Musical Idiosyncrasies

I lied, another relatively long post.

First, what do I mean by musical idiosyncrasies.  I think the easiest way to describe it is with lyrical idiosyncrasies first. Saying the phrases “drop the bass” “on the floor” “you and I” “in the club” would by an idiosyncrasy because those short individual phrases are repeated many times by different artists in different tracks. So basically, it means it’s a habit that occurs across the board I music. It goes beyond lyrics, it also involves certain rhythmic patterns, certain chord progressions (see cadence post), and structural tendencies. This post is going to identify specific ones that I find annoying, and hopefully enable you to notice them when you hear them in the future. The first one we are going to talk about is a rhythm that is used far too often in ALL genres of music: triplets.

A triplet is 3 notes evenly spaced across the duration of a certain number of beats, but while the time signature is in 4 (a duple). It’s hard to imagine what this sounds like so I made it easy. At :51 of this song (which I have used before, I apologize) you hear quarter note triplets followed by 3 eigths notes. The first three notes are evenly spaced along beats 1 and 2, the last 3 notes are in time with the duple coming in on the upbeat of beat 3. This repeats over and over for literally the entire song. At 1:44 you hear quarter note triplets only repeated over and over again until 1:59 (the drop) where the original rhythm returns. Sorry I made you listen to that for so long; it’s just a perfect example of this rhythm that is really easy to hear.

Hmm. That rhythm sounds familiar doesn’t it? It seems to be especially recurrent in dance music. The reason is that the strong beats in dance music are 1 and 3. A quarter note triplet pattern helps define these beats even more than 1 and 2 and 3.

1 2 3 4 1  I 2 3 4 quarter note triplet pattern x2 repeat. I’m not trying to say don’t use this rhythm ever, but it’s the foundation of way too much music these days and I feel like when trying to pump out a dance hit they just use this rhythm because they know it works instead of employing creative thought (who needs that in the music industry anymore?). For lengths sake ill let that be enough examples of this, but I’m sure you will hear it again and again. I’ll use this video to transition into my next idiosyncrasy, that one trance sound at 2:23.

Above the melody, listen to the virtual instrument that is above the beat. It is laying down quarter note triplets (of course). Do you recognize that sound? I do.

This song is pretty good overall lots of good filtering and a decent drop. Listen closely starting at :34. That sound that is creeping in, that is the same virtual instrument. What it is is a 3 oscillation synth of a I III V minor chord, detuned to your own liking and put through a resonance filter. I know this because I’ve done it before. Often it is even a preset which comes standard with many digital audio workstations (which is how you make electronic music or mix anything). I’m going to repost an example I have used before again to really get this sound in your head.

1:39 it comes in again (of course, that rhythm is the same quarter note triplet pattern from ‘Don’t You Worry Child’). It doesn’t sound EXACTLY the same, but hopefully you can tell the similarity. I guarantee all 3 of these examples were based off the same default virtual instrument. It sounds so epic doesn’t it? Again I’m not trying to say never use this sound, it is quite effective in all 3 of these examples, but also again it seems like it is a go-to sound for many artists who don’t want to have to come up with their own sound, because that takes work.


some of you may have seen this video before.

:48. There it is, in that quarter note triplet pattern. Again notice it changes every time based on how they tune each oscillation and the density of the resonance filter, but they aren’t fooling me.

Metal isn’t immune to these idiosyncrasies either. (please don’t hate me STFS, you are my favorite deathcore band)

Right at the beginning, the rhythm that is repeated over and over is quarter note triplets. There are more parts with this rhythm too as you listen on, see if you can hear it.

again. That rhythm is everywhere. Lets talk about some other idiosyncrasies that are exclusive to metal. Again using the previous example to transition: blast beats.

OK metal heads, I understand that blast beats are an element that help define the genre, so is the trance sound to dance music that I listen above. But it needs to be said. At the beginning listen to the drum pattern, metal heads love this (guilty) (1:28, really good example of a breakdown from my state of the union part 2 post.

at :24 is where they begin here, but a bit slower, then it doubles in speed at 30. I am not a drummer and cannot explain to you exactly how this rhythmic pattern works, but I know it involves hitting a lot of drums really fast and sounds like that. I don’t think it’s bad, but sometimes a little creativity in drumming couldn’t hurt. One last example of blast beats

right at the beginning

Alright one more, this one is a particular chord progression that is more and more popular (even more than the one I pointed out in my cadences post). It is VI VII I  (so it starts below the root)

The reason this progression is effective is because of the lingering leading tone. A leading tone is basically the VII of a scale, the note right before you get to the top. If you want to drive a musician NUTS, play a musical phrase and stop on the leading tone and don’t resolve it.

The drop obviously is not really in a key, but the part in between is VI VII I then it leads back into VI with a measure of I VII so its circular. Since I have made it a habit to criticize Skrillex, listen to the next two links and notice the chord progressions in them…


(:31) what a guy

Hear the same progression here at the beginning repeated over and over until :29 (the verse is in an alternating structure of I VI I VI etc.). It comes back again at 1:37 for the bridge/solo section

Go back to the gangnam style video, at :47 (the same part with the other 2 idiosyncrasies in it) he goes through this progression twice. So that is 3 of the idiosyncrasies at once. No wonder this song is so damn catchy.

Another metal song using it. (1:05)

This guy uses loop recording and makes a lot of sick tunes (he very clearly spells it out in this one starting at 1:24)

Finally to wrap it up, Dillinger Escape Plan using an idiosyncrasy (also because this is one of their most approachable songs which I left out of my last post)

It starts creeping in at 3:52, more obvious once you get to 4:08, very obvious at 5:12. Quarter note triplets repeated over and over.  See how it really defines beats 1 and 3 and makes you nod your head when you finally get to it?

That’s all for today. Next post will be about cross over artists who attempt to include multiple styles in their music.


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