipating the beat.

This is only a glimpse into the world or rhythm, beats, syncopation, and even more. However, after learning the basics, you may already start to notice these techniques in your everyday music and life.


Watch ‘How Music Works with Howard Goodall – Rhythm’ on YouTube

Harmony Recording Project



You may have seen my last post “Melody Recording Project’ where I created a melody after learning about the structure of what goes into making a melody sound good; this post, we decided to take it a step further. This time, I made a melody and then added harmonies and background chords. This melody is a little strange as the phrases aren’t really repetitive but instead the period repeats every few measures and has more awkward rhythm. Then the chords in the background push it along and add more emotion to it. This is what I came up with in the end.

My Harmony

My Harmony Notation

For my harmony, I was more focused and playing with the harmonies so my melody is pretty inconsistent (sort of like an off-beat Lana Del Rey song that only really muscially make sense when it gets to the chorus, except that it was made in At first my focus was finding chords in the background of each measure that would push it along. For about every other measure, I took the first note of the measure (usually the tonic or mediant and submediant notes) and I went a third of the way up and placed a note, and then a third of the way down and placed a note. For the other measures, I only went one direction, or I did the high and low harmonics without the same note being replicated. In the first phrase I also played with having something in the background that only lined up in harmony with the melody every few notes. For the second phrase, the melody needed to be focused on, so I just added some background chords to keep it simple. I tried to also do some “ask and answer” sounds with an echo of the same melody a few keys lower and such like that. I tried to build and release some tension by adding a few dischords before triads. Some stuff sounded good and some didn’t sound that great. I picked from the good sounding harmonies and added it to my melody and overall I’m happy with the results. It is in the key of E.

Harmony Notes

  • three note chords are the foundation of Western harmony\
  • finding harmonics can also tell you which notes will sound good in harmony with the fundamental note
  • minor chords are more fragile and harder to harmonize with
  • with each note there are six notes it can harmonize with depending on what feeling you want to make with the song
  • dissonance doesn’t sound that bad to us anymore because of the fimiliarity we now have with it and our brains learning to automatically correct it ourselves

drone – a continuous note that is played underneath any melody that is sung in that key

harmonics – hidden notes behind the fundamental note, like all the hidden color in white light

triad – a fundamental note with the two harmonic notes supporting it

polyphony – intermingled harmonies that mix with the melody to harmonize

progression – forward movement

tonic-dominant relationship – the harmony between the note and the note 5 semitones above it

passimezzo antico – an A minor to G minor to A minor to E minor to G minor chord progression (tonic to dominant)

passimezzo moderno – tonic, dominant, and subdominant chord progression, the most used chord progression

dischord – a harmony of notes deliberately from the wrong triads

dissonance – lack of harmony; a noticeable clash in notes

passing notes – notes that clash with chords but don’t sound dissonant in the song because it is passing through and carrying onto the next chord

suspended notes – letting a note linger over a chord it doesn’t belong to creating a sort of tension; usually only correcting itself at the very last moment

What I Learned and Problems I Solved

After I had created my melody, I really enjoyed it, but the rhythm was one that was very hard to work with. I had to play around with the notes in the third and fourth measure a lot until I could imagine a good sound to add in. After the melody was produced, I heard that it sounded very chipper, and although I loved the melody I was going for something a little more heartbreaking or nostalgic. I added some more minor chords underneath to try and get this affect. This sounded good, but the strange rhythm still didn’t seem to make very much sense. Finally, I added more ‘fun’ behind the melody, almost like a backup melody that was harmonizing with the first one in lower tones. This gave the song a sort of fighting element, like the harmony was competing with the melody. This was also cool, but not what I was ultimately going for, so I kept background chords in some measures and kept the echo-like harmony in others. In the end it sounds like a great motive, but it needs more to become a complete theme and make sense with itself.

