How To Use Rhythmic Displacement To Come Up With New Riffs

Using rhythmic displacement to shift a riff and make it sound like a different riff!

How To Use Rhythmic Displacement To Come Up With New Riffs
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In this article I want to examine an often neglected topic that can instantly bring new freshness and variety into your guitar playing without having to acquire more technique. Rhythmic Displacement happens when the feel of a musical element is altered in such a way that the listener hears the groove shifting, as if there were a meter change or an odd bar added to "throw things off". In reality the meter is not different at all but the emphasis, which is now on a different down-beat or a back-beat, is felt. The shift, which creates rhythmic tension or dissonance, will usually resolve itself to allow the listener to feel that things have "gotten back to normal". Taking a riff or phrase and shifting it, even by an eighth of a beat, can make the same riff or phrase seem completely different. For this article, I'm going to focus on using rhythmic displacement strictly with rhythm guitar but this technique can certainly be applied to lead guitar as well. In the following examples Im using eighth note rhythms only, but you can experiment with using as many different subdivisions as you like. Example 1: A riff that starts on Beat One of the measure.
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|----2---2-------2-------2---2---------|
|----2---2---R---2---R---2---2---R---R |
|----0---0-------0-------0---0---------|
In Example 2 an eighth rest has been added on beat one and the riff now starts on the And of Beat One,creating a slight rhythmic dissonance.
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|---------2---2------2-------2---2-----|
|----R----2---2---R--2---R---2---2-----|
|---------0---0------0-------0---0-----|
In Example 3, the riff now starts on Beat Two of Measure 1, which is going to give the impression of the riff being in odd time. The biggest difference between Example 3 and Example 2 is that even though Example 2 starts on an Off Beat, it still ends within the same measure. Example 3 is going to go "over the bar" and end on the and of Beat 1 of Measure 2.
|--------------------------------|
|--------------------------------|
|--------------------------------|
|----------2---2-------2------2--|
|--R---R---2---2---R---2---R--2--|
|----------0---0-------0------0--|

|---------------------------------------|
|---------------------------------------|
|---------------------------------------|
|---2---2-------------------------------|
|---2---2------R---R----R---R----R---R--|
|---0---0-------------------------------|

|---------------------------------------|
|---------------------------------------|
|---------------------------------------|
|---2---2-------------------------------|
|---2---2------R---R----R---R----R---R--|
|---0---0-------------------------------|
Lets now combine two examples into one idea! Combo Example 1 starts with the main riff starting on Beat 1 for Measure 1 and then adds the shifted riff to the and of Beat 1 for Measure 2, creating a slight dissonance, but also a call and response motif.
|-----------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------|
|--2---2-------2-------2-----2------|
|--2---2---R---2---R---2-----2---R--|
|--0---0-------0-------0-----0------|

|------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------|
|------------------------------------|
|------2----2--------2--------2---2--|
|---R--2----2---R----2---R----2---2--|
|------0----0--------0--------0---0--|
Combo Example 2 also starts with the main riff starting on Beat 1 of Measure 1 and then shifts to start on Beat 2 of Measure 2. This is going to create a bigger sense of dissonance, because the second half of the riff is now going to go over the bar, ending on the and of the first beat of Measure 3. This is going to create the illusion of the riff being in odd time.
|-----------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------|
|--2---2-------2-------2-----2------|
|--2---2---R---2---R---2-----2---R--|
|--0---0-------0-------0-----0------|

|----------------------------------|
|----------------------------------|
|----------------------------------|
|-----------2---2---------2------2-|
|---R---R---2---2----R----2--R---2-|
|-----------0---0---------0------0-|

|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------|
|---2---2------------------------------|
|---2---2-----R---R----R---R----R---R--|
|---0---0------------------------------|
These are just a few of the countless possibilities and combinations using Rhythmic Displacement. Once you feel comfortable with the concept, implement it using as many different subdivisions as you can come up with (Whole, Half, Quarter, Eighth, Sixteenth notes...) For true daredevils - try out Thirty Second, Sixty Fourth Notes and beyond. Have fun and take your playing to new places! See ya next time! By Byron Marks www.byronmarks.net

