Writing disco music means zeroing in on what gives disco its signature sound. Disco is a musical genre, which originated in the 1970s and birthed a number of subsequent genres such as techno and hip-hop. By analyzing the elements that make disco unique, an artist may produce a modern disco track with the classic disco feel.
Write a disco drum track with the standard "four to the floor" drum pattern. The "four to the floor" drum pattern typical of disco music refers to a pattern in which the kick drum strikes four times per 4/4 measure on the quarter notes. The hi hat strikes on the eight notes, closed when struck in unison with the kick drum and open every other beat.
Create a disco bass line by use of consonant syncopation. Consonant syncopation is when a note or phrase is accented on a typically non-accented beat. The first and third beats of a 4/4 measure are generally the most accented, so in order to create the classic disco feel, create a bass line consisting of eight notes in which you accent the beats between the downbeats, or the second or fourth beats of the measure.
Create a classic disco synth line by using the synthesizer to create a pedal tone in the pads. A pedal tone is a sustained note or chord; the name comes from organ music in which pedals are literally used to create a sustained tone. A pad is a synthesizer sound with a slow attack, sustained for a longer period of time.
Use strings or horns to create "stabs" and transitions. The phrase "Stabs" refers to short staccato lines played in harmony with the bass and pads, which are inserted at the beginning or end of musical phrases. Transitions are used to bridge the gap between musical sections such as the verse and chorus. A transition should bring the listener from one portion of the song to the other by ascending or descending melody.
Create a classic disco vocal by using layers and harmony. Doubling the lead vocal, as often heard in classic disco trio the Bee Gees' recordings, creates a distinct disco texture and adds power to the vocal performance. Harmonizing with the vocal during the chorus, used to great success by Abba, gives more energy and dynamics to the final track.
Listen to as much classic disco as you can before writing your own disco track.
- "Basic Music Theory"; Johnathan Harnum; 2001
- "An Introduction to Music"; Martin Bernstein; 2005
- "Guidelines for Style Analysis"; Jan Larue; 1971
Jason Parnell is a marketing director and professional writer. He attended Rutgers University for a Bachelor of Arts in musicology and analysis.