The Time Unit Box System and the WARRENMUSIC Grid

The Time Unit Box System vs. Standard Notation (and Tablature)

In TUBS, the boxes of a grid represent equal units of time, consistent from column to column, and from row to row. This is how MPCs, MIDI sequencers, and many DAW piano rolls work today. If there is an event in a Time Unit Box, play it. If there is no event in the Time Unit Box, don’t play anything. The process is repeated for the next box, and so on, and so on.

As you can see, I struggled with this graphic.

In Standard Notation, with respect to Rhythm, musical events are represented by a combination of note heads and stems, as well as their respective rests which convey explicit note durations and silences according to the composer’s idea of what the performer should play. The composer instructs not just when music happens, but how long it should be when it does, and how long it shouldn’t be when it doesn’t. The performer is expected to read and decode the symbols and excel at it if they wish to have full access.

But what happens if the reader does not excel at reading and decoding? What happens if the reader has no access to the composer’s transcription?

I sought out an alternative.

In the first example, I have transcribed something breakdancers know and love, James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” in TUBS format.

In my transcription of this timeless break by Clyde Stubblefield, “o”s represent open hi-hats, “x”s represent rimshots, “…”s represent buzz strokes.

This how I think about Rhythm. This is how I organize what I am hearing, Melody and Harmony included.

In the second example, I’ve transcribed an old bass line from my middle school days by Cake. This is a modification of TUBS, where notes are instead represented by Scale Degrees, placed in rhythmic context without obscuring their melodic function.

In a throwback to the nineties, I chose to transcribe the bass part for “The Distance” by Cake, organized by song form and lyric. All Scale Degrees represent degrees of the E Minor Scale. The lyrics (not pictured) are shown line by line beneath.

In the third example, I’ve transcribed a classic chord progression from Bill Withers, placing his broken chords in their rhythmic context without sacrificing their harmonic function.

A snippet from my transcription of “Aint No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, where chords are shown as Chord Numerals. The dots refer to the broken nature of the chord, and the chord legend (not pictured) follows beneath the chord chart.

TUBS is an intuitive, fast, communicable, and modular alternative. It gives Clyde Stubblefield’s snare buzz strokes, each of Gabe Nelson’s (I had to look his name up) bass notes, and every Bill Withers bass note and broken chord a location on the grid, a kind of rhythmic address. The result, taking from what James Koetting and Philip Harland saw back in 1962–1970* making it a theoretically instructive and listener-centric alternative for our modern purposes, is what I call the WARRENMUSIC Grid. It’s my attempt to bridge the gap between the rich history of the Western European tradition of music, and the new music of today.

This is how I learn new songs, and how I share what I learn in a digestible way with others.

If nothing else, TUBS is simple, and unassuming. I would argue that it is more universal. After all, music has gone digital.

Where I use Scale Degrees for Melody, you can easily use Note Names instead. Where I use Chord Numerals for Harmony, you can easily use Chord Names. Now it’s yours.

Check out the full transcriptions, along with note-for-note MIDI clips and video breakdowns of four other songs I’ve selected, transcription exercises, visual aids, and more in my upcoming Rhythm Module.

WARRENMUSIC Series — Rhythm Module, Episode 03: “The Time Unit Box System and the WARRENMUSIC Grid”

Why Should We Care About Music Theory?

What place does music theory have in songwriting? Can it be helpful? Stifling? Maybe both? Why are we looking at a picture of a pie?

In an interview I conducted last month, I had the opportunity to explore these questions with Prof. Brad Osborn, a music theory professor from the University of Kansas and the author of “Everything In Its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead” from Oxford University Press.

Prof. Brad Osborn, Music Theory Professor at University of Kansas and Author of “Everything In Its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead”

It was so great to steal Prof. Brad for a few moments between classes. As an independent music educator, I sometimes don’t know if I am crazy or just an alternative thinker when I talk to others about traditional music theory and methods of analysis. But I definitely learned a few things from Brad and felt deeply affirmed at the same time by our mutual appreciation for holistic musicianship.

