The 4 Building Blocks of MusicJul 03, 2019
Today we’re going to speak about Music Building Blocks. Music, from a Composition and from a Production point of view, is broken up into Four foundational blocks and I’m going to explain the purpose and the function of those blocks before we get into programming and arrangement so that you can have a deeper understanding of how to look at music and how to view music.
Its all about how you look at it that helps you as a producer to understand what you’re doing and to have a better perspective.
The very first foundational block that is in every kind of music is Beat.
In modern music Beat would be represented by Drums, or the beats that we have in R&B, Hip-hop, House etc. You might say to yourself but theres no beat or theres no drums in orchestral music for example, but there are percussion instruments and theres some kind of beat even in orchestral music so it doesn’t matter what kind of music you’re listening to, theres always some kind of beat to a song.
The first function of a beat is that it sets the Foundation.
These four blocks that I’m going to show you are built on top of each other.
What the beat does is it sets the Tempo.
Tempo is a critical thing to understand in music because it sets the mood. It’s the speed at which the song runs at.
The third function of beat is Timing.
It sets the timing, the speed and the feel of the song.
The next function of beat is Rhythm.
Most of the rhythm of a song is coming from the beat. The beat gives you the feeling of the rhythm of the song.
The final function of the beat is Time Signature.
Is it a 3/4, a 4/4 ...? That you will find in the beat.
The next foundational block is Bass. Bass and Beat are like first cousins, they’re very closely related and Bass works in conjunction with Beat. So Bass is usually built on top of the Beat.
The first function of Bass is it reveals the Root Note.
The Root Note of a song, which is usually the key that the song is in, is very quickly picked up by the bass. The bass reveals the Root Note of a song to the listener
The second thing that the bass does is give a clue to the chord structure
A bass-line will usually follow the chord structure of the song, so even though its only one note it will be the lowest note of that chord structure. It will reveal the chord of the song. We won’t know immediately if its a major or a minor but we’ll know which note it is. When I’m looking for chord structures or trying to understand a chord structure in a song, thats the easiest way to find a chord structure, and that is to listen to the bass.
The third function of bass is Rhythm. Just as beat has rhythm, a lot of rhythm can come from the bass. As I said before, Bass and Beat work in tandem. Usually you will find that the rhythm of the bass and the rhythm of the beat work together.
The third foundational block of music is Chord. Every song has a chord element. It doesn’t matter what instrument they’ve used to reveal the chord structures but there’s always a chordal element in a song.
The first function of the chord element in music is to reveal the Chord Structure.
The first thing it does is reveal the chord structure to the listener. So you can see how this is going - The Beat is the foundation, the Bass is something that works in collaboration with the beat, starting to bring some melody in through the bass note and revealing the root note and the clue to the chord structure and then the chordal element is built on top of the bass. So the bass and the chords are also working in tandem from a melodic perspective because the bass is playing the same root notes that is in the chord structure.
The next function of the chordal elements or chordal foundational block in music is the scale.
The chords will reveal what the scale is. Is it a Major, is it a
Minor, is it a Blues scale, is it a Pentatonic scale ...?
The next function of the chordal elements is Emotion.
Now there is some emotion coming from the beat, theres some emotion coming from the bass but most of the emotion starts to come in at this point from the chords. The chordal elements of a song bring in a lot of feeling, it sets the mood. The feeling of the song is coming from the chord.
That brings us to the last foundational block and that is Melody.
Melody is the most critical and Primary Focus of the listener
Again, just as the other blocks are built on top of each other, the melody is built on top of the chords. So the chord structure is a foundation for the melody. The melody will follow the strong notes in the chord. So the Melody sits on top of the chord, the Chord sits on top of the Bass and the Bass sits on top of the foundation which is the Beat.
So you might be saying now, “How come, as a listener, when a normal person listens to music they don’t differentiate these four elements?”
It goes like this: The listener hears the melody, which is the top element on top of the four elements and thats the part that they remember, thats the part that we copyright when we go and register the song at our local composer’s association.
Whats actually happening is that subconsciously the listener is picking up the time signature from the beat, the tempo. The listener is picking up the root note and the clue to the chord structure from the bass. The listener is subconsciously picking up the chord structure and the melody sits on top of that .
Its almost like a theatre production. You have a stage and a set. Then you have a story and supporting actors, but theres always that lead actor, the star of the show, and that is the
The final function of melody is Emotion.
Just like the chordal elements bring emotion so does the Melody.
As you can see, theres a lot of interplay between these four building blocks.
For example, theres a lot of rhythm in Beat and Bass, they have that in common and when it comes to rhythm they’re in tandem. Theres also a connection between the Bass and the Chord as far as the Root Note and the Chord Structure is concerned, and theres also a connection between the Chord and the Melody as far as Emotion is concerned. So as much as they’re all separated they’re all kind of joined together at the same time and they’re all built on top of each other.
Now sometimes you’ll get a song, like “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen. There’s drums, so the drums would be the beat element. Theres that famous bass-line and then we have him singing on top of that so you could say to me “Well where’s the Chordal element?” Now what happens there in that situation is we’re getting a clue to the chord structure from the Bass and then we’re getting the melody on top of that which is actually sitting on an “invisible” chordal structure. So just because you can’t hear a chordal structure in there, it’s still there.The mind makes sense of it.
The mind is subconsciously saying “Ok, the bass is saying these root notes, and these notes which is giving me a clue to the chord structure and then the melody is filling in the gaps” and your mind is understanding what the chordal elements are even though its not actually being played. Later on in the song the chords come in with guitars and other instruments but the mind is able to fill in those gaps. So thats just a brief introduction into Music Building Blocks.
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