Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rhythm in songwriting

There was a mixture of skill levels on the open stage at Song School; students and teachers, professional musicians and beginners. For some I found myself moving my feet or wanting to dance. For others, my body didn’t react at all. For some I noticed a connection to what was being said and others my mind would wander. A big part of that connection, I later learned, came from the underlying rhythm (or groove).

Billy Jonas and Paul Reisler, described rhythm as the "pulse of the song." Audiences can feel this pulse even if they’re not aware of it. Vance Gilbert described this as “treating the audience as trained musicians.” Musicians need rhythm to know their part, same for the audience. Rhythm provides structure, melody provides the texture. Rhythm brings you along with the song.

As a songwriter and solo musician timing is one of the many things I need to think about. I’m also thinking about the lyrics, the great sound of a new lick, or that next chord change. I have been accused (rightly so) of speeding up when I play louder or slowing down in difficult parts. While not obvious to me, it’s painfully obvious to others.

Some tricks I learned for keeping the beat:

- Keep time by tapping your foot. Start the beat with your foot before starting to play the music.
- Practice with a metronome.
- Experiment with different beats. Drum machines are excellent for this. Look at what beats are stressed.
- Worry more about the rhythm than those difficult chord changes. I’m amazed at how many great songs only use simple chords.


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