I thought Brad would be the perfect person to ask this simple question: as fans of Radiohead and musicians ourselves, why should we care about music theory? At its core, his answer is really rooted in a deep appreciation for songwriting, and I think it’s worth a listen.

We touch on ideas like the “Euclidean Algorithm”/“maximally-even” rhythms, the idea of the “Goldilocks Zone,” and the concept of “Ecological Perception.” We ask aloud whether Thom Yorke’s opinion matters as it pertains to analysis and interpretation of Radiohead’s music. We wonder whether artists are trustworthy when they talk about their intentions. And it was quite the music nerd thrill.

What did you think about the interview? Would you be interested in seeing more content like this? Share your thoughts below!

You can read the article Prof. Brad Osborn mentions in the interview below:

“Nine most thought-provoking moments in Radiohead

You can buy Brad’s book “Everything In Its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead” at the OUP Store (no, he did not pay me to put this here, I just think it’s cool).

Everything In Its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead

And finally, check out this cool little web app for quickly creating Euclidean-style rhythms and start making some maximally-even rhythms of your own now.

E-909 Elements Euclidean Rhythm Composer

A Musicianship Series

What if someone could walk you through the process of becoming a better musician, step-by-step? What if you could gain something more valuable than a tab or a tutorial, or even hundreds of tabs and tutorials? What if there were a video series that went beyond playing songs and could give you more? And what if it were more affordable than a private teacher, available to you 24/7?

I’m looking to launch a music theory and ear-training series. The more I think about it, the more it grows… like the series to end all series. I think about it every day, sometimes every hour. I talk and write and dream about it because I believe that there is a revolution waiting to happen in the lives of so many students of music. When someone who has been looking outward only to see fixes that are temporary in nature looks inward instead and begins developing their own ear and their own understanding of music, a radical shift occurs. It is a shift from passively listening to the music they love to being able to play that same music by ear, being able to identify what’s happening in it, and do new things with it. It is a shift from feeling stuck in familiar patterns, unable to break through a ceiling to feeling continually renewed by a stream of fresh musical insights and challenges in a cycle that never ends. I’ve seen this spark of inspiration occur again and again during my workshops and private lessons firsthand, and observed similar light bulbs come on for students through the online interaction surrounding the content I’ve been putting out on YouTube, etc. over these eight years, and I’m convinced that it is time to bring more people into this deeper conversation on music.

If you have been following what I’ve been up to awhile you’ll know that there have been hints and even false starts since late 2012. It’s both exciting and scary to think about what it might become, and what it might take to pull it off. It has even been overwhelming in its scope at times. This has made me realize that I really need your help to make it get off the ground! I need your support, your insight, and your constructive criticism. I am looking for an inner circle of WARRENMUSIC friends.

Does this describe you? If so, join me on this journey. Like this post, sign up for my mailing list above, find me on Skype/Instagram/Twitter @warrenlain. And consider: what would a series like this be worth to you? What would it look like? What topics would you want to see covered in it? I look forward to your input.

The End Of the Beginning

WARRENMUSIC Intro Module, Episode 07 — “The End Of the Beginning”

Watch Episode 7, “The End Of the Beginning”.

The seventh and FINAL installment of this introductory series is called “The End Of the Beginning,” for two reasons.

1) It’s the last video in this introductory series. Duh.
2) It’s the end for your “beginning” phase of musicianship.

That’s right.

Because beginners don’t stay beginners long when they seek out musicianship.

When you unlock the musicianship you have within, YOU CAN’T stay the same.

It’s just impossible.

When you develop your ear and your understanding of music, the GAP between the music you love and the music you make starts to disappear.

YOU CAN grow your musicianship.

YOU CAN bridge the GAP.

Now it’s time to take that step. It’s time to usher in a BETTER WAY to learn music.


Pre-order Today.

Pre-order the WARRENMUSIC Series now!

The Power Of Musicianship

WARRENMUSIC Intro Module, Episode 03 — “The Power Of Musicianship”

Episode 3, titled “The Power Of Musicianship,” is now live.

What does musicianship actually look like?