Melody Recording Project


Even the simplest of melodies follow some rules of melody structures. My class watched several videos and tutorials that explain how melodies sound better and how melodies can vary. We learned about tonic, dominant, supertonic, and other types of notes that build and release tension in the melody. We looked at examples of leaps in and steps in songs and how they move the song along. After that, we were tasked with our own melody making project. I took a look at a famous and beautiful melody by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald; the chorus of ‘Dream a Little Dream’. After taking apart that song and which rules it follows and which rules it bends I decided to take note and make my own original melody with similar aspects. 

Lesson Melody

Class Melody by Jamie Henke in ‘How to Write A Melody?

It repeats a pattern of quick steps to big leaps. It starts in the key of C and although it stays in that key, it ends with the tonic note an octave higher. There’s a lot of tension building and it gets pleasantly awkward at the start of the second phrase with the split up of the 2 beats into three quarter notes (which was hard to replicate in because it automatically would only let me use eighth notes, so I had to use connectors to make the notes the same length and just written differently). The tonic note was not used that much within the melody, in fact not very many notes are repeated, but the rhythm is repeated similarly in the second phrase as it is in the first phrase.

One of My Favorite Melodies

Dream a Little Dream Notation

Dream A Little Dream Melody Analysis

It follows a pattern of Major, Minor, Major, Minor until the last note, which is always Minor except in the last measure when it ends in tonic. Every other measure in the first phrase start with an eighth note of a rest. And the first and third measure in the first phrase are exactly the same. The second Phrase follows a pattern of starting in Minor and ending in minor (other than the final whole note). It uses only one leap and only quarter notes, eighth notes, and quarter notes with extra time for most of the song. Variation is small but enough. There’s a rather equal spread between green, red, and blue notes, which may be why it’s such a calm and stress-free tune.


My Melody

My Made-up Melody

The tonic note is at the beginning of the song and the end, and the beginning of every other measure. It follows a simple pattern of small leaps with a quarter note, eighth note, and another quarter note, and then fast little steps with sixteenth notes. The second phrase has some easy harmony parts on some notes. The beginning of each phrase is the same. There is some variation in notes every other measure much like ‘Dream a Little Dream’ with most variation in the last two measures of the sentence. I also added some flat and sharp notes at the end of the first phrase to make the notes closer together to release the tension built in that first phrase.  In the first phrase I used blue notes (notes that move the melody along but don’t push it; supertonic, mediant, submediant), then in the second phrase I made the leaps just a little bit more green (dominant, subdominant, leading tone; notes that push the melody and build tension). I essentially made the second phrase the same structurally as the first, but with more tension build and release. The final step riff down to the ending tonic note releases the tension built throughout the melody. It is in the key of A.

Melody Composition Terms and Notes

  • People can sometimes recognize tunes they’ve heard when they were in the womb
  • Some melodic principles are universal
  • The five notes most used in song (called pentatonic) are also the 5 black keys on a piano
  • ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ is an example of the Aoelian mode that is to display solemn and sorrowful

pitch – the measuring of how high or low a musical note is

interval – the distances between runs, in western music, the smallest is a semitone.

modes – scale groups that evoke or sound like emotions or occurrences

sharpen – to raise by a semitone

flatten – lowering by a semitone

false relations – modified modes put together with sharp and flat sounds that creates a harsh harmony

blue notes – bending down notes

diatonic – using notes that have not been altered

theme – a long, more flowing melodic idea

motive – a short rhythmic idea

period –  eight measures, a musical sentence

phrase four measures, a piece of a musical sentence 

antecedent (Question) Phrase –  The first phrase, like asking a question, sets up for the next phrase

consequent (Answer) Phrase – The second phrase, almost like answering the question phrase one said

scale degree

  • tonic – Begins and ends the scale, determines what key you’re in and what the other notes will be [Stop, “Home”]
  • supertonic, mediant, submediant – Have a moderate level of tension, won’t get the same feeling of rest [Rest]
  • dominant, subdominant, leading tone – Have the most “forward moving force”, most tension [Go]

steps any movement using half or whole steps

leap – any movement using intervals bigger than a whole step

conjunct motion Melody built primarily out of steps

disjunct motion – Melody built primarily out of leap

repetition – using repeated material that can create a link between two phrases

contrast -Writing two phrases that contain and create tension and are different from each other

variation – half way between repetition and contrast, with some repeated parts and some varied parts


What I Learned and Problems I Solved

This project was mind-blowing and definitely eye opening. When I took this class, this was exactly the type of information I was interested in knowing. After only one look at the process of information, example, and then doing it myself I already know how to make a melody that doesn’t suck and how to move a song along if it’s been stuck. All it takes is looking at the note you’re working with, a look at the start of the period, and then deciding how much tension you want to build after it. 

