Strange bedfellows

Strange bedfellows

A ballroom dance known as a Waltz, places an accented beat on the first of every 3 counts.

” ONE 2 3, ONE 2 3, ONE 2 3, etc…”

The dancers tend to move more on these accented counts, using them as strong beats. The other two can sometimes be thought of as lesser steps or motions.

All 3 beats are felt, but only the first one drives the train – just like in the headphones described in the Sony WH-1000XM3 Review.

Then there is Swing music, some of the most powerful, dance-inspiring music on the planet.

I’m not talking about Glen Miller’s, “In the Mood”, although that was a swing classic. But the Big Bands that could really swing hard and drive the dancers crazy, such as Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and others.

The drummer and bassist lock in on the downbeats, creating a “walking” effect that is uniquely jazz.

The rhythms of jazz are syncopated and varied, but at its core is the hard-working quarter note. Some refer to this effect as a zoom – zoom feeling, the drummers’ cymbal and the bass locked-in as one sound.

Disco, on the other hand, has strong down-beats AND upbeats on every beat. Watch the John Travolta classic, “Saturday Night Fever” to hear many popular disco songs that helped propel that music into a national craze.

The drummer pounds his bass drum on every beat. It’s called, “four on the floor”. In addition to that, he sizzles his high hat cymbals on every upbeat… producing a breathing effect that gives the music a hypnotic groove.

Musicians hated this music, saying it was brainless and simple-minded. But it served its purpose… to make people hit the dance floor.

The important thing to notice is that the quarter note is at the core of these three musical styles, as well as many other styles.

So if it’s beginning music in elementary school, or any popular music genre of today, this is your starting place for understanding different musical feels. All rhythm is a splitting or subdivision of the basic beat and/or it’s up-beat.

To sum this up, no matter how complex the music may seem, if you understand how note values relate back to the quarter note… counting and playing your song is much easier.

Yes, Frank Zappa and Bela Fleck may use 5’s, 7’s and other odd rhythms in their compositions. But for most mainstream, commercial music…the quarter notes will be divided into 2 equal parts, 3 equal parts, or 4.

There are always exceptions, (as the theory teachers are screaming.) But understanding rhythm is not difficult, if you begin with the basics. It is then much easier to learn and build from there.

Rolling Along with Triplets!

Rolling Along with Triplets!

Triplets are fun!

They have a relaxed & rollin-along sort of feel that is very different from all the other rhythms. Like rolling a ball instead of bouncing it.

They are used in all genres.

The “feel-good” music of early Jazz, Rock’n Roll, Blues, Country, Hip-Hop — all of these depended on triplets as the basis for hundreds, even thousands of songs.

The best way to learn it, is to feel it… experience it.

You’ll hear it at the GRAMMY awards each year. But it is one of the oldest rhythms we know, from earliest African traditions.

European traditions were based on notes being divided equally, into 2 or 4 parts. They used triplets, but as a variation… not the norm.

Many of the African dances and rhythm patterns were based on the basic pulse having 3 parts.These grooves were powerful and effective for calling people together for celebrations or preparation for war.

The potential for multiple rhythms, unexpected accents and syncopation is huge. Those drummers could work folks into a dancing frenzy long before DJ’s arrived. : )

Thousands of years later, a triplet groove still MAKES YOU SHAKE YOUR GROOVE THANG.


Ever heard Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?” Can you listen to that without smiling and moving something. If so, you’re 6 feet under and just haven’t noticed, yet.

It’s a great example of the whole band just laying it down fat & funky while Stevie does his thing over the top.

Check out the chart below to see the triplet’s value in relation to the quarter note.


It isn’t square, but is evenly spaced.
It “rounds the edges” of the beat, but is rhythmically precise.

You can’t cut it in half, like eighth & sixteenth notes, but it does have a front and a back.

It doesn’t go up & down like a March, but is steady as a rock.

It swings… and is used in Swing & Jazz music countless ways.

It shuffles. A term that drummers use often to describe a feel used in all genres, from Hip-Hop to Country.

If you haven’t read our other rhythm pages, you might want to start with Quarter Notes.

The more you practice, the more you learn to “round out those edges” and work that feel…no matter if it’s jazz, country, or hip-hop! You’ll be rollin’ along!

