Displace the Downbeat to Give Your Music a Rhythmic Kick

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by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.

If you’re looking for a fresh new perspective on songwriting – something to get your songs working again, Gary Ewer’s songwriting e-books will clear your mind and get you writing successful songs. They explain why good songs work, and how to get bad songs working! You can download them here.

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Rhythm is a crucial part of the life of your song. When we talk about bands that really get people up and moving, we’re really talking about rhythmic energy. There are some things you can do to add extra kick to your performance, and one simple way is towildmusicdisplace the downbeat.

We know that if we want people to really feel a groove, we’ve got to dig into that downbeat and let the listener feel it. That usually means that we punch the downbeat with considerable strength. With drums and percussion, your bass drum is going to kick on beat one, your bass is going to hit beat one, and your audience will physically move more on beat one and three, more than other beats.

What I’m suggesting is that with everyone knowing that beat one is where it’s at, it provides considerable energy to displace all of those events, and place them all on the weak part of beat one: the eighth-note immediately following the downbeat. It gives the music a bit of a jilt, and actually can sound rather startling, at least momentarily. For a second, it sounds like the downbeat instruments have been thrown off.

Within one or two beats it all gets sorted out though. And what it’s done is it’s actually resulted in more rhythmic energy as the listener gets thrown.

I’ve done up a couple of sound files that I hope can demonstrate this effect.

  • Example 1 is a short excerpt that gives a typical rock beat, with a strong downbeat on the second bar, with all instruments playing and placing their notes as expected: Rhythm Example 1 (opens in a new window).
  • Example 2 has all instruments displaced to the “and” of beat 1, leaving the downbeat empty. The silence gives an unexpected jolt: Rhythm Example 2

And you can take this sort of thing even further: if you feel that your music is getting a little too predictable for your liking,  you can throw in little rhythmic hiccups in other ways and in other parts of the beat. And another trick is to actually modify the time signature for one bar. You know that 4/4 time will have 8 eighth notes, so try throwing in a bar that uses 7. It will take a bit of practice to make this work, but it could be the refreshing rhythmic alteration you’re looking for to keep your listeners guessing.

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