Learn More Yourself!

How to Make a Melody – Jamie Henke

How Music Works with Howard Goodall

Hot to Write a Melody – Art of Composing

The 4 Critical Parts to Writing a Melody – Michael New

Creative Commons and Copyright

Creative Commons

“It can be that easy when you skip the intermediaries”


In 2001, The White Stripes released an album titled “White Blood Cells”. Steve MacDonald of Redd Kross, took that album, added base, and re-released it changing the title to “Redd Blood Cells”.  He started this, without consent from Jack or Meg White, but later they assured him they were okay with it. So how do we, as normal people get consent to modify or use an artist’s content without just randomly bumping into them as Steve did?

Everyone’s seen the big ‘C’ for ‘Copyright’. It means ‘All rights reserved’. It means ‘don’t use or change this without permission’. It means ‘if you do, I could get you in trouble’.

By the late 1980’s the U.S. law decided that all works should become copyrighted as soon as they were created. Of course, some artists were happy about this; but what about the rest of us? The one’s who’s jobs depended on gathering resources, mixing songs, using other people’s content to promote or create our own? Suddenly, all doodles and simple made up melody’s were stamped with the big ‘C’.

Creative Commons is the easy way out. It’s for artists who need something but don’t want to use a lawyer to get it. It’s not meant to compete with Copyright, but to work with it. Not all artists mind if their work is being used for other purposes and ‘CC’ offers the in between of free-for-all and not-at-all.

The double ‘CC’ is for Creative Commons. It means ‘Some rights reserved’. It means ‘you have permission’. It means ‘use it, but don’t call it yours’.

Hear it in Creative Common’s own words.

The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

Less is More

“You know what you’d have if you had two more hours? You’d have two more hours of overwhelming stickiness”


Being productive is something we all struggle with. Lots of times it’s for many reasons: too busy, no motivation, no inspiration, no creativity. However, the times we are least productive are when we have too many things to be productive with. When we have so much on our mind that we are not fully invested in our current task. That is what takes away the magic of the outcome of our productivity and just makes it another tick box in the checklist we imagine in our minds.

David Allen says “if you’re already in a creative mess, you have no room to make one”. To be fully invested in current projects is important to make them rich with concrete ideas. Stress comes from having too many things on your mind, and this leads to everything opposing productivity. You lose the ability to focus.

Fixing this is quite simple. Time management is not the (only) key, because you will always have the same amount of time you had before. You will always have the same deadline. Write down what you need to do to get it out of you’re head, that’s one of the most helpful things to do. Then you won’t be thinking about it while you should be focused on something else.

To finish the task – to ultimately be productive, you need to figure out the outcome before you figure out the steps. What are you trying to achieve? Then you build a bridge to it. Blindly looking for inspiration and for help to discover what you want is unhelpful and will only put more on your mind. Looking for a specific goal will narrow your road a lot more so you know which steps to take.

Finally, for the little things you have to do regularly, build a map. Look at all of them and make sure you have reminders and simple steps you can take each time so you don’t have to think about them again and again and always. Make sure that they’re something you can do easily when the time comes, and not something you have to check for and create a new process for each time. With these simple steps we can begin to master the art of stress-free productivity.