Did you miss…

The Ups & Downs of Melody

The Ups & Downs of Melody

A great melody seems to use just the right music intervals. Ascending, Descending… or not moving at all. They fit together like pieces in a musical puzzle.

Let’s look at how even the smallest intervals can have a huge impact on your songwriting. What is a music interval?music interval?

It is simply the distance between 2 notes.

Melodies and Scales are constructed with 2 INTERVALS:


  • Half-steps &
  • Whole Steps.


So, you mean all the belly-aching, headaches and hair-pulling about scales can be blamed on these 2 little thorns in our sides? Yep.

If you learn these two intervals well enough to Recognize, Write and Play them, there’s not a scale (or melody) alive you can’t figure out.

QUICK REVIEW – Two half-steps make a whole. Got it?…Got it.

A HALF-STEP is the smallest interval on the piano keyboard. It is the distance from a white key to a black key. Also, the distance from a white key to an adjacent white key.

A WHOLE-STEP is two half-steps combined. It is the distance from a white key to a white key IF there is a black key separating them. It is also a black key to black key IF one white key separates them.

A guitar fretboard works the same way. With only 6 strings, the intervals on each string are based on half-steps(fret to fret) and whole steps, (skip a fret).

All music intervals are built on the Half Step/Whole Step grid.

The quickest way to apply your knowledge of intervals is with familiar tunes. Take melodies you already know, and learn the theory behind them.

Do you remember the song, “Row, Row, Row your Boat”? Let’s make it easy… If you know this song, you know these music intervals:

  • Major 2nd
  • Major 3rd
  • Perfect 4th
  • Perfect 5th
  • Octave
  • AND… you sing a TRIAD. (Didn’t know you were so smart!)

That is a lot of bang for the buck, guys.

(For more understanding of numbers representing notes,
please read A Music Notation Shorthand.)

So, in our example, we used almost every interval in the major scale, in that one tune.

(We did not use the Major 6th & 7th, since it isn’t in the melody.)

That’s OK. There are examples of music intervals everywhere!

Very cool word painting here! His melody drops down to the 6th to tell us he “called…”

Then, the melody drops again(7) but not as low, to lead us “to say…”

Then “I LOVE YOU” …….. Brings “You” back up to his starting pitch. Perfect!

I doubt Stevie broke it down like that while writing it. For all I know, as gifted as he is, he woke up one morning and played it in his studio… the whole thing!

But we can analyze the melodic gold nuggets that great songwriters leave behind.

This is a perfect example of how theory can help you grow. Your ear gets better at discovering new twists and turns you hadn’t noticed before.

A simple little ditty can show you something about music intervals that might take a song of yours from fair to GREAT.

So, to wrap it up, (even though “We’ve Only Just Begun…”), sorry… 🙂

Music intervals can be identified two different ways:

  • The distance from the first note of a major scale to any other note in the scale.
  • Or by adding the number of half-steps.

You can now identify any interval within the Major scale.

Begin to listen analytically. To your favorite melodies. French melodies, Celtic melodies, Christmas melodies, Blues melodies, even melodies you hate… I don’t care which ones, as long as you learn from them.

They are all different in their up & down motions. They each lean toward certain intervals as trademark sounds.

The intelligent use of music intervals is the foundation of unforgettable melodies… good & bad.

You’ll begin to see how huge these little Half-steps really are. They can make or break a tune.

Don’t tell anybody, but one day, you might even enjoy practicing your scales.

Music Scale 101

Music Scale 101

A music scale is a series of notes, which ascend and descend in a specific order. Usually the notes of a scale belong to a single key. So they provide material for or being used to conveniently represent part or all of a musical work, together with the melody and harmony. Scales are ordered in pitch. The two most important categories in popular music are the major and minor scales.

Major Scales

Major scales sound bright and lively. All scales begin and end with the same note. For example, the F major scale begins with an F note and then ends with an F note. It’s true for all the other keys.

A major scale consists of two whole steps, one half step, three whole steps then a half step again: WS-WS-HS-WS-WS-WS-HS (WH stands for whole step, HS stands for half step, i.e. a whole note and a half note.)

Only the C major scale HAS no sharps or flats in it.

