From its earliest uses as a primitive means of communication, to the party-down rave-ups of the modern dance club, it seems rhythm is as instinctual and natural to human beings as the pounding of arguably the world’s first beat box; our hearts.
Harnessing that innate power of rhythm/beat as catalyst for inspiration can be very useful to us as writers (and a lot of fun, too). Here are a few ideas for using rhythm as a tool to help get your songwriting groove on:
• As band rehearsal winds down for the evening, ask your drummer if he/she can hang a bit longer. Have him lay down a beat, any pattern of his choosing. Without thinking too much about it, let your instrument of choice follow rhythm’s lead and play whatever the beat inspires your hands to play. Do that for half an hour and you might just walk away with the bones of a song you probably never would have written strumming a guitar at home alone.
• If you own a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), fire it up and search within your recording software for its stock, virtual drum machine. Most DAW programs such as Pro Tools and the like include a virtual instrument (VI) that offers the capability of sequencing single-hit drum samples or prerecorded drum loops via MIDI. Using your particular drum VI, set up a simple, repeating pattern that strikes your fancy (if you’re unsure how to do this there are plenty of tutorials on the web), grab your instrument and play along; play anything. Again, as mentioned earlier, don’t think too much about it, let the rhythm and your hands lead you toward a new and unexpected song idea.
Beat challenged and stuck for a drum pattern to program? Pull up a song in iTunes that features one of your all-time favorite grooves. Try to recreate the basic pattern of said groove with your drum VI, then play your own chord changes over top to render a jam that’s totally unique to you.
• If you’re feeling adventurous, scan eBay or Craigslist for an affordable, vintage drum machine. Tons were mass manufactured in the '80s and onward so they’re usually easy to find. Given the technological limitations of many early models, a lot of these machines have their own wonderfully quirky sounds and personalities. Pick one up if you dare, plug it in and see what kind of inspiration its cheesy muse may provide.
Hope you find these tips of help and hope they encourage you to try your hand at rhythmically inspired songwriting.
Go ahead, give the drummer some.
Mark Bacino is a singer/songwriter based in New York City. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark also is the founder of intro.verse.chorus, a website for songwriters dedicated to the exploration of that wonderfully elusive activity known as songwriting. Visit Mark on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.