How to Stand Out in 2 Seconds
In this tutorial, you’ll learn two ways to stand out in two seconds. But first… Tea!
Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory, where we help you make great music that stands out! And if you’re new to theory, or if you just want a refresher, then read our free book “12 Music Theory Hacks to Learn Scales & Chords”. It’ll give you a super solid theory foundation in just 30 minutes.
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This hack is from the new song “Drosera” by Danish artist Agnes Obel. The track is off her new album “Myopia”, which is stunningly beautiful, definitely one to add to your late-night playlist!
Right, so how on earth does Agnes Obel make this song stand out in its first two seconds (especially considering the intro simply consists of a piano)? Well, she very cleverly does this by surprising us with two totally unexpected things, one on the rhythmic side and one on the melodic side.
On the rhythmic side, she uses the odd time signature 5/8, which is five 1/8 notes in a bar. So, the 1/8 notes in 5/8 can be grouped in 2+3, or, 3+2, which is the version Agnes uses. In other words, her accents in each bar are on the first and fourth 1/8 notes. And the reason her 5/8 is such a surprise, is that the group of three 1/8 notes lulls us into assuming that each group will consist of three 1/8 notes, as most music is predictable like that, but when her second group unfolds, we’re shocked by it containing only two 1/8 notes, which makes the group feel like it’s been cut short. What a great way to wake up your listeners!
MIDI screenshot: Piano intro in 5/8 (grouped 3+2), accenting the root note (on beat 1) and the ♭2 (on beat 4)
Now, regarding her surprise on the melodic side. She uses a ♭2, which is the dissonant note found one semitone above the root. The ♭2 is a very unexpected note, as it’s not found in the major scale or the minor scale, and those two scales are used to make most of our music here in the west.
Lastly, Agnes Obel named this song after a big insect-eating plant haha, so she was clearly going for a menacing vibe here! But, if you want your song to stand out without sounding dangerous, then forget about the ♭2 and just use an odd time signature like 5/8 (or 7/8, which is another great one for surprising people).
If you’re already familiar with these hacks, then we can help you take your music to an even higher level with more advanced theory like irrational time signatures, extreme polymeters, octatonic scales, the 12 tone method and much more, all of which you’ll find in our Apprenticeship #2 online course.
And if that all sounded like a foreign language, then Apprenticeship #1 is for you, as that course will teach you how to write new sections for existing sections, how to transition between sections, and how to structure and arrange your songs. Thanks so much for being here, and we hope you found this hack useful. Until next time, happy songwriting and producing!
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