So here are all the major scales:

Minor Scales

A minor music scale sounds melancholic. melancholic. There are three types of minor scales:

Natural Minor Scale

Here are all the natural minor scales:

Natural minor music scales have a whole step, a half step, two whole steps, a half steps, and two whole steps formula: WS-HS-WS-WS-HS-WS-WS.

Harmonic Minor Scale

Raise the seventh note of the scale by a half-step as you go up and down the scale. For example:
Natural C Minor Scale = C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C
Harmonic C Minor Scale = C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – B – C

Melodic Minor Scale

Raise the sixth and seventh notes of a scale by a half step as you go up the scale and then return to the natural minor as you go down the scale. For example:
Melodic C Minor Scale = C – D – Eb – F – G – A – B – C (as you go up the scale)
Natural C Minor Scale = C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C (as you go down the scale)

Coal Train

Coal Train

Denham and McCombs were founding members of the country-rock band Coaltrain, and the group was looking to record its first CD. Denham is the groups lead vocalist and fiddle player while McCombs mans the bass and handles some of the harmony chores.

Wheeling is a great music town with a great history in country music, Denham says. It was home to the Wheeling Jamboree starting in the early 30s and some of country musics biggest acts got their start there.

But when you’re in the country music game, Nashville is the place to be so we made the decision we would have to go to Nashville to give Coaltrain a chance, he continues. And thats what we did.

The members of Coaltrain packed up and headed south following in the footsteps of such legends as Grandpa Jones, Hawkshaw Hawkins,Wilma Lee Cooper and the Clinch Mountain Clan along with contemporary acts like Brad Paisley and Tim OBrien all of whom enjoyed early success playing in and around the Wheeling area.

Some acts are still discovered locally, but we just felt that Nashville was a more logical choice for us, Denham recalls. And we’ve been fortunate to have some success here in Music City.

It’s a modest conclusion. Denham and his gang recorded their eponymous debut album in 2006, and then kicked around town for awhile playing local gigs before getting a big break late in 2007. Ironically, Coaltrain was slotted as the opening act for Neal McCoy back home at Wheeling’s Wesbanco Arena.

We had done well in Wheeling before we left, Denham explains, but I think moving to Nashville and recording the album allowed us to get some airplay back home in Wheeling. And that opened some doors to help us land the opening slot for Neal.

Within three months, Coaltrain was back in Wheeling this time with another friend in tow, Denham’s connections working on the Big & Rich tour in 2007 in between Coaltrain gigs had led to a friendship with the duo’s opening act Cowboy Troy. When Big & Rich decided to scale back on touring in 2008, Denham invited the country rapper on the road for another gig in Wheeling, and a partnership was born.

We played a sold out show with him, and got a great reaction from the crowd, Denham remembers. And I think he was excited to see what we could do so we learned the rest of his set and went on the road together.

We were the opening act at most shows, and then after a break, we would back him up on his own set.

The remainder of 2008 saw Coaltrain touring the country with Cowboy Troy in support of his sophomore album ,Black In The Saddle. This included opening slots for Pat Green, T. Graham Brown, Jamey Johnson and James Otto on some dates, and led to the band making solid connections with other country acts including Dan Evans, a new country star best known so far for his appearance on the reality television show The Biggest Loser.

It (touring with Cowboy Troy) opened some doors for us, Denham says, and for that we’re grateful. But I think it also showed us that we were definitely a viable act on our own. We’ve been able to book return dates to a lot of the clubs we played last year appearing on our own.

And, as Denham explains, it’s led to a close partnership with Evans.

We’re working together to book dates on the side with Dan, and we’ll be touring with him as the opening act and backing him up on his own set, Denham says. We really like what he does and respect where he is coming from as an artist, and we are excited about doing this tour with Dan.

Coaltrain has come a long way from those days playing the working-class bars in and around Wheeling. They’ve played arenas and some of the top clubs and casinos in the United States after appearing in more than 35 states last year alone.

I look back at all we’ve done and I honestly know it was the right choice to come here (Nashville), Denham says. We wouldn’t be where we are today if we had stayed in Wheeling, and it’s been an amazing ride.