Your Elusive Creative Genius

open minded

“And that artistry, in the end, will always ultimately lead to anguish”


Many people feel fear, it’s a common emotion in humans and brains to be afraid; especially of failure. In the past, creative minds who put out extremely influential work have all seemed to suffer from their own minds after. Because of this, the reputation of being a creative mind in this society is now also linked to being a depressed or suffering mind. But instead of just accepting this notion, we should all be encouraging the minds of the creative to live and create even more, instead of letting them do their passion and feel used up after that.

In ancient Greece and Rome, creativity was thought of as divine spirits who spoke wisdom to them. Greece called them daemons, and Rome called them genius. Because of this common knowledge, creative minds were never fully blamed for their work. After the renaissance, this changed, and creativity was completely of the person; it went from “having a genius” to be “being a genius”. This definitely can put pressure on artists.

Creative processes are different for everyone, but many can agree that it does often feel like something other than their own creativity. For poet Ruth Stone, she would say a poem was running after her over a landscape, and sometimes she would catch it on paper in time. Other times it would pass through her and look for another poet over the landscape. She even said there were times when she was so close to missing it, she had to write the poem backwards just to pull it back on the page. Most artists can agree to some degree of this.

Instead of being psyched out by this pressure, we can think of it as a loan. An extra piece that boosts our performance at our job that comes and goes if it pleases. We can’t control it. All we can do is show up to our job, do it, and maybe once in a while it will be divine. This way, we may be able to encourage our creativity and inspiration to survive all failure or fear of failure.



Microphones and Recording Project



For this project, my teacher set up several different microphones used for different audio recording and had me talk in front of each of them. This way, I could see which microphone is suited best for my voice. I also learned a little more about each microphone and did even more research on the microphone that sounded best with my voice.

Microphone Audition

Mic Info

The Mic that I felt fit my voice best in this audition was the C100S, although the C1 and the SM58 as well as some others sounded pretty good too.

Sensitivity – 6 Pa

Impedance – 200 ohms (low)

Voltage – 9-52 mV

Pick up pattern – can be switched from cardioid to hypercardoid and back

Self Noise level – 21.0 dB

Frequency response – between 5 and 9 kHz with the PB1000 Presence Boost Adapter

Clips – AKG SA 63

Pop filter – HPF at 80Hz


More resources




What I Learned

I found this project really helpful. I’ve always had trouble picking correct mics for my voice and for recording sound and music. With this, I now know so much more about all kinds of microphones and how/why they work the way they do. Plus, knowing how my voice sounds in each of them instead of watching reviews online is a lot more helpful to know what types of microphones suit my voice and why. Now I know which microphones to get if I need to get a new one. While in the recording room, I also learned about how the mics record and the process mixers go through to make the sound right during the recording instead of having to edit the sound so much afterward.

Motif Making



In class, we were given 30 minutes to use anything we needed/wanted to create a melody using only 3-4 notes. I had made only one motif before on to practice and I didn’t think it sounded that great, so I stared on a new one and focused on the idea of it being simple. I slapped 3 notes down that sounded good together, and after that just thought about where I wanted to put them. After I had the first two notes places, I knew exactly how I wanted the rest of the measure to sound. Once I was able to put that down I modified a few notes to go higher instead of lower and added one riff at the end of the second measure with an extra high note (making it 4 notes altogether). Then I looped the two measures and made the final note a whole measure, closing the loop with the same note it started with. Although I don’t love this motif as much as I love other ones, I think if I was given more time or if I practice more I can make it better or make better riffs and motifs in general.

This is the final sound


Sound Wave Project


For this project, I was given three terms to describe: ‘Frequency’, ‘Wavelength’, and ‘Phase’. After a little brainstorming, I decided that with the simple and related terms I was given I could make a quick and simple video with audio and visual explanation. After some time of playing around with different ideas during the weekend, the only reachable form of the video I could seem to make was a sped continuous drawing on a whiteboard with audio explanation. I recorded the audio and the film on Monday morning, but the rest of the blog post was worked on the weekend before and clips taken through Creative Commons were downloaded and ready to be edited into the video to help the audience understand a little better. Then I uploaded the video and embedded it into my blog and made edits to the post if I needed to.

