Composer’s Compass: Rhythm Play

by Wade on January 15, 2011

Helping songwriters navigate through their creativity and the songwriting process.


Rhythm Play

Here is a fun way to create new rhythms in your songwriting process.  Select 3-5 songs you currently are enjoying listening to.  If you have an iPod, you can simply go to your “Recently Played” file and pick a few of the top songs.  With drum in hand- pick one song to play and try extracting certain rhythms found within the melody or accompaniment parts.  You can also just create your own rhythmic accompaniment for the piece that you feel works nicely with the song.  When you are finished, record some of the rhythms you played.  Repeat the same procedure for the next few songs.  You have now created and organized a raw materials pile for rhythmic ideas.  Here are a few ideas for what to do next.

  • Listen through the excerpts and see if any of the rhythmic motifs work well together.  (The best thing is to place these ideas into a song file and then hit RANDOM!)  Can any be layered together?  Would one rhythm flow well into another?
  • Select one of the rhythms and create a bass line/melody/motif for an instrument.
  • Replay one of the rhythms on the drum and now slow it down or speed it up to create a different groove.
  • Divide one of the rhythmic motifs into one or two sections.  In between each section, play a new repeating rhythm.  You can even use a word or short phrase (ex. I love it.)  Now play the whole pattern.  Did it further organize the pattern? Example: (first rhythmic pattern), I LOVE IT, (second rhythmic pattern), I LOVE IT.
  • While playing one rhythm on the drum, try vocalizing a second rhythm or vocally improvise different patterns and melodic motifs.  Record the whole improvisation and then select your favorite moments and record them for your raw materials pile.
  • Play through some of the rhythms in your raw materials pile on a variety of different instruments.  See what new ideas may emerge.
  • Try the following words with a rhythmic pattern from your raw materials pile: omission, substitution, addition, repetition, distortion, flip, stretch, increase, decrease, interrupt, disconnect, rearrange

What are some of your additional ideas for building your rhythmic vocabulary for songwriting?

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