Free Training

6 Ideas to come up with Interesting Rhythms

Without Rhythm, there would be no music.

I also strongly believe we all have rhythm inside us - after all we all have a pulse, (hopefully!) beating in a fairly regular manner.

So what happens if you have trouble coming up with a rhythm when writing a piece? It could be the rhythm of a melody, or the core groove or feel of an energetic action piece. It could even be the rhythm that a particular instrument plays in an accompaniment.

What do you do, if you're stuck?

Today I thought I would go through a few tricks you can use, to help you generate your own interesting rhythmic patterns.

  1. Using Numbers to generate rhythmic ideas

Using important numbers in your life can be a great way to experiment with rhythmic ideas. '1' could represent a single 16th note (or semiquaver), with the number '2' representing a note that is 2 semiquavers long:

So an important number in your life, say a birthday of a loved one (my Dad's birthday is 23rd December - 23/12) would result in the following rhythm:

Which you could then repeat for a few bars:

2. Using words to generate rhythmic ideas via Morse Code

Morse code is a universal language, that uses a mixtures of dashes and dots for each letter (A link to the code can be found here). By assigning a dash to say a quarter note (Crotchet) and a dot to an eighth note (quaver), you could use whole words to come up with rhythms.

Here would be my name, Simon:


... .. -- --- -.

A famous example of this technique is the Theme to the TV series Inspector Morse, composed by Barrington Pheloung. He uses the rhythm generated by the word 'Morse' for the opening rhythm:

video preview

3. Using a Dice/chance to generate rhythmic ideas

You could also generate rhythmic ideas using a Dice or other means of chance. Using your DAW's grid, rolling an odd number could result in a note that lasts for one grid space. Rolling an even number could result in a rest.

So if I rolled 8 times with the following results:

  1. '5' (odd - a single note)
  2. '2' (even - a single rest)
  3. '1' (odd - a single note)
  4. '7' (odd - a single note)
  5. '6' (even - a single rest)
  6. '1' (odd - a single note)
  7. '2' (even - a single rest)
  8. '6' (even - a single rest)

I would get the following rhythm:

4. Improvise by clapping against a metronome

Try building a library of rhythmic ideas. Start by putting on a metronome set to say 80bpm, in 4/4. Then recording a voice memo or video on your phone, have a go at clapping 10 different types of rhythms, with the metronome pulse acting as your anchor. Try to be as spontaneous as possible. Once you've come up with a few ideas, have a go at changing the tempo or time signature, seeing what you can come up with next. Some of my favourites are irregular time signatures such as 5/8 or 7/8, especially at mid-faster tempos.

5. Draw Inspiration from your favourite pieces

Don't be afraid to draw inspiration from your favourite pieces. Its ok to copy a rhythm from somewhere else - its even better if you can then tweak it slightly by changing a note value here and there, to then make it your own. Exploring a variety of musical genres outside of your normal listening habits can give you inspiration as well. From classical, to EDM, to rock music, there is a world of new rhythms to explore and be inspired by. Listening to new music exposes you to a variety of new rhythms, potentially sparking off a new idea of your own.

6. Using words or Lyrics

Find a favourite phrase from a lyric or even a book. Say the words out loud while listening to a metronome. Look for patterns in the syllables and stresses of the words - you may sound a little robotic at first, but it can be another way to come across a new rhythmic phrase.

Bonus - Look out for the new Rhythm Generator coming to Ableton Live 12!

Alternatively, you could ignore all of these ideas and use a tool called a rhythm generator. Although I haven't used it myself, I've seen that in Beta versions of Ableton Live 12, there is a new function which can generate new rhythms for you, all at the touch of a button or two! I'm curious to try it out!

video preview

​Hopefully you can apply some of these techniques to help come up with new rhythms!


Get started for FREE!

Join my on demand free training where I walk you through how to create rich, cinematic music without feeling frustrated with the composing process.

Watch the Training Now