Introduction To Rhythm Theory

This is a really cool idea that you can (and should) try to use in your music from now on! It's a great way to make songwriting easier, and hopefully sound better to your ears! Have fun! :)

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Ever since our roots of human kind, we've had rhythm... We had bongo drums, we would clap and stomp our feet and shake our bodies, and thrash our heads. We even have a heart beat...

Music also has a heart beat. If you listen closely, you can hear the "pulse" of a song. Obviously, rhythm must be one of the KEY aspects of music. Because what is music without rhythm?

Rhythm is, however, one of the most over-looked, under-developed, least planned, and least discussed in the general pop-world of music. Not to say that it's not taken into account while writing a song, but it's sort of just, there... boring. Same-old same old... Repetitive!

I know some of you are saying, Wow this guy has no clue what he's talking about.

How many songs do you know have the EXACT same rhythm? I'm not talking about strumming pattern, I mean, a pulse. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Maybe you're saying, Rhythm supposed to be a repetitive beat! That what the whole "heart" concept of a song means!

The answer is yes...and no... but mostly no. I'm going to explain why this is so.

You see, there IS a way to make rhythm just JUMP out at you and be amazingly powerful in the music you write, and can turn a less interesting song into a masterpiece. This is what I have discovered after a very long time of studying and writing music myself.

What I am about to explain is also called Asymmetrical Meter Signatures... It's a concept that is sometimes used in music, but I'm going to bring it to another level.

This is very simple actually. Take your standard 8/8 measure (4/4 works too, but 8/8 is better)

Now, how many ways can you divide those 8 eighth notes? (Answer = infinite)

Here's a few:

Key O = accented 8th note o = unaccented 8th note [ ] = grouping of notes x = empty space (no note played)

[O o o ][O o o ][O o ]
[O o o o ][O o o o ]
[o x o x ][o x o x ]
[o o x o ][o o x o ]
okay, that's enough for our example.

Okay, now that you've got a few ways of dividing some 8th notes... let's think about something else:

Blues. Have you ever heard of the "call and response" technique? This is very infamously used in blues music, and is probably another one of the most powerful concepts of music.

We will now be MIXING "call and response" with rhythm. This is where the real fun begins:

Take two of your permutations of 8th notes:

[o o o ][o o o ][o o ]
[o o o o ][o o o o ]
[o o o ][o o o ][o o ]
[o o o o ][o o o o ]
Alternating between these two rhythm patterns, repeating them only ONCE before changing to the other pattern, will give your music a very progressive feel.

This doesn't mean, however, that this can only be applied to progressive music. In fact, EVERY SINGLE GENRE OF MUSIC can use this. Not just blues, not just jazz, not just fusion, not just rock, not just metal. Everything. Even reggae!

Here's another example:

[o x o x ][o x o x ]
[o o x o ][o o x o ]
[o x o x ][o x o x ]
[o o x o ][o o x o ]
Notice how simple this technique is. But it's so rare to hear this in music! I'm truly amazed.

I am sure that some of you are thinking: well, this is just a load of crap. It's not really that great, it's not going to work unless you are doing a specific genre in a specific way. It really CAN'T be applied to all music.

I tell you that it can.

Here is the NEXT part of the process:

DONT REPEAT YOURSELF! (okay, you can. But just, try not to make an entire song around ONE SINGLE RHYTHM. Please excuse my arrogance but, believe me, anybody that is paying attention to the rhythm will think that's just so boring!)

Find different ways to make the beat interesting. This will keep the listener on edge. BUT this is not complex rhythms, so it's not HARSH on the ears! It's in fact VERY soothing to listen to this structure of music... Here's what I mean:

You can make verses sound the same. Otherwise, what's the point of music? It should have some good repetition.

But I would strongly suggest against making verse 1, 2, 3, AND 4 to be the exact same! Make 2 and 4 slightly different!

Here's an example, using what we have seen so far:

Verse 1:
[o o o ][o o o ][o o ]
[o o o o ][o o o o ]
[o o o ][o o o ][o o ]
[o o o o ][o o o o ]
 
Verse 2:
[o x o x ][o x o x ]
[o o x o ][o o x o ]
[o x o x ][o x o x ]
[o o x o ][o o x o ]
 
Chorus:
[o O o o ][O x o x ]
[o O o o ][O x o x ]
[O x o x ][O x o o ]
[O x o x ][O x o o ]
 
Verse 3:
[o o o ][o o o ][o o ]
[o o o o ][o o o o ]
[o o o ][o o o ][o o ]
[o o o o ][o o o o ]
 
Verse 4:
[o x o x ][o x o x ]
[o o x o ][o o x o ]
[o x o x ][o x o x ]
[o o x o ][o o x o ]
 
Chorus:
[o O o o ][O x o x ]
[o O o o ][O x o x ]
[O x o x ][O x o o ]
[O x o x ][O x o o ]
 
Bridge:
[o x x o ][O x O x ]
[o x x o ][O x O x ]
 
Verse 5:
[o o o ][o o o ][o o ]
[o o o o ][o o o o ]
[o o o ][o o o ][o o ]
[o o o o ][o o o o ]
 
Verse 6:
[o x o x ][o x o x ]
[o o x o ][o o x o ]
[o x o x ][o x o x ]
[o o x o ][o o x o ]
 
Chorus:
[o O o o ][O x o x ]
[o O o o ][O x o x ]
[O x o x ][O x o o ]
[O x o x ][O x o o ]
 
Chorus:
[o O o o ][O x o x ]
[o O o o ][O x o x ]
[O x o x ][O x o o ]
[O x o x ][O x o o ]
ALL of these rhythm patterns are in 4/4. They are not in any strange meter. This is really simple, and really cool, and it's possible to use this anywhere.

The worst thing you could do right now is nothing.

TAKE WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED HERE, and start USING it!!!! Seriously, your music will be KILLER from this day forth if you follow what I'm saying. (and if you know what I mean)

Don't think that I'm saying all of this to try and sound BETTER than you. This is NOT my intention, I do NOT want you to think that. I'm only trying to help you see music in a new way.

Not only does this help make music sound really great, but it also helps to make music much easier!

Try to make something like this in guitar pro... sound it out... hear it for yourself!

Please ask if you would like me to clarify things, or if you have questions.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    dreamerthinker5
    THANK YOU!! I'm sick and tired of pop music and its repetitive, unaccented, booming bass of a rhythm. I hope all future songwriters take your advice, thank you for writing this column!
    Troy94
    WHOA!!! This lesson just changed my prespective on my bands music thanks A TON.
    maltmn
    Wow! Thanks guys!! I'm glad you've all found value in this article! It took me 2 years of work analyzing music to come up with this theory.. haha -Matteo Miller
    mjwrobl
    cool lesson, I will try it this weekend. Funny thing I noticed about your 8th notes comment "(Answer = infinite)" the answer is actually 5,040. Rating from me is a 10.
    JimDawson
    mjwrobl wrote: cool lesson, I will try it this weekend. Funny thing I noticed about your 8th notes comment "(Answer = infinite)" the answer is actually 5,040. Rating from me is a 10.
    You know, I was going to say the same thing but you can really use any kind of note with any time signature although getting faster than 32nd notes is quite unlikely. Also, the possible combinations of the accented, unaccented, and empty 8th notes in a bar with 8/8 timing is 6,561 because there are three possible characters (the [ is imaginary) to put into each of the eight places (three to the power of eight). At least that's how you calculate binary numbers anyway...