Ultimate Groove Hack - Music Theory from Twenty One Pilots “Trench”



Do you listen to your favourite artists and wonder why their music grooves more than yours? Well that ends now, cos the hack in this video is gonna make your music groove big time. But first… tea!

Hello music makers, I’m Kate Harmony, this is Ray Harmony, and welcome to Hack Music Theory. This channel helps you make great music that stands out, so you can get discovered! The theory hack in today’s video is from the new album “Trench” by Twenty One Pilots. Alright, it’s time to open your DAW to hack music theory.

In their song “Morph”, Twenty One Pilots create a hugely deep groove between the bass and drums, which you can’t help but move to. Now, some may argue it’s because they’re playing real instruments and not virtual instruments, but you can easily create this groove with a computer as well. How? Well, program skeleton bass and drum parts using 1/8 notes, then flesh them out with 1/16 note triplets. Then, move all your MIDI a tiny bit off the grid to the right, which makes everything a split second late.

Please note, for the sake of this lesson, our example is very similar to the original song. Instead of copying the song though, have fun exploring how you can use this theory hack creatively with your own musical personality, so it sounds like you!

1/16 Triplets (Step 1)
Set up four bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/8 notes, and your tempo set to 90 BPM. “Morph” is in the key of C♯ minor, and the bass line is centred around the root note, played at different octaves. So, start by writing a repeating octave pattern on your root. Now, change your grid to 1/16 note triplets. Then, add a few 1/16 note triplets, but be sparing, as you want your bass line to have lots of space to breathe. And in our version, we put a couple of these 1/16 note triplets on the ♭7 to spice things up. Finally, towards the end of your bass line, add a non-diatonic note (which is a note that is not in the scale). Twenty One Pilots used the major 7, but we’re using the ♭2. And the reason for using a non-diatonic note is because it breaks the “rules”, and that adds to the cool factor of your bass line.

Play It Cool (Step 2)
So you know how cool people arrive at the party a little late, right? Well, cool music arrives at the beat a little late, too. Seriously, it’s true! If you wanna instantly make your music cooler, just move everything a split second off the grid, to the right. This loosens up that rigid feel we always get from making music on the grid. If you want a rough guide when moving your music off grid, change your grid to 1/128 note triplets, select all your MIDI, then zoom in and move everything to the right by about half of a 1/128 note triplet. Now I know what you’re thinking: If this hack is that cool, then why doesn’t everyone use it. Well, some genres (e.g. house music) are built on perfectly in-time drum beats, and therefore this hack isn’t appropriate. Okay, now last but not least, when you’ve totally finished your bass line, then use the same hack on your drums.

Right, now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write a new section for it, and then, how do you transition between those two sections? Great questions, and if this is something you need help with, then check out our cutting-edge online apprenticeship course, where you’ll literally learn every step of the music making process, and most importantly, you’ll learn how to finish your songs! You’ll also gain access to our Private Network, which is a safe social media platform exclusively for our apprentices (and we already have over 400 apprentices, from over 40 countries). Our Network is a super supportive place for you to ask theory questions, share your music, get feedback, meet like-minded music makers, and more! So if all that sounds useful to you, then head on over to our Online Apprenticeship page now.

Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada


1: Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
2: Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
3: Learn our secret art of songwhispering & finish your music!

Learn how to make great music that stands out, so you can get discovered! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé (and wife) Kate Harmony. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory" and has been teaching music theory for 24 years, and along the way he's made music with Serj Tankian (System Of A Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members) and many more! Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who's been trained by Ray to teach his Hack Music Theory method! While our YouTube lessons teach music theory for producers and DAW users, they are designed to accommodate all music makers (songwriters, guitarists, etc.) and all genres, from Electronic Music to R&B, Pop to Hip-Hop, Reggae to Rock, EDM/Dance to Metal (and yes, we djefinitely Djent!).

Photo of Twenty One Pilots by Brad Heaton