Experimenting With Rhythm

Bring life to your music using unique rhythmic structures. This goes much further than simply using odd-meter rhythm.

Ultimate Guitar

I've worked with many musicians, and listened to a LOT of music. This goes without saying, I'm sure you have too. But something I found terribly saddening about most of the people I've worked with, and the music I listened to was the rhythmic structure of their songs, and their jamming.

For those of you who listen to progressive rock, you know about odd-meter rhythm. This is a cool gig, but it's not really promoted as well as it should, and it's generally still not even as interesting as it should. Because odd-meter can still become old, if approached ineffectively.

Have you ever heard of the band The Mars Volta? This is a great example of odd-meter rhythm used to almost it's fullest potential. When I first heard them, I knew there was something about them that really caught my ear, and it took a while before I really caught on to what it was: exceptional rhythmic structure.

Now more than ever, people tell me that having a successful musical career is near impossible, unless you're in the right place at the right time, know the right people, and do the right things. These are all great things to think about, but it's not the focus of this article. What I'm here to tell you is how you can make your music TRULY great, without really putting that much effort into it!

Creating a unique rhythm for your song is like giving it life. The problem I've had with lots of musicians I've worked with is that they're stuck in the SAME rhythm and the SAME key almost the whole song! It really gets ridiculous trying to jam with people, because I change rhythmic patterns often, and this usually makes their playing fall apart.

So what am I really saying here? Basically all of the music I hear feels lifeless. This is because there's the same pulse going through the entire song, and even from song to song there's the same pulse. I'm repeating myself here because it's just how it is in the songs! To me, that's incredibly boring, and that's why I hate music.

Did I really say I hate music? Yes, it's true, I hate music. So why am I a musician? I'm a musician because my job is not to create music, but to actively find NEW ways to destroy it! I'm always trying to come up with unique ways to manipulate the rhythm, and the emotions of the song I'm playing. Of course, if you're not careful, it could ruin the song because the rhythm doesn't feel right, or because the emotion gets all mixed up, and then it doesn't flow right.

So we need to be very careful of what kind of rhythmic patterns and structure we integrate into our songs. This is what I'm here to help you with.

First of all, make sure that NONE of your songs EVER have just 4/4 rhythm all the way through. I'm sure that a lot of you have songs like that. Well, my friends, they might sound pretty cool to you because you wrote them, but I guarantee you, they're going to get old really fast. That's why there's pop music, it stays around for a while, while it's a hit, and then fades away very soon.

If you want to be more than just a pop artist, you're going to have to get into the game. This means creating NEW music. Now I'm not saying that you should never use 4/4 rhythms. What I am saying is that 4/4 rhythm is what every single other person in the world can think of. And that's just not enough to make it big.

Some of you don't know what 4/4 rhythm is, so I'll quickly explain it. This is when you hear a steady, rhythmic pulse that's continuous and has no fluctuation between time measures. So it's like a clock ticking. What it sounds like in music is a clock that's ticking and ticking and ticking counting down until the end of the song. Yeah, that's real cool.

Well, let's expand on this. Creating new rhythms is a concept that once you're locked into 4/4, it's REALLY hard to escape that crutch. Wandering away from 4/4 is like leaving home for the first time. You don't know how you're going to get back if you wander too far. So keep it simple, at first.

You're really going to have to use your mind for this. You will have to keep count in your head. This is difficult in the beginning, but you will greatly improve your musicianship as you continue to exercise your rhythmic skills. So, here's something you can do. Instead of counting out 4 measures, count out 5. Then on the next verse, speed up the rhythm by a little bit, and count out 4. See the example below.

Ex 1.
-x  x  x  x  x
Notice how we're still technically in 4/4 rhythm, but we've altered the feel of the song by placing rhythmic emphasis in different locations during the time frames. Now look at example two for some more ideas. This time we're expanding out of 4/4 rhythm.
Ex 2.
It's very simple to create interesting rhythmic structures. You can really make a big difference in your music by using this new strategy. You will soon become the best musician in your area, because I guarantee you, NOBODY thinks like this, at least as far as I've seen. Only few people I've met really have this concept down.

Obviously you may still have some questions. You may not understand how you can use this in your songs. I fully realize that you may be confused, or that this may even sound old to you because you think you know what I'm talking about. When I listen to Tool, it still doesn't compare to what I'm explaining here. In fact, this is one of the hardest things to explain about music, and it's one of the most elusive topics.

If you would like more insight on this, you have two options. The first is you can go listen to one of The Mars Volta records, and you might catch on after a while. You'll see just how intensely different their music FEELS, compared to every other artist. The second option you have is to start taking lessons with me. I will be able to more clearly show you, and explain to you how these things work. I will help you with developing your own rhythmic patterns that give your music true LIFE. Just visit my website, http://universitycityguitarlessons.com/ and from there, we'll get started on creating a customized lesson plan for you that will help you quickly, easily, and efficiently reach your specific musical goals.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    No offense dude, but there is very little cohesion to your article. And please, don't talk down to people;
    The first is you can go listen to one of The Mars Volta records, and you might catch on after a while
    Well, my friends, they might sound pretty cool to you because you wrote them, but I guarantee you, theyre going to get old really fast.
    as examples. You sound like a punk.
    What I mean by "catching on" is that you will start to understand what I am trying to explain. It's something that's very hard to put into words, you need to discover it for yourself. Only by DOING can you really know, and that's why I can show you how to DO it.
    OK. I am just trying to give you some constructive criticism. I like the concept of the article, exotic rhythms are a challenge and don't get enough exposure in educational forums such as this. keep writing.
    Okay, I'll try to re-write this and re-post... It's hard to write about this subject... It's something that seems pretty obvious, but I'm trying to put lots more insight into it... It's more than just off-beat stuff, it's like, looking at a glass of water, and coming up with a rhythm that describes the glass of water :O
    What Im here to tell you is how you can make your music TRULY great, without really putting that much effort into it!
    Lawl, what?
    good lesson. i didn't feel like i was being talked down to because this is something I've been trying to understand for a while now, and i didn't take it the wrong way... pretty good lesson, actually it was more of a motivation tool than a lesson. 8/10