Ever wondered how to write prog songs like Dream Theater? Lets break down one of their sections and rebuild it.
Please note, this transcription was computer generated and has not been checked for errors. However, I do hope you find it helpful. Be sure to check out The Ultimate Modal Poster!If you talk to any musician about technical music the name Dream Theater will inevitably pop up by combining the complex Melodies and rhythms of progressive bands like yes and Rush with the crushing heavy riffs of Metallica and Pantera. They became the poster boy for progressive rock and inspired the current wave of gruesomely difficult math rock that you here today Dream Theater has a long discography that spans across quite a few different genres, but most of their fans would agree that their signature sound can be found in the images and words album specifically the song Metropolis part 1 in this video. I want to I-16 measures from that song So before we go any further, let's just take a listen to that section.
Now when I first heard that it totally blew my mind. I had no idea what was going on much less how to like recreate something like that. But the cool thing about music is that you can strip music down to its bare elements and then you can take those same elements.
Do Your Own Thing with them and make your own song out of him, so that's what we're going to do here in this video we're going to strip down this entire section and analyze it and then we're going to take all these techniques and all these elements and make our own little Dream Theater song at the end. So to do this I want to break this entire section into two halves the first eight measures and the second eight measures So this rhythm guitar part contains a lot of information to decoding the rest of the section. Here's what it sounds like all on its own.
Now every single note that I played there is from the B minor scale and this riff kind of focuses on the note B. So I think it's fair to say that we're in the key of B minor here, but this doesn't sound very my nourish right minor. We usually associate with like dark and sad this doesn't sound dark and said this sounds very widened out kind of hollow kind of waitlist and there's a reason for that if we take a look at the chords that this riff is outlining will see that it's basically outlining the know Of a be suspended two chord and the notes of an a suspended to court and the notes of the G suspended to court and suspended two chords are not major or minor. All right there neutral they do not contain a third a major third or a minor third without that third. They are just kind of in between and that's a great technique for a composer. If your if your stuff is signing too bright or too dark, you know, if you're using major chords and it's too bright or if you're using minor chords and it's too dark just try using a suspended chord instead and it'll kind of dilute the bite of that cord. I mean, for example, if I play that same chord progression with full major chords and minor chords, you can guess how much more color would come out of it right is very melodic but that's not happening yet in this section. This section is supposed to be this wide stretched out, you know, kind of hollow section and what also helps there is he's not phrasing am actually a suspended two. He's playing that second note as a ninth the ninth note of a scale is the same thing as a second note of the scale, but when you have those Interval jumps like that. It helps kind of create that stretched out feel now. We don't need to go to into detail for the bass guitar because the bass guitar is doing pretty much the exact same thing. The guitar is doing here. So I want to explore the time signature a little bit more and to do that. Lets talk a little bit about what the drums are doing to accommodate this time signature.
Now, there are multiple ways to interpret the time signature here, but I think it's very easy to think of it as alternating measures of six eighth notes and then seven eighth notes, but you can also think of it as a large measure of 13 8 or even a huge measure of 13 for if we take a look at these first two measures Mike Portnoy marks the beginning and end of each measure with a Kick Drum and this helps give separation between those two measures.
Now this first measure feels like a steady 3/4 beat but that half of a quarter note at the end of our second measure really interrupts our groove and makes us feel as if we're resetting early into this next measure.
So as you can see even quarter notes won't fit into these two measures, but what's really cool here? Is that the keyboard part plays on the larger time signature here.
Kevin Moore is blasting away at the same power chords that the guitar riff is playing avoiding the third's once again to create that halo effect, but he plays a steady Rhythm pattern that takes up 13 full quarter notes.
Now since the rest of the meter around him is in six and a half quarter notes this puts his rhythm out of sync with the band a technique known as Polly meter as you can hear his rhythm occurs on the Off beats of the first cycle, but then overlap In the second cycle where it falls onto the downbeat instead.
Now, this is a pretty common Dream Theater trick. You take an odd time signatures like 9 or 11 and you lay your a steady Kick Drum underneath that now every time you cross between measures your Kick Drum is offset by one half of a beat and that creates a pretty cool disorienting feel.
