You can find patterns in everything from flowery wallpaper, to checkerboards, to zebra stripes, snowflakes, leaves, and music. Patterns make it easier for us to identify things at one glance. In music, as in other things, patterns can be simple or complex. Most "popular" music consists of relatively few, and relatively simple patterns. The exceptions are jazz and classical music, which often both consist of long and complex patterns, making it difficult for a novice to follow and identify them. Regardless of the genre, music consists of melody, rhythm, and chords - all woven together in patterns. In this lesson, we will be exploring some of the patterns found in popular music. Unless they're written down, song patterns can be quite abstract. Sometimes we can only recognize the patterns by listening to a song repeatedly before we can identify them.

If I had to come up with a definition for music of all types I suppose I would have to say that "music is sound creatively expressed in a variable interval of time". You could strike one string on your guitar and let it ring until the sound fades completely into silence and it could technically (and arguably) be called music. It is music because there was an interval of time between when you plucked the string, it rang, faded, and eventually fell silent. You could even call it a song. It would be the simplest song possible and would have only a single, uncomplicated pattern.

Most songs are more complicated than that. Most songs consist of a melody sung or played along with instrumental accompaniment. Most melodies consist of at least several notes, and more often, many notes. The accompaniment can consist of a few chords or many chords, and sometimes "counterpoint" as well. Counterpoint is a series of notes, or, a second melody, sung or played at a different interval than, or in harmony with, the main melody. The melody usually follows a series of notes that repeat from line to line and verse to verse, and, there is usually a series of chord changes that harmonize with, or embellish, the melody and any counterpoint.

Let's define a musical pattern as being a series of notes, chords, or rhythmic accents that are repeated, or are unique, during a given interval of a song. When I say "unique" I'm referring to a pattern that is different from all other patterns in a song. We can get a better understanding of that definition of song patterns if we write a song ourselves. Here are the profound lyrics to a song that has never been heard before (because I just made it up a moment ago):


I got-ta prac-tice hard

I got-ta prac-tice hard

If I wan-na rea-lly wail

I got-ta prac-tice hard

Okay, sorry. You get the point. This isn't about lyrics. I'm not trying to show you how to write crappy songs. I merely want you notice that the first, second, and fourth lines can be sung to the same series of notes, one note per syllable. You could also use the same chord or a series of chord changes (a progression) for all three of those lines. If you repeat the series of notes and chords for lines 1, 2, and 4, then those three lines would follow exactly the same pattern. The third line is a slightly different pattern of the verse in that it has an extra syllable and could be sung with a different series of notes and chords than the other three lines. In that case, line 3 is a unique pattern to the verse.

Let's add a bridge to this song. A bridge is simply a musical transition that usually comes between one verse and another, or, a verse and the chorus/refrain or vice versa. Try to imagine that the bridge will generate some excitement by raising the stakes musically. The notes being sung and the chord progression will be different from that in the verse:


Oh, I'm get-ting bet-ter

Yes, I'm get-ting bet-ter

'Cuz I prac-tice real hard in my spare time

The first two lines of this bridge have the same amount of syllables, and, if you want to, you can sing the same notes and play the same chords for both lines. In that case, they would have the same pattern melodically and harmonically. The third line of the bridge is quite different of course and in my head, I hear it rising in pitch and rhythm. So, let's imagine that the melody for the third line rises to higher notes and the chord progression for the line is different than the first two lines of the bridge. That gives the third line of the bridge a unique pattern in the bridge.

Let's finish off the song by writing a chorus or refrain:


I'm gon-na blow my friends and family a-way

When they hear me play

When they hear me play

I'm gon-na blow my friends and family a-way

Some-day, Some-day

We've reached a musical plateau with the chorus. The song is really soaring now. We've made some of the melody lines longer (added more syllables) and you can see the pattern is quite different from the verse and the bridge. The first and fourth lines are identical, and the second and third lines match each other exactly. So, the pattern of the first line is repeated in the fourth line and the pattern in the second line is repeated in the third line. The fifth line is different from the rest and is a unique pattern to the chorus.



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