33 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    fortytew
    Nice lesson. Rhythmic displacement is often overlooked and is essential to creating memorable riffs. Riffs with a "straight" feel are often boring imo.
    Sir_Taffey
    This is a pretty cool lesson Use the syncopation in single note rhythms with chords in tandem and you have some pretty nice stuff moving
    dcell59
    I first noticed Jimmy Page doing this on IV and Houses of the Holy. Lots of the riffs are traditional blues and rock, but he changed the rhythms drastically and made something new of them.
    Tobester95
    I can never quite go along with the riff of Houses of the Holy until the drums come in, despite how well I know that song :'(
    crazysam23_Atax
    Very well done! You should cover riffs with different time signatures next (Beat 1 in 5/4, beat 2 in 6/8, for instance); that's also often neglected.
    yoyoloto
    Hey friend, sheet music and I don't go well together and I get confused when you talk about beats and rests etc. If it's not too much to ask, could you post a video or an audio file to show us an example of what it sounds like ? (a video of you playing the first riff maybe ?) Thank you for the lesson.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Guitar tabs =/= sheet music. It's not hard to learn tabs. Couldn't you spend 5min doing that? It should take you less than 5min a day for a week, and you'd have guitar tabs down.
    Martoon
    Good tip! It's amazing how many great hooks are based on this. I think it should be noted, though, that if you're strumming down on the beat and up on the off-beat, it's important to maintain that when you shift the riff, and to not shift your strumming direction with it. e.g., if the riff starts on the beat (strumming down), then shifts to start off the beat, it's tempting to still start the riff by strumming down. But doing that will seriously throw off your rhythm.
    Byronmarks
    Great Tip! Total oversight on my part. I will include this in my next article. Thanks
    n8b
    Nice lesson! It looks like you've got an extra beat in your first example. Might wanna fix that I was a little confused at first, otherwise well done!
    justinsprout
    this is funny that u posted this, just at the time that i was messing around with my amking up my own riffs adn stuff, and sadly, i actually never thought about this before by myself. so like message me links to ur lessons if u post any more, cuz they could really be a help thanks
    Rocknrolla35
    Interesting. But you forgot to put on the legend for the tabs. It can get a little confusing when you see the "R" letter. I suppose the "R" letter means "let ring" right?
    Macabre_Turtle
    It's a rest, dude...
    mene1969
    in example 3 why are there two beats to begin measure 2 instead of 1 since there is a beat that ends measure 1?
    Byronmarks
    The strums in measure 2 of example 3 are eighth notes and are there to show where the initial riff ends. The rhythm is initially shifted to start on beat two of measure 1 and in order to keep the riff in tact, it would then end on beat one of the following measure.
    mene1969
    i guess with nothing but rest for the rest of the measure it doesnt matter...
    yoyoloto
    Hey friend, sheet music and I don't go well together and I get confused when you talk about beats and rests etc. If it's not too much to ask, could you post a video or an audio file to show us an example of what it sounds like ? (a video of you playing the first riff maybe ?) Thank you for the lesson. EDIT: And sorry about the message being sent three times.
    lightdark
    something else that will work is try using regular muting (full muting. not palm muting.) in place of a rest or a strum. It can be pretty cool sometimes.
    stereosmiles
    Any examples you want to suggest? I thought of Helmet when I read the article, but maybe that's more to do with use of 6/4, but anyway...
    yoyoloto
    Hey friend, sheet music and I don't go well together and I get confused when you talk about beats and rests etc. If it's not too much to ask, could you post a video or an audio file to show us an example of what it sounds like ? (a video of you playing the first riff maybe ?) Thank you for the lesson.