Production Schedule

  1. Learn the terms by the end of class Friday
  2. Write the script
  3. Storyboard pictures
  4. Work on other parts of blog post
  5. Record script Monday morning
  6. Film video Monday morning
  7. Edit the video
  8. Upload the video
  9. Finish blog post
  10. Publish by the end of Monday


image1 (1)


Sound Wave Definitions


What I Learned

Throughout the duration of this project, I had to overcome some obstacles; first, I didn’t have any partners for this project, and although that was my choice most of my ideas were content that I could only make with more people. Then, the weekend that I wanted to work most on my project I got stuck in an area with none of my materials for two days. Because this was unplanned, I lost some time, but when I got home I got right to work. At this point I was trying to get clips and pictures from Creative Commons and draw on them and label them (sort of like a lot of Khanacademy videos). After a few hours of creating clips with pictures and drawings I discovered that the software I was using would not let me use the videos I created unless I payed for a membership. Through this frustrating time, I decided that I could explain the terms just as well with a previous idea: whiteboard drawings. I chose not to do this before because I wouldn’t think I would have time and I don’t have a whiteboard at home. But, I decided to re-manage my time and try to make it work as it seemed to be the only way I could make good content with the requirements in the amount of time I had left. I learned how to manage my time a little better, plan for backups, and I did end up learning the terms too.

The Joy of the Guitar Riff

Godin SDXT

“You hit it, you know, you don’t blow it you don’t bow it; you pick it up and use it almost like a weapon”

The quote above is in reference to guitars, and the emotion and feeling they can exhibit. In most rock songs and songs where guitars are being used in this way, there is a riff that the song is built around. “Johnny B. Goode” by artist Chuck Berry is the song that sprung the guitar riff into the mainstream world of music in the late 1950’s. Before that, rock and roll music had been built primarily around the piano.


Around that same time, a similar occurrence was emerging from the rebellious side of American teens. This was led by Link Wray, whose music created such a sense of rebellion and menace that his instrumental “Rumble” was the first instrumental banned from the U.S. radio. Although this was the start, it spread fast and not just in the U.S. but the U.K. also. Hank Marvin was an influential idol in the world of guitar riffs. In 1960, he led the movement of clean guitar riffs in Britain.

However, to display the angst felt inside, people began playing guitar and guitar riffs much grittier and dirtier than what was used to and know before. Dave Davies as a 17 year old boy ended up changing the world of guitars in rock music forever. “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks is a prime example of the new use of gritty guitar riffs in rock music and it was a hit almost immediately.

The riff that sparked the start of heavy metal was a very simple three distorted chord progression made because of an accident to a sheet metal worker and aspiring blues artist. These chords were banned almost everywhere because of the tension and darkness they seemed to possess, although that was not the intention at all of the artist who came up with it; Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath.

In 1975, Queen created one of the most unique and one of the most genius songs in rock music: Bohemian Rhapsody. It was a rock song with unique guitar style and operatic elements – something nobody had heard before. It was also one of the most riffs in its history. Originally it started on the piano, but when played on the guitar evoked a different feeling Freddie Mercury wanted to display in his song.

The same year, Joan Jett with her guitar set out to challenge the gender stereotypes in the rock and roll world. Although no one had made rules against women being in that type of industry, many were taken back by The Runaways taking the stage. Jett saw that there were no women doing what she wanted to do, and if she wanted it then there had to be many others just waiting for their chance. She recruited Lita Ford, Sandy West, and several other females that came and went during the band’s lifespan. Finally, riffs and rock music trapped inside the creative minds of women were able to be released (even if it came with hate from the male crowds).

All this and much more is in the history of the guitar riff, including the spark of a technique called ‘chucking’ used in many genres of music like disco in the late 70’s. Then more melodic guitar riffing in the early 80’s, which created a movement of anti-rock and indie music with guitar riffs led by Johnny Marr of The Smiths. This continued onto alternative rock bands with guitar riffs under the radar with bands such as My Bloody Valentine. Through it all, it seems evident that the guitar riff will always be popular.


Watch the movie here