Contrary to popular belief, getting started in rhythmic design is not an overly complicated process. It’s just one aspect of music creation, albeit an important one. Practicing on an instrument can certainly help to expand one’s knowledge, but isn’t an absolute requirement. In fact, once the cyclespattern building blocks, and counting in three and four have been understood, it’s reasonable to move on to the next stage of rhythmic design.

When starting on a new beat, every designer regardless of skill level must eventually decide upon a rhythmic concept. In some cases, this may be determined by the style of music or certain type of artist or song being emulated. But unless you’re already a seasoned drummer or musician/composer, inevitably there will be a number of options to consider. For instance, how does one decide which phrases or fills to apply to part of a song or specific instrument? How often should a sound be repeated? What tempo and time signature to use? Again, these are questions that every designer must face, and this is the part of music making that is either completely enjoyable or totally frustrating. Sometimes it’s both!

That being said, this rhythm selection process is truly where all the magic happens. It’s fairly similar to a jigsaw puzzle because it involves examining the various pieces and putting them together, often by trial and error.

Fortunately, there’s a way to reduce or eliminate much of the guesswork involved and it’s through the use of traditional rhythms. Due to their timeless nature, they serve as a perfect starting point. If there’s any uncertainty as to how or where to begin, they can be leveraged as a template for learning and experimentation.

As far as identifying a particular traditional rhythm is concerned, look no further than the places and cultures that have carried a long tradition of rhythm. Sub-Sahara African clave, Cuban folkloric rhythms, and New Orleans street beats instantly come to mind as key influences on contemporary music. If we connect the dots, more often than not, we will come across these locations. There are of course others out there, and it really all depends on your taste and preferences. Exploration is an important step in the rhythm selection process.

Once a traditional rhythm is selected, the best thing to do is play with it for a while and see where it goes. The results can frequently be surprising. The idea is to retain the parts that appeal most and dispose of the rest. This gradual accumulation of rhythmic ‘residue’ ultimately leads to a unique sound, the holy grail for many artists.

One byproduct of this approach is the story that goes along with it. Rhythm has evolved alongside humans for thousands of years, and continues to take new forms every day. Witnessing this evolution can be inspirational and humbling all at once, providing the necessary motivation to explore even further.

Stay tuned.
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