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

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Bored of the same old four-on-the-floor drum beat? Then you need to add an African flavour to your rhythm and chords, as heard in NAO’s new single “Drive and Disconnect” (from upcoming album “Saturn”).
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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’re using 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!

Enkosi kakhulu 🙂

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!).

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Music by Revolution Harmony
(c) 2018 Revolution Harmony

Photo of Nao by Eva Pantel


SoundBoss5150 says:

Excellent video 🙂 Would really love to see you guys take on the melodies and vocal harmonies of Ghost!! Keep up the great work <3

judumo says:

Hey woah! This is so inspiring. I feel like there are so many different genres and influences in the music world, it's hard to "hold on" to all of them at once. Things are dropping out of my learning basket as fast as I'm picking them up!

I spent my afternoon learning about Motown. Now I want to see if I can blend that with more syncopated rhythms.
You guys are so awesome, I don't even have language to express how glad I am I discovered this channel.

Hack Music Theory says:

For the sake of this lesson, we wrote our example to be very similar to the original song. Instead of copying NAO, have fun exploring how you can use this theory hack creatively with your own musical personality, so it sounds like you! And if you need help developing your musical personality, check out our online apprenticeship course:

keishamervin says:

Is that drum kit from GetGoodDrums Modern and Massive

massawemba says:

Another awesome one! As always, never disappointed! 🙂

Bruce Nawa says:

Yo African friend ..hello

Marek Bohunicky says:

Big up for this Nao – hack tutorial. Nao's music is appreciative for me. More to previous of your shows: In know that interesting music ideas could be even in "guetta" "marshmelo" songs, but honestly, do you like that kind music?

Zach Morrow says:

You gotta hack Jamiroquai.

Kento Nishi says:

Awesome, so many new people in the community!

Benjamin says:

Cant get enough of this channel, love you guys v much

tabletop581 says:

I lived in Africa for a few years, spent some time in the Congo, loved the Africans ability to dance/sing despite suffering. Used to really like Monique Seka. I'm sure Ray would have heard of her.


Thanks. Rhthym is my favourite subject!

Hushed Tones says:

I'm interested in Latin / carribean / Cuban / Spanish music. Since the success of tropical electronic music and despacito the market for these influences has really opened up

Jeremiah Lyles says:

You two are very funny

Nathan Craig says:

Can you guys please do a video on Neo-Soul chord progressions and/or melodies?

Alexandros Taderera says:

Shout out from South Africa!!!
Pls check out burnaboi – soke and Destruction Boys – omunye for Hacks

nandakoryaaa says:

Wow! I won something for the very first time! I also like African rhythms (and any other peculiar rhythms) but I like them best when they are more heavy/dark.

Azi Crawford says:

I almost forgot Ray was from South Africa –


This is a good channel. I'm a new producer myself.

Aurelio ndilou says:

Awesome visiting African music through hacks.I couldn't agree more:If it's ain't syncopated it's probably not African!Congrats to last week comment winners (I missed it) especially the tea dealer!


I grew up on this music. I hope that if African music and styles ever hit mainstream, then I hope it won't become oversaturated.

Prabhden Singh says:

We're learning about release by afro celt system in music. It's one of our set pieces for GCSE and I love the rhythm in that song. You guys should check it out

TheOrangepeak says:

<3<3<3 !! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Muhammadreza Haghiri says:

The drum pattern reminds me of Iranian percussive instruments like Tombak, Daf, Kuzeh, etc. Similar rhythms are very popular here in Iran. Your lesson was amazing, and I'm going to discover some nice Iranian rhythms for my future tracks!

Kagiso Nkele says:

So do you know any Zulu, Xhosa or Afrikaans ?

deepsurfaceunitzog says:

MONSTER MAGNET. Would like to understand how to 'make' psychedelic music, and also to sound like a throwback to the 70s like some of their songs.
I knew i shouldnt have admitted a preference for coffee, im sure its why i lost.

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