Setting up your song’s groove is not possible without considering harmonic rhythm. The harmonic rhythm of your song is, in short, how often the chords change. And for the best songs, this rate of change needs to be a constant factor most of the time. It’s what Songwriting Principle No. 5 is all about:
There should be a perceivable and somewhat predictable pattern to the planning of chord changes.
It’s that predictable nature of chord changes that helps establish the groove of your song. If you write a song where the first chord is held for two beats, then the next chord for a bar and a half, then another chord for four beats… this prevents the groove from establishing itself. That groove – the sense that the body wants to move to your music – is severely hampered by the unpredictable nature of the music.
You may worry that by being so predictable with your chord changes may cause the listener to become bored, but this simply is not a worry. Be innovative in other areas, but allow your chords to change with some sense of regularity.
Not all chords in your song will be the same length. It is OK to take certain chords and have them last longer. But that is part of harmonic rhythm: coming up with a pattern and then making it a feature of the entire song. Take the following progression and melody (To hear these samples, visit “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
C C/E——- F C
That extended sitting on the C/E chord kills the sense of internal rhythm – the groove. Why? Because slash chords (inversions) like C/E are inherently less stable than root position chords (like the C or the F). Extending the length of an inverted chord weakens the progression.
Now check out this modification:
C C/E F——- C
That feels much better, doesn’t it? Extending the length of the F chord feels more natural. And now that we’ve set up a pattern of two shorter chords ( C to C/E) followed by a longer one (F), we can take that pattern and use it throughout the song. That’s our harmonic rhythm.
If you want to read more about chords, or any of the other eleven songwriting principles mentioned in this article, click here to read about “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, and my other songwriting e-books. Download them in seconds, and start learning how to make your songs really work.