Coaltrain has seen many changes along the way including the loss of three of the original members that moved to Nashville from Wheeling, but that amazing ride will continue in 2009 as Denham and McCombs soldier on along with guitarist Jeremy Holt and drummer Rudy Miller. In addition to touring as Evans supporting act, the band will be headlining their own dates in 2009, supporting their sophomore album,“How I Roll”.

Obviously, we’d love to breakthrough with a hit and get some airplay, and we love Nashville and the opportunities we’ve had here, but we’re also a pretty stubborn bunch, he laughs, and we aren’t afraid to stay out on the road and do what it takes to push this album on our own.

If Coaltrain’s history is any indicator, you can bet that’s exactly what they’ll do.

Rhythm Without The Blues

Rhythm Without The Blues

For many of us musical notation seems beyond us. But the truth is, whether it’s a quarter note, eighth note, a rest, or whatever… Notation is not hard to learn!

And it is a tremendous tool to help organize your thoughts and sounds on paper. Rhythm is the most basic of all music elements. Rhythm is not only the foundation for all musical notation, but the foundation for music itself!

I like to start with Rhythm only… no pitches and note names, no chords and scales. A note tells you WHEN TO BEGIN making a sound, and WHEN TO STOP. There are several types of notes. The type of note determines the LENGTH of the sound.

Counting Notes

You may have heard that musical notation is mathematical.It’s true! And understanding notes is very similar to understanding basic math. They both require you to count.

For example, counting notes can be thought of as counting money.

Review Questions

1. How many quarters in a dollar?

2. How many quarter notes in a whole note?

3. How many half dollars in a dollar?

4. How many half notes in a whole note?

5. How many quarters in a half?

6. How many quarter notes in a half note?

For every type of note, there is a REST of the same value. A REST tells you how long to be silent.

The type of rest determines the LENGTH of silence.

Understanding Song Form is Essential

Understanding Song Form is Essential

A good songwriter knows which SONG FORM delivers the feeling of a song most effectively.

Imagine walking into McDonalds and the first room you enter is the bathroom… what happened???

The builder used the wrong FORM or BLUEPRINT. Yes, every McDonalds does have a bathroom, but it SHOULD NOT AND WILL NOT be the first room you step into.

Likewise, a song shouldn’t introduce itself to the listener with the wrong section heard first.

This is what SONG FORM is all about.

Since McDonalds has sold a few burgers over the years, they understand the “BIG PICTURE” of selling fast food:

GETTING OUR ATTENTION (introducing), CREATING or STATING A CONFLICT (our need for food) and RESOLVING THE CONFLICT (burger, fries & coke).

In other words:

  • They get our attention. (with advertising)
  • They REMIND you that your stomach is growling. (a problem)
  • They are available, on every corner, to SELL to anyone. (the problem is fixed)


a) The INTRODUCTION gets our attention.

b) The VERSE(S) creates a conflict/tension.

c) The CHORUS delivers the answer/resolution.

OPTIONAL material:

d) The BRIDGE takes us somewhere for additional information or closure.

e) TAGS, SOLOS, VAMPS, BREAKDOWNS, REPEAT TILL FADE, etc. are icing on the cake, add-ons for arranging and production enhancement.

A great song works like a Novel or Movie, but in 3 – 4 minutes.

We are INTRODUCED to the main characters… (WHO)

we HEAR the story with verses… (WHAT AND WHERE)

and get it RESOLVED with the chorus, and maybe a bridge… (the WHEN & WHY)

All in a singable, danceable, memorable song.

3 & 1/2 – 4 minutes is all it takes.

One Form is no better than another, but there is most likely one that will help deliver the feel and emotional impact MORE EFFECTIVELY THAN THE OTHERS.

Tip #2. Song FORM is usually THE RESULT – NOT THE INSPIRATION for a song.

All of the popular song forms have strengths and weaknesses. Early rock n’ roll, (Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis) could express itself best from the mold known as 12-bar blues. That form is still valid today, but may not be as effective with other songs.

Diane Warren, probably the most successful songwriter of the past 20 years, said this in an interview when asked about Form:

“I usually write with verse, chorus, verse, bridge and chorus. Sometimes the structure of my song changes according to the feel of the song”.

The feel or vibe should dictate the form!

How do you pick the best form for your song?

Answer: All song Forms CAN work…