Musicianship is the difference between just regurgitating someone else’s pre-packaged instructions and making the music you love your own. It’s the difference between just following a tab or a tutorial and using your own ear and musical insight. It’s the difference between faking it and thinking/behaving the way musicians do.

In this video, I take you through a few examples of what musicianship looks like in the real world. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to go beyond tabs and tutorials, and seek out, no, DEMAND a more substantial connection between the music you love and the music you want to make.

See what musicianship can do for you! And while you’re at it, catch a snippet of a previously unreleased song from my forthcoming album…

Introduction To the Bridge

Watch Episode 2 of The WARRENMUSIC Series now:

If you recall our first video, we talked about the GAP that exists between the music we love, and the music we make. This video speaks to the BRIDGE between those two things: Music Theory, and Ear-Training.

Quickly defined, Music Theory is a language that describes the connections, patterns, ideas, and larger concepts in music across songs, albums, artists, and genres. And Ear-Training is pretty self-explanatory: it’s getting our ear to the place where we can identify what’s going on in the music we love.

When we combine the two, there is an explosion we call musicianship!

Stay tuned. We’ll soon explore exactly what MUSICIANSHIP can do for you.


Another Way…

WARRENMUSIC Melody Module — Episode 09, “The Ultimate Goal of Ear-Training”

I am convinced that we live in the best time in history to learn music. We download albums in seconds, watch entire concerts on YouTube, and have easy access to tons of educational content. I hear there’s even a crazy guy who teaches tons of Radiohead songs for free! It truly is an amazing time for students of music everywhere, isn’t it? And yet, I am approached–almost daily–with the same issue students have everywhere in the world… what I call a lack of fluency in music.

Over the brief time I’ve been teaching music, I’ve been privileged to meet all kinds of students: hobbyists who learn through YouTube and guitar tabs, passionate songwriters in possession of a few basic chords, precocious youngsters looking to develop a more mature musical palette, and many more. But one thing unites them… the desire to become musically fluent, to have confidence in the midst of the many musical situations that arise in our daily musical lives. To most people, the task seems immense. Many students ultimately turn to tabs, instructional media, and sheet music in hopes of learning how to make the kind of music they love. And they eventually get stuck, plateau, and become frustrated with the lack of progress that inevitably sinks in for so many.

Now I won’t lie to you. Musical fluency is a challenging road. Not everyone will successfully walk on that path. But I wholeheartedly believe that–if steered in the right direction–passionate lovers of music can learn to teach themselves. With the right approach and a deep level of commitment, I believe anyone can learn to make music: they can learn to play melodies and chords by ear, solo over complex chord changes, program a drum groove, compose for a quartet, or arrange a whole song for a single guitar… it is all possible with time, dedication, and a way forward.

After all, I have been demonstrating exactly all of this for years by sharing my passion for music on my YouTube channel. Sometimes it’s a Radiohead song that I will teach the same day it’s released. Other times it’s an old Christmas song I have arranged in my own way. Occasionally, it’s an original piece with some electronic production. And it all starts with a few big ideas explained in the simplest of ways: melody, harmony, rhythm.

What I am advocating, in my opinion, is more complete and more helpful than any single tab, guitar DVD, piano/vocal/guitar book, or piece of sheet music. Tabs are often wrong, and they lack rhythmic information; they also condition us to focus entirely on the fretboard, while taking away the focus from developing our listening skills. DVDs and books can be very expensive; they can also be impossible to find when dealing with obscure songs. And reading sheet music proves over and over again to be a big obstacle for so many; the staff lines, note heads, and other symbols can simply become overwhelming. There are certainly many positive aspects about all of the learning methods above, but fundamentally, they all foster a dependence on something other than the most important thing: the connection between your ears, your understanding, and the music.

There is another way.

Through my training in the Kodály method, my studies in ethnomusicology and western music theory, and my own geeky fascination with understanding everything about the music I love, I have put together a system that can help people understand and play what they hear. In my system, the song itself is your teacher.

Are you interested? If so, let me show you another way.

Stay tuned.