TesseracT - Odd Time Signatures (Part 1) - Music Theory Hacks from "Sonder" for Chord Progressions

TesseracT has a refreshing approach to time signatures, so in this music theory lesson, you’ll learn their hacks to liberate your chord progressions from 4/4. But first... Tea!

Hello, we are Kate Harmony & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to the Hack Music Theory show, where you are empowered with notation-free theory for making great music in DAWs.

We’re gonna focus on the theory behind their lead single Luminary from their new masterpiece of an album, Sonder. TesseracT are renowned for perfectly balancing the artistic with the accessible, resulting in incredibly intelligent and creative songs, that are also super catchy! And this is why they appeal to music lovers of all genres, and why the theory in this series can also be used in all genres, and all instruments (so whether you write prog metal / djent guitar riffs or EDM bass lines, this'll help!). This hack is what TesseracT geniusely use in their Luminary chorus, which is in the key of D minor (AKA D Aeolian). So if you want an EPIC chorus, like Luminary, start by writing a chord progression in a minor key.

But, here’s the problem, there’s already a zillion other songs with minor key choruses, so how do you make yours unique? Easy, you just use this hack. Right, here’s how it works. There’s only seven triads in a minor key. So, obviously your chord options are extremely limited. However, there are literally an infinite amount of harmonic rhythms and time signatures you can use for your chord progression. So, the “right place” part of this hack is all about choosing the right chords (in other words, any of these seven), and the “wrong time” part is this hack is all about playing those chords in an unpredictable harmonic rhythm within an unpredictable time signature, or two, like in the Luminary chorus. Here’s how you can use this hack in your own music:

For that powerful Luminary feel, set your tempo to 78 BPM, and your grid to two bars of 12/8. 12/8 is in the family of time signatures known as “compound time”, and they divide music into groups of three 1/8-notes, which is more drawn out so it feels more dramatic than time signatures in the “simple time” family, like 4/4, which use groups of two 1/8 notes.

Decide what chords you want to use from the key of D minor, and draw each chord's root note in your piano roll (you can fill the rest of the notes in later). Here’s the chords we chose: Dm → B♭maj → Cmaj → Am (1st bar) / B♭maj → Gm → Am → Cmaj → Am → B♭maj (2nd bar)

Apply the “wrong time” part of this hack to your chord progression. TesseracT masterfully twists two bars of 12/8 into one bar of 11/8 and one bar of 13/8, resulting in two odd time signatures replacing one even time signature, it doesn’t get better than that! To pull off this magic trick, all you need to do is steal one 1/8 note from bar 2, and donate it to bar 1. The easiest way to do this, is to choose a chord in bar 1 that you wanna shorten, and a chord in bar 2 that you wanna lengthen. So in bar 1 we decided to shorten the B♭maj, and in bar 2 we decided to lengthen the Am. Now, select all the chords in between those two chords you just changed, and move all that MIDI an 1/8 note earlier. Tada, your chorus just got the TesseracT “wrong time, right place” makeover! And you’ll notice we now have an unpredictable pattern of groups of three 1/8 notes and groups of two 1/8 notes, and that’s exactly what transforms this chord progression from ordinary, to extraordinary!

To make the most of your new and improved harmonic rhythm, be sure to accent the chord changes with your drums.

Lastly, do you struggle to finish your music? If you do, then check out our online apprenticeship course, where you’ll learn how to effortlessly write new sections for existing sections, how to transition between them, and most importantly, how to finish your songs! For more info, just head on over to our Apprenticeship Course. Alright, enjoy the video/podcast.

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 how to become a song-whisperer, and effortlessly finish music!

Hack Music Theory is the pioneering notation-free method for making great music. Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé (and wife) Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory", and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), 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 these Hack Music Theory 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!).