African Rhythm & Chords - Music Theory from NAO “Drive and Disconnect”



You want people moving to your music, right? But, are you bored of using the same old four-on-the-floor drum beat to achieve that. Well, then you need to add an African flava to your rhythm (and your chords!), as heard in the new single “Drive and Disconnect” (from upcoming album "Saturn"), by the unique and inspiring artist NAO. And full disclosure here: Yes, I am British, but, I’m an immigrant. I was actually born and raised in Africa, so African music is in my blood, so I’m super stoked to share a little taste of it with you. But first… iti!

Hello revolutionaries, and welcome to the Hack Music Theory channel. This is our New Music Friday show, where we trawl through the new releases every week to find the hottest theory hacks for your weekend studio session! So, if that sounds useful to you, then please subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the bell to get notifications. Alright, it’s time to open your DAW to hack music theory.

Africa is the motherland of dance music. So while electronic dance music has had booties shakin’ for decades, music from the motherland has been moving people (physically and emotionally) for millennia. Now, there are countless types of traditional music in Africa, but the two main elements that connect them, are syncopated rhythms and strong melodies. Remember, chords (like you hear in most songs these days) are actually a relatively new addition to music that originated in Europe. So, traditional African music is all about that rhythm and melody. To add this African flavour to your music, create a syncopated rhythm on top of your four-on-the-floor drums, and turn your chords into arpeggios (that are also syncopated). 

Step 1 - Rhythm (African Drums)
Set up two bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/16 notes, and your tempo set to 116 BPM. Then, start by throwing a kick on every 1/4 note beat, and that’s your four-on-the-floor. Next, it’s time for the syncopation, which is when you accent the offbeat. So, add syncopated snare drums on beat 1a and beat 2+ (we used two different snare drums for those, to add depth). Then do the same snare pattern in bar 2. And lastly, sprinkle in a few more syncopated notes on the toms and hats, and your drums are done!

Step 2 - Chords (African Guitar)
NAO’s song is in G minor, but to keep things simple, we’re in A minor here, cos A minor is just all white notes. Now, choose two chords for your progression (we chose Am and Gmaj), then instead of playing them as block chords, play them one note at a time (which is an arpeggio), and lock those notes into that syncopated rhythm you just made, especially accenting beat 1a and beat 2+. Also, remember to let your arpeggios breathe, by adding some rests. And lastly, to spice things up even more, add in some extra notes that are not in the chords. For example, the D and B over our first Am chord, and the Gs over our second Am chord. And with that, you’re done!

Right, now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write a new section for it, and then, how do you transition between those two sections? Great questions, and if this is something you need help with, then check out our cutting-edge online apprenticeship course, where you’ll literally learn every step of the music making process, and most importantly, you’ll learn how to finish your songs!

You’ll also gain access to the Hack Music Theory Network, which is a private social media platform exclusively for our apprentices (and we already have over 400 apprentices, from over 40 countries). The Network is a super supportive place for you to ask theory questions, share your music, get feedback, and more. So if all that sounds useful to you, then head on over to our Apprenticeship page now.

Also, please note that we intentionally wrote our example to be very similar to the original version, but we did that for the sake of this lesson. So, instead of copying the artist, please explore how you can use this hack creatively with your own musical personality, so it sounds like you! Alright, that’s it! We really hope this video inspired and empowered you, and if it did, please drop us a comment on YouTube. We love hearing from you! Thanks for joining the Hack Music Theory revolution, and we’ll see you next week!

Enkosi kakhulu :)

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 our Secret Art of Song-Whispering, and effortlessly finish your 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), 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!).

Photo of Nao by Eva Pantel