If all rhythm is to you is what happens behind the vocal line, keep reading.
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Rhythm plays a crucial role in the developing and sustaining of song energy and momentum. Some aspects of rhythm are implied by the lyric, while others are created in the studio as an element that is added to music: rhythmic patterns in the backing instruments, for example.
Some characteristics of rhythm are established at the beginning of a song and last through to the end almost without change. For example, the rhythms provided by the drums are usually established right away, and often show little change over time. Other aspects evolve over time, and act on the subconscious level, not much noticed by audiences.
There are differences in how rhythm is presented when you compare the verse and the chorus. Here’s a short list of three important differences. Some of them pertain specifically to songwriting, while others are production-level characteristics:
- Lead vocal line rhythm. In the verse, the vocal line is more likely to show syncopation (displaced beat), with shorter, quicker words. This often changes in a chorus, when the vocal rhythms will feature longer note values and more simplistic rhythms. The longer chorus notes will enhance the emotional value of the chorus lyric.
- Instrumental rhythm: In the verse, the instrumental rhythm is somewhat basic, setting the song into a groove that allows the more syncopated vocal line to pop. In the chorus, part of the instrumental rhythm can become more energized, sometimes resulting in faster, more intricate rhythms over what is likely to be a standard drum beat. The busier rhythms help to build energy.
- Bridge rhythm. Since bridges often build song energy one way or another, rhythm can play an important role. Sometimes, in order to allow the return of the chorus or 3rd verse to seem rhythmically charged, a bridge can allow rhythms to dissolve, such as the end of the bridge in “Single Ladies” (Beyoncé) (Start listening at 2:15). Sometimes, rhythms at the end of a bridge can become much more complex, making the return of the chorus sound stronger and more rooted. (“Hard Habit to Break” – Chicago. Start listening at 3:00)
Rhythm does seem to be one of those areas of song production that gets ignored by new songwriters. There can tend to be an attitude that rhythm is whatever is in the background supporting the vocal line. But in fact, it’s much, much more. Rhythm requires you to think not just about what a particular instrument or vocal line is doing, but also how it compares to other rhythms taking place at the same time in another strata of your song.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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