That pretty much takes care of most of what's going on in the first section. But now I want to take a look at the second section first. I want to mention that the keyboards are now playing the exact same thing. Our guitar was just doing except now. It's an octave higher and there's a little harmonic flourish at the end of it from there. Our lead guitar part starts filling in some of those missing chord tones. I told you about earlier we're including the thirds now we're even cluding other tones like the sevens and the flatted 7 s. So here's what our new lead section sounds like along with our keyboards and you can hear a more full chord being formed through the relationship between these two instruments.
Notice that we've lost that Hollow feel we still feel stretched out because we're still doing those wide interval jumps but there's a lot more color and there's a lot more flavor going on here. Now. Do you remember how our keys were playing like a 13 beat pattern before? Well now our bass players doing the exact same thing. So John Myung is playing eighth notes and eighth note rest.
Outlining the same chord progression. But once again every two measures he goes out of sync with the rest of the band being on the downbeats for the first two measures and then being on the upbeats for the next two measures.
Now normally a drummer would reinforce their bass player by helping out with those same pulses. But instead Mike Portnoy bases his entire pattern once again around six and a half beats as you can see, he starts playing steady quarter notes that switch between the kick and the snare syncing up with the base to imply a 4/4 feel but instead of carrying on this poly meter like the base is doing he cuts off the last quarter note halfway through as to restart a quarter note pattern on the beginning of the next. 13 8 phrase and this is really what gives it section its stop-and-start herky-jerky feel now to top that all off on his ride cymbal. Mike portnoy's playing pretty much the same exact rhythmic pattern that Kevin Moore was doing on his keys earlier, which remember is a 13 beat phrase adding yet another layer of poly meter to this entire thing. Okay play this riff. It's really easy. So there it is everything that makes this section tick and work together.
So how are you supposed to take something like this and apply it to your own music? Well, I think it's pretty easy. Let's just start with the time soon. Mature, they picked 6 plus 7 6 plus 7 a simple thing to do would say, okay. I'll pick seven plus eight. All right, it will give you a different effect.
Also, they took a chord progression and they outlined it by picking through it. So I'm going to do the same thing. And here's what I ended up doing. I took a chord progression. That's a G and D and then a C and G. And I think of that is kind of being in a mixolydian and then I threw in that c major for good luck. So I needed to do seven beats and then eight beats. So for my 70 pattern I outlined in a suspended too. Like this 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 and then for G major, I just played Four notes of the G major Triad one, two, three four. And then for a D major I did the exact same thing. One, two, three four again for a one two, three, four, five six seven and then I went to a C major and to a G major so it gave me this riff of 7 Plus 8.
All right, so kind of a neat little riff The Next Step was to layer in some keys that we're doing something Polly metric on top that's stretched between these measures an even pulse and then I also had the bass guitar mimic the exact same thing the guitar is doing from there. I had to craft the second section. We're just like Dream Theater. I started feeling in extra chord tones. I added in some fourths and some sevens and I tried to insert a little bit of rhythmic interest. So it wasn't just you know, constant eighth notes all the way through.
But either way here was the end result of basically taking all the elements. I heard of metropolis part 1 And putting them into my own permutation of those same elements.
So I think it's a good dream theater ripoff. It's not very original. I mean, I literally took what they did and just rebuilt it into my own but I think this process of reverse engineering music I think is very beneficial when you go deep into something like this you start seeing relationships that you might not have seen before and you gain a better understanding of how Is it works together?
It also becomes very simple to recreate music. If you are good at this process of just looking at the elements of it. It's much like if you were a good chef and I gave you a pie. You could probably just eat it and be like, hey, there's cherries or some molasses little bit of salt. You could go home and make a pie. That's pretty similar.
So instead of just guessing at how these things are done or by using your intuition. I think it's very helpful to do a little bit of analysis now and then and at the end result of it you'll at least get something cool. I mean, I'm pretty happy with the way my Little Dream Theater ripoff sounds and I know No, I wouldn't have been able to get that accurate of a ripoff had I not actually looked at what was going on in that song.
So I hope you enjoy this video and I hope you learned something from it. If you do enjoy stuff like this, please like subscribe all that good stuff and I will plan on seeing you soon.